This section is from the book "An Experimental History Of The Materia Medica", by William Lewis.
Vipera Pharm. Edinb. Coluber Berus Linn. The Viper or Adder, a viviparous reptile, about an inch or less in thickness, and twenty or thirty in length, with a small sharp-pointed tail. It is found in the heat of summer, under hedges in unfrequented places; and in winter retires into holes in the earth.
The poison of this serpent is confined to its mouth. At the basis of the phangs, or long teeth which it wounds with, is lodged a little bag containing the poisonous liquid; a very minute portion of which, if mixed immediately with the blood, proves fatal; though it does not appear to be pernicious when swallowed, provided there is no solution of continuity in the parts which it comes in contact with (a). Our viper-catchers are said to prevent the mis-chiefs otherwise following from the bite, by rubbing oil-olive warm upon the part.
The flesh of the viper is perfectly innocent, and has been greatly commended as a medicine in sundry disorders. It appears to be very nutritious, and hence an useful restorative in some kinds of weaknesses and emaciated habits: but in scrophulous, leprous, and other like dis-tempers, the good effects, which have been ascribed to it, are more uncertain: I have known a viper taken every day for above a month, in disorders of the leprous kind,. without any apparent benefit. The form in which they are used to best advantage, is that of broth, that the wines (made commonly by macerating for a week, with a gentle heat, two ounces of the dried fresh in three pints of mountain) have any great virtue, cannot perhaps be affirmed from fair experience.
(a) See Dr. Mead's Mechanical account of poisons, essay i.
The fat of the viper is accounted particularly useful in disorders of the eyes; but what advantages it has above other soft fats, is by no means clear: see Pinguedo. It was formerly supposed to have some specific power of refitting the poison of the viper's bite, by being rubbed immediately on the part; but experience has now shewn that common oil is in this intention of equal efficacy.