This section is from the book "An Experimental History Of The Materia Medica", by William Lewis.
Agaric: a fungus, growing on the trunks of trees, without any pedicle; internally of a simple and uniform structure throughout its whole substance.
1. Agaricus five fungus laricis C. B. Agaric: covered with a brown bark, full of small holes underneath; internally white.
This fungus is met with on old larch trees, in the Levant, and in different parts of Europe: that produced in the Levant is accounted the best, but from what particular place or country the shops receive it, is not very clear. - It comes forth on the tree in the beginning of spring, and continues to increase till autumn: at this time, it is cut off, the cortical part separated, and the internal part exposed for some weeks to the fun, by which its whiteness is improved. It is brought into the shops in irregular pieces, of different magnitudes, of a chalky whiteness, and very light: the best is easily cut with a knife, friable betwixt the fingers, and has no hard, or gritty, or coloured Veins.
Agaric has no remarkable smell: chewed, it impresses first a considerable sweetness, which is followed by a nauseous acrimony and bitter-ness. It is difficultly reduced to a fine powder in a mortar, on account of its fungous texture: it may be rendered more easily pulverable, by moistening it with a solution of gum tragacanth, and afterwards thoroughly drying it.
It gives out little of its active matter to aqueous menstrua: after long boiling in water, it retains great part of its taste, and proves remarkably viscid and tenacious. The decoc-tion has little taste or colour: infpiffated, it leaves a small quantity of a brown coloured nauseous extract.
Rectified spirit takes up nearly the whole of the active matter, leaving the agaric almost insipid. The tincture is of a fine yellow colour, and of an unpleasant sweetness, which continues long in the mouth, and in good measure covers the heat and pungency of the spirit. The extract, remaining on distilling off the spirit, discovers less of the sweet, and more of the offensive bitterness of the agaric. Proof spirit has nearly the same effect as the rectified.
These experiments were made on the internal substance of agaric, as commonly met with in the shops. The cortical part seems to be of a different quality: Mr. Boulduc relates, that a spirituous tincture, drawn from this, had such an abominable taste, that a single drop, laid on the tongue, occasioned vomiting, and a loathing of food for a whole day (a). This fungus appears to differ also greatly in quality, at different periods of its growth: Bellonius informs us, that when full of juice, before it has come to maturity, its offensive effluvia are apt to excite violent symptoms in those who incau-tiously cut it from the tree (b).
(a) Boulduc, Mm. de l'acad. roy. de scienc. de Paris pour l'ann. 1714.
(b) Bellonius, de arborib. canif. etc. p. 26.
Agaric, taken from a scruple to two drams or more, is said to act weakly, though not very mildly, as a cathartic. It was formerly held in considerable esteem, and supposed to evacuate peccant humours from the remote parts of the body: but the great, slowness of its operation, from which alone that quality appears to have been deduced, its occasioning little evacuation, and being commonly productive of nauseae, sickness, and gripes; have brought it now deservedly into disuse. Gummy or mucilaginous substances, with which it was formerly made into troches and pills, in some degree correct its ill qualities: aromatics are, in this intention, of very little use. Extracts made from it with vinegar, with wine, and with water in which a little sixt alkaline salt has been dis-solved, are said to purge more effectually, and with less inconvenience, than the agaric in substance; though even these preparations do not appear to be equal to the more common and experienced cathartics. The antients supposed it to be possessed of alexiterial powers, and in consequence of this imaginary virtue made it an ingredient in the theriaca, which is the only officinal composition wherein it is now retained.
2. Agaricus quercinus, fungus igniarius: Agaricus Ph. Edinb. Agaricus pedis equini facie Tourn. Fungi arborei ad ellychnia J. B. Boletus igniarius Linn. Agaric of the oak, called by some, from its readily catching fire, touchwood or spunk: growing in form of a horse's hoof; externally of an ash colour, internally dusky coloured, soft and tough. Though denominated from the oak, on which the best sort is supposed to be produced, the same fungus is found on several other kinds of old trees, throughout Europe.
The agaric of the oak has lately come into esteem as an external styptic. It has been said to prevent haemorrhages after amputations, as effectually as the painful operation by the needle; and to restrain bleedings in wounds, of several days or weeks standing, where the parts are become so rotten as to become incapable of bearing ligatures. For these purposes, the internal softt part of the fungus, divided into pieces of different sizes, and beaten with a hammer till it may be easily torn with the fingers, is applied to the orifices of the vessels, with the usual dressings over it. In a short time the extremities of the vessels are said to be found contracted into a conical shape, and the orifices ftopt with plugs of coagulated blood, sufficient to refill the force of the circulation.
cases have been published, in which this application seemed to answer the character given it (a): in others, and those not a few, it proved ineffectual. Some have remarked, that where it seemed to succeed, the subjects were brought so low before the operation, that little danger was to be apprehended from a haemor-rhagy, though no other application had been made than that of dry lint and flour (b).
Thus much is certain, that the agaric has already loft greatly of its repute, both in France, where it was first introduced, and in England; and that it does not appear, from its sensible qualities, to be possessed of any truly styptic power, at least in any considerable degree.
(a) Warner, cases in surgery, etc.
(b) Neale, Observations on the use of agaric, etc.
Chewed, in substance, it discovers no taste: boiled in fresh parcels of water, it yielded about one fourteenth its weight of extract, which had only a weak sweetish taste, mixed with a kind of bitterness: treated in the same manner with rectified spirit, it yielded about one eighth its weight of an extract, which had less taste than the other.
It is probable that this fungus acts no other-wife than as a pliable soft substance, adhering to the orifices of the vessels, till they have contracted spontaneously. Some other fungi were employed formerly in the same intention, and there are late accounts, in the Philosophical Tranfactions, of two having been used with succefs; namely, the lycoperdon, or dusty mush-room; and that found on the casks and walls of wine-vaults, and thence called fungus vinosus.