This section is from the book "Materia Medica And Therapeutics - Vegetable Kingdom", by Charles D. F. Phillips. Also available from Amazon: Materia Medica And Therapeutics: Vegetable Kingdom.
Active Ingredients. - The active principle of the Bryonia dioica is probably the neutral body bryonine, which appears to be a glu-coside. It exists, when separated, in white amorphous masses, of very bitter taste; is readily soluble in water and alcohol; insoluble in ether. On boiling the solution sugar is formed, and a resin (bryoretine) is precipitated.
Physiological Action. - The poisonous effects of bryonia have long been known, the medicine having once been a favorite with the French physicians, who noticed, however, that in over-doses it often produced violent sickness, griping, watery evacuations, and fainting; some of the cases ending fatally. Orfila's experiments upon animals proved that the root is a violent irritant: introduced into the stomach, it caused intense and fatal gastritis; into the pleura, it caused fatal pleurisy, with fibrinous effusion.
The researches of Collard de Martigny showed that bryonine possesses an exactly similar power of inflaming the stomach when swallowed; also any wound or raw surface to which it may be applied. Of course it acts more energetically than bryonia. Further researches are needed, however, to discover whether there may not be other physiological properties in bryonine.
Administered in moderate doses, bryonia is purgative, and may be employed with advantage, provided that care be taken to suspend the use, should the irritant effects become developed. In this case opiates or cordials must be resorted to. To insure uniformity in the action, when employed as a medicine, the roots should be dug up in the spring, then cut into thin slices, and dried either in the sun or in a warm room, by adopting which means the acrid matter becomes partly dissipated. The whole of the acrid principle may be expelled by repeated washing with water; the fecula which remains is not unlike that of the potato, and is said to be a nutritious food. (Bryonine, in doses of three to four grains, is a violent poison; in doses of one-sixth to one-third grain is a drastic purgative (Cazin).)
Therapeutic Action. - The medicinal reputation of bryonia is very ancient.
In Epilepsy, the juice was administered in the time of Dioscorides; the upper part of the root was laid bare, and a hole scooped in it, which in a few hours became filled. This method has been followed for the same purpose in our own day.
In Hysteria, it was recommended by Matthiolus in the sixteenth century.
In Mania, it was formerly much relied upon - i. e., in days when this malady was habitually treated by free purgation. Among other authorities in its favor is found Sydenham. For all these purposes, however, it is probable that bryonia has been justly superseded by other remedies.
As a Drastic Purgative in Dropsy, it has been recommended, and probably might still be well employed. Dr. Pearson's opinion was that "it would very well supply the place of jalap in our hospitals." The infusion is the best form of administration: half an ounce of the dried root should be placed in a pint of boiling water, to which should be added an ounce of spirit of juniper; of this preparation a wineglassful should be taken every four hours until copious watery motions are induced.
As a Diuretic. - In dropsical cases the infusion, given as above recommended, not merely purges, but also produces a vigorous action of the kidneys - a circumstance that appears to point to bryonia as a specially valuable drug in cases where it is desirable to get rid very rapidly of large accumulations of fluid. A good deal of care, however, is required, the known tendency of bryonia being to depress the action of the heart.
In Pleurisy, and other Serous Inflammations, bryonia is an exceedingly valuable drug; it is usually in the second stage, in which general pyrexia has diminished or disappeared, but exudation continues, that the best effects of this remedy are seen. It is just in these cases, in which aconite is so effectively employed in the earlier feverish stage, that bryonia afterwards proves most useful; it limits the extent of serous effusion, and actively helps its removal by absorption.
Bryonia is more especially effective in pericarditis and in pleurisy; in these maladies it fully equals any remedy that exists.
In Pleuropneumonia, bryonia is often of great service; here, as in simple pleurisy, it both limits effusion and assists absorption.
In Rheumatism, of various forms, it has also proved useful; but, although it will sometimes relieve joints that are swollen, it is more especially the merely painful and stiff rheumatic joints that are benefited by this drug.
In Liver Affections of various kinds, and also in the ordinary bilious headache with vomiting, I have myself found bryonia worthy of commendation.
(Bryonia Alba is a favorite remedy with the homoeopaths, and possesses, so far as known, the same properties as the B. dioica.)
Preparations And Dose. - Non-officinal. In trade are found a tincture made from the dried roots of the B. dioica and B. alba, indiscriminately, and a tincture made from equal parts of the expressed juice of the fresh root of the B. alba and alcohol. Dose of the latter "m j. - iij. (.06 - .18); of the former the dose will be indefinitely larger, depending on the variations in quality.