This section is from the book "An Experimental History Of The Materia Medica", by William Lewis.
Palm: a tall unbranched tree, with long reed-like leaves elegantly disposed on the top. Different species of it grow spontaneously in the eastern countries, and in the warmer parts of the West Indies.
The palma major C. B. Phoenix dactylifera Linn, is cultivated in some of the southern parts of Europe. Its fruit, the dates of the shops, is of an oblong shape, like an acorn, but generally larger; and consists of a thick fleshy substance including, and freely parting from, an oblong hard stone, which has a remarkable furrow running its whole length upon one side. The best dates come from Tunis: they should be chosen large, softish, not much wrinkled, of a reddish yellow colour on the outside, with a whitish membrane betwixt the flesh and the stone. They have an agreeable sweet taste, accompanied with a slight astringency; and hence stand recommended in tickling coughs and thin acrid defluxions on the lungs, and in alvine fluxes. Among the Egyptians and Africans, they are said to be a principal article of food, and when used too freely, to be difficult of digestion, occasion head-achs, sometimes gripes, and, in length of time, obstructions of the viscera, cachectic, and melancholic disorders.
The palma oleosa (palma foliorum pediculis fpinofis, fructu pruniformi luteo oleofo Sloan. jam.) is a native of the coast of Guinea (a) and the Cape Verd islands, from whence it has been introduced into Jamaica and Barbadoes. From its fruit is extracted an oil, which, as brought to us, is about the consistence of an ointment, of a strong, not disagreeable smell, and scarcely any particular taste: by long keeping it loses its high colour, and becomes white, and in this state is to be rejected. The inhabitants of the Guinea coast are said to employ the palm oil for the same purposes as we do butter. With us, it is only used in some external applications, for pains and weakness of the nerves, cramps, sprains, and other like complaints. The common people sometimes apply it to chilblains; and, when used early, not without benefit. It is said to be peculiarly serviceable in hardness of the belly, both of adults and children.(a)
*(a) According to Bergius, another species of the oil palm grows on the coast of Guinea and in Senegal, the palma altiffima non fpinofa, fructu pruniformi minore, racemo fparfo Sloan. Jam. & Adanfon.
Oleum ex-prffum pal-mae Ph. Ed.
The medullary part of certain oriental palm trees (palma indica caudice in annulos protuberantes dstincto, fructu pruniformi, Rati. Sagus, feu palma farinaria Rumph. Amb.(b) affords another article of food to the natives, and of the materia medica to us. The farinaceous medulla, freed from the filamentous matter with which it is enveloped, is beaten with water, and made into cakes, which are afterwards reduced into small grains, and dried. The cakes are said to be the bread used by the Indians in scarcity of rice: the grains are the fago or fagou of the shops. This substance, commonly recommended as a restorative in phthises and emaciations and for restraining fluxions, appears to be a light, moderately nutritious demulcent food; in which view it is by some directed (c) as a proper aliment for young children, in preference to the more tenacious and less digestible preparations of wheat flour. It dissolves in water into a viscid mucilage; is less acescent and flatulent than other farinae; keeps longer in the grain, even for twenty years in a dry place, and also in its mucilaginous state a long time (d).
(a) Bergii Mat. Med. 882.
* (b) The Cycas circinalis Linn. has been given as the fago plant, but, as Bergius supposes, erroneously.
(c) Albertus Seba, Thesaur. vol. i. p. 40. Aft. nat. curios, vol. i. Append. (d) Cullen, Mat. Med.