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 powers of dulcamara probably depend entirely upon the presence of the true alkaloid solanine, although the glucoside dulcamarine, which is also contained in the plant (and which Pelletier imagined to represent solanine combined with sugar), much more nearly represents the compound taste - sweet and bitter - of the wood. Solanine is bitter and rather burning in taste, weakly alkaline in reaction, and crystallizes out of its alcoholic solution in microscropic, white, four-sided right prisms, with a mother-of-pearl sheen upon them. It melts at 235° C, and coagulates amorphously as it cools. It is soluble in 8,000 parts of boiling water, 4,000 of ether, and in 500 of cold or 125 of boiling alcohol of .839 sp. gr. The amorphous form is said to be much more soluble in alcohol.
Physiological Action. - There can be little doubt that the only reason why dulcamara is not usually reckoned a poison is the smallness of the proportion in which solanine exists in the wood; for the alkaloid in question possesses unquestionable toxic properties, although there is considerable dispute as to their exact range.1 Of its power, as a narcotic, to produce tremors, convulsions, hurried respiration and death, there seems no doubt; but it would appear likely that, to produce the severest results of this kind with certainty, it may be necessary to inject subcutaneously, or directly into a vein. The experiments of Fraas and Martin,1 pursued in this way, are very striking. A dog died in seven minutes after injection of four and a half grains, the symptoms being sudden rapidity and convulsive embarrassment of respiration, general convulsions, tetanic spasms, and strong dilatation of the pupil, besides others to be mentioned presently. Clarus2 also observed convulsions and tetanic cramps. Ley-dorf3 administered it to pigeons (tying the oesophagus to prevent vomiting, which otherwise occurred), and observed hurried breathing, tremors, slight convulsions, and powerful dilatation of the pupil.
1 It should be observed that some of the experiments were made with solanine from the potato and other species of Solanum, and it has been suggested that there are dif-ferent varieties of the alkaloid; but there seems no evidence to support this idea.
Whether solanine also acts as an irritant upon the alimentary canal is more disputed, but there is plenty of evidence to show that it will produce vomiting; and the presence of distinct inflammatory mischief (enteritis) was found by Malik and Spatzier (after very large doses of impure sola-nine), and also by Fraas and Martin.
As to its physiological action on the vascular system, there are cases recorded by several observers in which solanine has produced congestion of the vessels of the cranial meninges; and the vessels of the kidneys and liver have been found engorged simply,4 or these again have been found actually inflamed.5 The vomiting, on the other hand, which was suffered by Clarus in his experiments upon himself, seemed connected with the nervous system, and not at all with the stomach. As to the power of solanine to dilate the pupil, the statements are discrepant. It seems clear, from the experiments of L. van Praag, 6 that even moderate doses will sometimes produce this result. Clarus, on the other hand, applied solanine locally to the eye and got slight myosis, with severe irritative effects upon the conjunctiva; while Schroff, in cases where he gave doses (to human patients) sufficient to produce decidedly unpleasant toxic symptoms, observed no change whatever in the pupil, and Fronmtiller7 found it more frequently absent than present. One or two authors speak of salivation as a toxic effect of solanine, and several speak of a heat and dryness in the throat, more or less accurately resembling that produced by the more powerful Solanaceae. Vertigo has very often been observed among the poisonous effects, and sometimes there has been produced an erythematous rash, which is even said to have proved fatal; though here it may well be doubtful if the dulcamara were really the cause of death.
The most distinct form of dulcamara-poisoning has ensued upon eating the berries, to which children are often attracted. There are well-established instances in which this has been followed by severe pain in the bowels, with great heat in the throat and chest. Pressure upon the abdomen cannot in such cases be borne, and there is much nausea, thirst, and prostration of strength. At the same time the pulsation at the wrist becomes hurried, and the breathing quick and painful. Sometimes these symptoms are exchanged for violent vomiting and purging, with profuse secretion of saliva. Sulphate of zinc relieves the stomach of its contents, and the subsequent use of the warm bath and of purgatives brings about recovery after the lapse of a few days.
1 Virchow's Archiv, iii. 225, 1854.
2 Journ. fur Pharmacodynamik, L 2.
3 Studien ub. d. Einfluss des Solanins auf Th. u. M., Mar., 1863.
4 Clarus, op. cit.
5 Malik and Spatzier, in Husemann, op. cit. 6 Journ. f. Pharmacod., i. 2.
7 Deutsche Klin., 1865, 40.
The above facts show that in dulcamara we have at all events an agent of considerable potency. Its most powerful action is said to be manifested in persons of fair complexion, light hair, and mild disposition, and especially in those who are subject to catarrhal affections in cold and damp weather; but this is doubtful.
