This section is from the book "A Text Book Of Materia Medica, Being An Account Of The More Important Crude Drugs Of Vegetable And Animal Origin", by Henry G. Greenish. Also available from Amazon: A Text Book of Materia Medica : Being an Account of the More Important Crude Drugs of Vegetable and Animal Origin.
The bitter-sweet or woody nightshade, Solanum Dulcamara, Linne (N.O. Solanaceoe), is a perennial shrubby plant with long climbing or straggling stems, common in England in hedges and thickets. It produces small purplish blue flowers and red berries. During the Middle Ages it was much used as a medicine; now it is seldom employed.
The young stems are green and hairy, but as they grow older the hairs fall off, and they become quite smooth; the stems are gathered when about two or three years old, cut into short pieces, and dried.
Bitter-sweet stems occur in commerce in short pieces about 6 mm. in diameter, of a light greenish or brownish yellow colour, bearing occasional alternate scars. They are nearly cylindrical, quite glabrous, and more or less longitudinally furrowed and wrinkled. The yellow, glossy, corky layer can easily be scraped off, and the green primary cortex disclosed. The wood is yellowish, and exhibits, in older pieces, distinct annual rings. The stems are usually hollow in the centre, the remains of the pith being attached to the inner surface of the ring of wood.
The drug has no marked odour; the taste is at first bitter, but afterwards sweetish.
The student should observe
(a) The alternate scars,
(b) The glabrous, glossy surface, and hollow centre,
(c) The bitter-sweet taste.
Bitter-sweet has been reported to contain the amorphous glucoside dulcamarin to which the bitter-sweet taste is due, and also the glucosidal alkaloid solanine (which is also contained in the berries and young shoots of the potato, S. tuberosum, Linne) and other Solanaceous plants. According to Masson (1912) dulcamarin consists of two acid saponins, dulcamaretic acid which is non-glucosidal and dulcamaric acid which is glucosidal; the glucosidal alkaloid present resembles, but is not identical with, the solanine of potatoes, and is better termed solaceine.
Bitter-sweet was formerly given in rheumatic and cutaneous affections, but is now seldom prescribed.