This section is from the book "Materia Medica And Therapeutics Inorganic Substances", by Charles D. F. Phillips. Also available from Amazon: Materia medica and therapeutics.
This gas is very widely diffused, constituting 76.99 per cent. by weight of the atmosphere, 79.19 percent. by measure. In combination, it occurs in the mineral kingdom as the basis of nitrates, nitrites, etc., it enters into the composition of almost all animal tissues, and in the vegetable kingdom it is found as a constituent of the alkaloids and the most active medicines, as well as of the most nourishing foods.
Nitrogen may be obtained by burning either phosphorus or a mixture of iron filings and sulphur, or certain other substances, in a limited quantity of air, as under a bell-jar: the oxygen will be taken up and only nitrogen left. The process is not an easy one, and hence, possibly, the little trial so far made of the gas in medicine.
A colorless, odorless gas, sp. gr. .975, soluble in water to some extent.
This is negative in character; the gas will not support respiration ("azote") nor combustion, and it seems to act in the atmosphere as a diluting agent for the too stimulating oxygen. M. Dermarquay injected nitrogen into the peritoneum and cellular tissue of animals, and came to the conclusion that more or less exhalation from the lungs, etc., of the normal gases of the blood was caused by it (Archives Generales, 1859).
On the hypothesis that the stimulation of ordinary air caused irritation and suppuration in wounds, stumps, etc., M. Demarquay was led to try the effect of enclosing them in caoutchouc bags full of nitrogen; but the practice was not successful.