This section is from the book "An Experimental History Of The Materia Medica", by William Lewis.
Cicuta Pharm. Lond. & Edinb. Cicuta major C B. Conium maculatum Linn. Hemlock: a tall umbelliferous plant, with large leaves, of a blackish green colour on the upper side, and a whitish green underneath, divided into a number of small oblong somewhat oval segments, which stand in pairs on middle ribs: these segments are again deeply cut, but not quite divided, on both sides; and many of these ultimate sections have one or two slighter indentations. The stalk is round, smooth, hollow, irregularly variegated with spots and streaks of a red or blackish purple colour. The flowers are white; the seeds greenish, flat on one side, very convex and marked with five furrows on the other. The root is oblong, about the size of a middling parsnep, yellowish without, white an fungous within. The plant is annual or biennial; common about the sides of fields, under hedges, and in moist shady grounds; and flowers in June and July.
The leaves of hemlock have a rank smell: the organs of taste, they affect but little. On expression, they give out their smell to the juice; which, on being directly infpiffated with a gentle heat, to the consistence of an extract, retains great part of the scent, and discovers an unpleasant subacrid taste seemingly of the sub-saline kind. If the juice be suffered to fettle till it becomes clear, it loses nearly all the specific flavour of the hemlock, the odorous principle seeming to separate and subside along with the herbaceous feculencies: the proper menstruum of this matter is rectified spirit of wine; which completely extracts the smell, both of the leaves in substance and of the infpiffated juice, and receives, from both, a green tincture. The saturated tincture, mixed with water, grows turbid, and deposites a green resin.
This herb is recommended externally, in cataplasms, somentations, and plasters, as a powerful resolvent and discutient. Taken internally, in no great quantity, it has occasioned disorders of the senses, sleep, convulsions, and in some instances death; and hence it is ranked among the poisonous plants: Boerhaave tells us, that by the effluvia of the herb bruised and strongly smelt to, he became vertiginous (a). It is said, that to certain brute animals, it is innocent (a); and that its ill qualities are corrected by vinegar or other vegetable acids(b). Of its effects in small doses, insufficient to do harm, in which it has been by some recommended, nothing material was known, till the happy experiments of Dr. Stoerck, lately pub-lished(c), gave room to hope, not only that the virtues ascribed to it in external applications are better founded than practitioners in general seem now to suppose, but likewise that it is a plant of very great importance as an internal medicine.
(a) Historia plantar* Lugd. Bat, p. 94. Haller, Stirpes helveticae, p. 434.
Dr. Stoerck relates, that bags of the dry leaves, quilted together, boiled for a few minutes in water, (or in milk, where they could not otherwise be borne, on account of their smell and the itching they produced) then squeezed from the superfluous liquid, and applied warm, checked the progress of very bad gangrenes, and procured a reparation of the corrupted parts: that the same application, in a person of sixty who had been gouty for several years, immediately abated the pains, softened and discussed the tophaceous concretions, and occasioned the next fit to be milder and of shorter continuance: that its effects were likewise con-siderable in oedematous tumours, scirrhous stru-mae, indurations of the glands of the bread, and in very bad cancers: that nevertheless some received from it no benefit, though no one harm: that in inflammations or hot serous tumours, it was less proper than in the above cases, or had place only after evacuations: and that plasters, containing the juice of the hemlock, often re-solve and discuss what resists all other applications. It is in the form of plaster that this herb, among us, has been chiefly made use of: the recent juice is mixed with a solution of twice its quantity of gum ammoniacum made in vinegar of squills, and the mixture boiled down to a due consistence.
(a) Quippe videre licet, pinguefcere faepe cicuta Barbigeras pecudes, homini quae eft acre venerium.
(b) Cicuta, praefens illud venenum, fi coquitur in aceto, fine noxa comedi potest, quod probavi aliquoties, experi-menti ergo, Lugduni Batavorum, ubi in foffis extra urbem srequens crefcit, Lindestolpe, de venenis, edit. Stentzel. p. 431. - Cicutae caules, aceto macerati, impune comeduntur, & ipfe edi. Id. p. 781.
A large spoonful of hemlock juice given to a cat, had no sensible effect: a second produced a visible embarras on the region of the reins: in a little time the animal staggered, but did not fall: on swallowing a third spoonful, the ran away, and was presently out of sight. A quarter of an hour after, the was found, stretched out, motionless, her paws rigid. Half a dram of theriaca, diluted with two large spoonfuls of wine, had no good effect. A large spoonful of fresh lemon juice was scarce swallowed, when the animal got up on her legs, appeared free from pain, as if nothing had happened - continues in perfect health. Mr. Haram, apothecary at Chartres. Rozier Tableau, torn. i. 1773.
(c) Libellus quo demonstratur cicutam, etc. Vindobonae, 1760.
For internal purposes, he directs the juice, while fresh, without suffering it to fettle, to be infpiffated in an earthen vessel over a very gentle fire, and kept continually stirring to prevent its burning, till it acquires the consistence of a thick extract; which is to be mixed with so much of the powdered leaves, as will reduce it into a mass fit for being formed into pills. This preparation, he says, was given to a little dog, in the quantity of a scruple; taken by himself, in doses of one and two grains, every morning and evening, for several days; continued by persons in health, for a year or two; increased, in some cases, to a dram and a half in a day; without producing any ill consequence, or affecting any of the actions, secretions, or excretions of the body. It nevertheless had very powerful and salucary effects in some reputed incurable dis-eases; acting, though slowly and insensibly, as a high resolvent: he relates histories of inveterate fchirrutes, cancers, and the worst kinds of ulcers and fistulae, being completely cured by it; and says it resolves also recent cataracts, or at lead restrains their progress. He begins always with small doses; giving one pill, of two grains, first twice a day, then thrice a day, and gradually increasing the number to six or more for a dole. The good effects of the medicine were sometimes visible in a few days; though the cure generally required several months.