This section is from the book "An Experimental History Of The Materia Medica", by William Lewis.
IN the year 1788 a considerable quantity of a bark, not before known in this country, was imported from the West Indies, but as of African growth. The only account sent with it was, "that it had been found very superior to the Peruvian bark in the cure of fevers." In the succeeding year, two letters were published in the London Medical Journal for 1789, part ii. from Dr. J. Ewer, and Dr. Alexander Williams, physicians at Trinidad in South America, containing a description of this bark under the name of Cortex Angusturae, and giving an account of its medicinal effects. It is there said to come from the Spaniards in Angustura; and this is confirmed by the subsequent importation of parcels of it from Cadiz and the Havanna. No accurate account, however, has yet been obtained of the place of its growth, nor does the name of Angustura seem to belong to a particular district, but rather to be the Spanish term for a narrow pass between mountains. The supposition is, that the tree producing it grows on the banks of the river Oronoko. Not the least insight has been gained into the species of vegetable whence this bark is derived; for although Mr. Bruce, who had been cured of a dysentery in Abyssinia by the bark of a shrub called the Wooginoos, now cultivated in Kew and other gardens under the name of Brucea antidysenterica or ferruginea, declared that it appeared to him from recollection to be the same; yet Dr. Duncan, in his Medical Commentaries for 1790, asserts, that upon compa-rison, the two barks seem essentially different. At present, therefore, it must be considered as a drug of unknown origin, though its sensible qualities and medical powers have been well ascertained by the experiments of various persons.
Mr. Brande, apothecary to the queen, who published an account of this bark first in the London Medical Journal, and then in a separate pamphlet, thus describes it. "There is a consider-"able variety in the external appearance of the "Angustura bark, owing, however, probably, "to its having been taken from trees of differ-"ent sizes and ages, or from various parts of "the same tree, as the taste and other proper-"ties perfectly agree. Some parcels which I "have examined, consist chiefly of slips, torn "from branches, which could not have ex-"ceeded the thickness of a finger: these are "often smooth, three feet or more in length, "and rolled up into small bundles. In others, "the pieces have evidently been, for the greater "part, taken from the trunk of a large tree, "and are wrinkled, and nearly flat, with quills "of all sizes intermixed.
"The outer surface of the Angustura bark, "when good, is in general more or less wrinkled, "and covered with a coat of a greyish white, "below which it is brown, with a yellow cast: "the inner surface is of a dull brownish-yellow "colour. It breaks short and resinous. The "smell is Angular and unpleasant, but not very "powerful: the taste intensely bitter, and "slightly aromatic; in some degree resembling "bitter almonds, but very lading, and leaving "a sense of heat and pungency in the throat. "This bark, when powdered, is not unlike the "powder of Indian rhubarb. It burns pretty "freely, but without any particular smell."
With respect to its habitude to menstrua, it yields its taste and flavour to water, cold and hot, to rectified and proof spirit, and to wine. The watery extract is large in quantity, bitter, but not acrid. After the action of water, the residuum imparts colour, and great acrimony, with nauseousness, to spirit. The spirituous extract is much less in quantity, and consists of less than a fourth of resin, the reft being partly gum, and partly a greasy matter, in which the acrid taste and unpleasant smell of the sub-ject appear to reside. Water distilled from the Angustura bark bruised had a Angular flavour, somewhat resembling that of strong parsley water. A small portion of white essential oil swam on the surface, which possessed the full smell of the bark, was acrid, and left a glow in the mouth like camphor. The preparations of this bark are not affected in colour by the addition of vitriol of iron.
Mr. Brande made various experiments to ascertain the comparative antiseptic power of the Angustura bark; from the result of which, it appears to rank very high among the vegetables possessing that quality, not one of the substances with which he compared it seeming to have the advantage of it.
With respect to its medicinal qualities, from the testimony of the gentlemen at Trinidad as well as those who have tried it in these climates, it appears to act as a very powerful tonic, and to be particularly efficacious in fevers of the intermittent kind, dysenteries and diarrhoeas. In large doses it is apt to occasion nausea, or to purge; but in smaller ones, it fits easy on the stomach, and is free from that common inconvenience of the Peruvian bark, of causing a sense of weight and fulness. Indeed, the efficacy of moderate doses is a peculiar advantage of the Angustura bark; from ten to twenty grains of the powder, and from one ounce to one and a half of the infusion or decoction with a portion of the tincture, having been found sufficient, a few times repeated, to prevent the paroxysms of an intermittent. In diarrhoeas and dysenteries, after the due exhibition of laxatives, its effects are usually very speedy. Mr. Wilkinson of Sunderland (Lond. Med. Journ. for 1790, part iv.) who has employed it extensively, found it peculiarly efficacious in low or nervous fevers, and the irregular inter-mittents of children, usually termed worm-fevers. As a general tonic, Mr. Brande thinks it superior to every other medicine of that class; and this is the light in which Dr. Pearson regards it, who rather compares it to the warm bitters, such as camomile, than to the Peruvian bark. Dr. Ewer mentions a case in which its external application in a mortification proved very effectual. On the whole, it appears not to be doubted that this bark is a valuable addition to the class of tonics of the higher order, and it is to be hoped that we shall not long be left ignorant of its natural history and botanical character.