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 leaves, the tops, and the berries have a foetid and offensive odor, and a bitter, hot, and acrid taste. Distilled with water, they yield a considerable quantity of an essential oil, which is the active element of the plant. This oil is a yellowish fluid, becoming colorless when rectified; it has a penetrating odor of the fresh plant, and a burning taste. Specific gravity, .89 - 94. It dissolves perfectly in absolute alcohol, and in twice its weight of alcohol sp. gr. .85.
Physiological Action. - Savin in large doses is a powerful irritant poison, resembling many ethereal oils in the general character of its effects. It produces vomiting and purging, and other signs of gastro-intestinal inflammation; the experiments of Mitscherlich and Hillefeld have shown, moreover, that its irritant action on the kidneys produces haematuria; about two drachms sufficed to kill middle-sized rabbits in a few hours. A considerable number of instances of fatal poisoning in the human subject have been caused by the practice of administering savin (the oil or decoction of the tops) with a view to produce abortion. Christison records two such cases, and Taylor (on Poisons) expresses the opinion that death from savin, given for this purpose, is far more common than is generally supposed. It is somewhat curious that Orfila is silent respecting the operation of savin, except as regards dogs; which seems to show that, at his date, it had attracted comparatively little attention on the Continent. It is only by the production of such violent irritation of the abdominal and pelvic organs as generally endangers life, that the pregnant uterus can be stimulated to expel its contents.1
Therapeutic Action. - The value of savin has been the subject of much dispute, except with regard to its well-known uses as a local irritant.
As an Emmenagogue, savin has been declared by Van der Kolk, and some other writers, to be useless; but there is a very large body of good evidence2 which must be considered to fully establish its worth in this respect; and the failures which have attended its use must have been due either to adulteration of the oil, or insufficiency of the dose. Cullen expressly states that he had often been deterred from giving it in sufficient doses to act as an emmenagogue, on account of its acrid and heating qualities. I consider that savin is one of the most certain and powerful emmenagogues in the Pharmacopoeia, with the additional advantage that it can be given with perfect freedom from risk of doing harm.
In Menorrhagia, Leucorrhoea, and Uterine Haemorrhage, singularly enough, savin has proved useful in many hands. I have myself given the tincture with the best effects, in doses of from five to ten drops, in a tablespoonful of cold water, every half-hour to every three hours; and Aran considered savin to be one of the most powerful medicines which we possess for combating the various atonic conditions of the uterus which may give rise to the above-mentioned disorders. Aran gave the powdered leaves.
In Chronic Gout, and in rigidity of the joints from chronic rheumatism, savin was formerly much employed. Dr. Chapman (of America) thought highly of it in the latter class of affections. Nothnagel not only denies these actions of savin, but speaks even of its action in atonic amenorrhoea, with a scepticism which has every appearance of being based on theory untested by practical experience.
As an External Irritant, savin is chiefly employed (in the form of ointment) to keep blistered surfaces open and suppurating. The concreted discharges require to be removed from time to time, so that the action of the ointment may be continuous. It is preferable to ointment of cantharides, because less acrid.
1 Foderg gave 100 drops daily for three weeks, without producing the slightest movement towards abortion.
2 Pereira, vol. ii. p. 332; Home, Clinical Experiments, p. 387; Tilt, p. 18; Sir Charles Clarke; Sir C. Locock (who gave it in combination with iron and aloes).
The power of savin is useful as a caustic for the destruction of warts, and other excrescences; in combination with verdigris it may be employed for the removal of condylomata and venereal warts. Upon wounds and ulcers its action is that of an acrid (not chemical) caustic.
Preparations and Dose. - Sabina, gr. v. - xv. (.30 - 1.); Oleum Sabinae, mi. - v. (.06 - .30); Ext. Sabinae Fluid., m v. - xv. (.30 - 1.); Ce-ratum Sabinae.