Therapeutic Action. - The medical properties of dulcamara are generally supposed to be very feeble; but they are unquestionably of sufficient energy to render the plant valuable in the hands of the physician. Linnaeus, Carrere,1 and others highly commended it, a century ago, in herpetic diseases, scabies, etc. It has also been employed with advantage in chronic rheumatism, gout, incipient phthisis, humoral asthma, jaundice, and other complaints. Bergius recommends it in rheumatism; Murray states that all the ordinary secretions are promoted by the use of it; and Sir Alexander Crichton, in a letter published in Dr. Willan's celebrated work upon skin diseases, stated that, out of twenty-three cases of lepra (psoriasis) which were treated with dulcamara, only two failed.
Psoriasis and pityriasis appear likewise to be amenable to the influence of dulcamara. Dr. Neligan recommends the infusion, copiously administered, as an excellent vehicle for the preparations of iodine and arsenic employed in obstinate cutaneous affections. For pustular affections, and for vesicular and scaly ones, and in all diseases which arise simultaneously with the suppression or the disappearance of cutaneous eruptions, dulcamara is again a very useful remedy.
Personally, I have employed it in cases of humid asthma (especially when the disorder appeared after the repercussion of nettle-rash or some other eruption), and always with unequivocal success; also in the diarrhoea of children, when brought on by chill in damp weather, or when caused by dentition, using the infusion, which I found to quickly check the symptoms.
Dulcamara has long been used as a diaphoretic in rheumatic and venereal affections, and is strongly to be recommended likewise in nasal, pulmonary, and vesical catarrhs, attended by general dryness of the skin. Dr. G. B. Wood, in his "Dispensatory," recommends dulcamara as a fit medicine for subduing the sexual appetite in maniacs and others in whom this desire is morbidly active.
Bigelow and Bateman confirm the utility of this medicine, the latter declaring it to be one of the most effectual remedies for lepra (psoriasis), in all the varieties of that disorder which are at present known to medicine. He prescribes a decoction of the twigs and leaves. As in England, however, lepra is a disease which generally originates in a want of tone or vigor in the whole system, it is probable that a general mode of treatment would be more efficacious than a specific one. (Clarus (Arzneimittellehre) found it useful in many eruptions, but not in scaly ones.)
In delicate constitutions, and in hysterical women, it is proper to observe, the exhibition of dulcamara has sometimes been followed by syncope and slight palpitation of the heart. If under such circumstances the dose be diminished, the objectionable results no longer ensue.
The circumstance of dulcamara being a plant indigenous to our own
1 (Traite des proprieties, usages, et effets de la douce-amere. Paris, 1787.) country ought to be an argument for giving it every species of fair trial. (The plant grown in America is probably equal to the European in activity.)
Different samples of the herb do certainly indicate various degrees of strength; but as it is easy to judge of the goodness of any particular sample by the degree of narcotism (usually slight) which may follow upon its use, all that is needed is to regulate the dose according to its quality.
By some practitioners dulcamara is considered a valuable auxiliary to mercury.
While such are the positive claims of dulcamara, it is necessary to notice the opinion arrived at by Dr. Garrod, from his own experiments, that the action is almost nil. He states that he has given as much as sixty fluid ounces of the infusion in the course of a single day, and that no symptoms, unpleasant or otherwise, have resulted. ("The American plant, however, when gathered in full vigor, does not set easily on the stomach in large doses. I have known vomiting produced by a few grains of the powdered leaves, and by a small cup of the decoction. The strength of the plant seems to vary in some degree with the time of gathering and mode of preserving." Bigelow, op. cit., i. 174.)
Preparations And Dose. - The best preparation (Phillips) of dulcamara appears to be that obtained by infusing an ounce of the fresh stalks, chopped small, in ten fluid ounces of boiling distilled water. This is much more trustworthy than the decoction; since, by the operation of boiling a considerable amount of the active principle becomes dissipated. Infusum Dulcamarae, dose 3 ss. - 2 fl. ounces, or more. The officinal are Decoctum Dulcamarae,
- ij. (30. - 60.); Extract. Dulcam., gr. x. - xx. (.65 - 1.30); Ext. Dulcamarae Fluid., 3 ss. - ij. (2. - 8.).
Farquharson 1 dismisses this important drug with the brief comment: "Is never used." Girtanner,2 however, ninety years before, formed a higher estimate of its value, but insisted on its being used in very small doses (Sehr geringer Dosis).