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 squill, Urginea Scilla, Steinheil (N.O. Liliaceoe), is a bulbous plant indigenous to the countries bordering on the
Mediterranean, and frequently appearing in great abundance. It is one of the most ancient of medicinal plants, having been well known to the Greeks and Romans; the drug was introduced into European medicine by the Arabian physicians of the early ages.
The plant produces a large tunicated bulb, often weighing several pounds, which lies partially imbedded in the ground. Two varieties are known, the white and the red; the former is collected largely in Sicily and Malta and is preferred in England, the latter is collected in Algeria and is the variety used in France. The scales of the white squill are whitish or yellowish, whilst those of the red variety are of a dull red colour, but many intermediate forms are known.
Fig. 210. Squill bulb, reduced. (Bentley and Trimen).
The roots are cut off and the external thin scales stripped off until the bulb is white. Three or four incisions half an inch deep are made across the base and three or four at right angles to these. The bulb is then cut into transverse slices about 2 mm. thick which are dried in the sun.
The commercial drug usually consists of narrow, flattish, curved strips from 2 to 5 cm. in length and about 3 mm. thick. They frequently taper towards both ends, are of a yellowish white colour and more or less translucent. When quite dry they are brittle and can easily be powdered, but they rapidly absorb moisture from the air, becoming tough and flexible. They have only a slight odour, but a disagreeable bitter and acrid taste. Occasionally the entire bulbs are imported, but they are difficult to keep in the fresh state, as they preserve their vitality for a long time, and if allowed to remain in a warm place rapidly develop an aerial shoot.
The constituents of squill are imperfectly known. Merck (1879) separated scillitoxin, scillipicrin, and scillin, all of which exhibit glucosidal properties. Scillitoxin and scillipicrin are both amorphous and act upon the heart, the former being the more active of the two; scillin is crystalline, but is inactive. Scillain (Jarmerstedt, 1880) appears to be a purer form of scillitoxin. Waliszewski (1893) separated scillinin, scillipicrin and scillamarin. Kopaczewski (1914) isolated scillitin and scillidiuretin; scillitin (0.2 to 0.37 per cent.) is an intensely bitter, purified form of scillitoxin and probably the active constituent in the purest condition yet obtained.
The bulbs also contain mucilage, sinistrin (a carbohydrate soluble in water but insoluble in alcohol, probably identical with triticin and irisin), and calcium oxalate in bundles of long acicular crystals; the latter easily penetrate the skin when the bulbs are handled, and give rise to excessive irritation. This irritation has, however, also been referred to a volatile or unstable substance present in the drug.
Squill closely resembles digitalis in increasing the vigour and diminishing the frequency of cardiac action; it is also a powerful expectorant, and is much used in chronic bronchitis and for coughs generally. In large doses it produces emesis.