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 Delphinium Staphisagria contains two alkaloidal bodies, delphinine and staphisagrine, upon which its active properties depend. Delphinine, which, according to Erdmann,' constitutes about 1/10 per cent, by weight of the seeds, is an amorphous white substance, which, when its ethereal solution is evaporated, remains as a somewhat resinous mass. It has an acrid taste and a strong alkaline reaction, is little soluble in water, soluble in ten parts of cold rectified spirit (80 per cent, rect.), and very soluble in ether, chloroform, and benzol. Erdmann makes its formula C24H15NO2. Staphisagrine, which is left undissolved when the alkaline or ammoniacal precipitate of the two bases is treated with ether, is a yellow body, melting at 200° C, with a very acrid taste, insoluble in water and ether, but freely soluble in rectified spirit. The formula is uncertain.
Physiological Action of Delphinine. - The poisonous properties of stavesacre, as exhibited in the effects of delphinine, have received just attention and investigation of late years. Roerig and Falk, L. van Praag, Dorn, Albirs, and Dardel have experimented upon a very considerable number of animals. The general result so far established seems to be, that, after certain introductory local phenomena, a general paralysis of all movements is gradually developed, the breathing becomes labored, the beating of the heart is slow and weak, and sensation is annihilated. Death is followed by very marked rigor mortis; and dissection always discovers passive venous hyperaemiain all the cavities of the body; occasionally, also, there is local inflammation in the intestines.2
Therapeutic Action. - The decoction of stavesacre has been occasionally employed as an anthelmintic, and with tolcrab.e success. The nausea of pregnant women has also been found to be subdued by it when other medicines were of no avail; and relief has been given in the persistent vomiting which accompanies sea-sickness. In cases of amenorrhoea of long standing, I have known it to be an efficient emmenagogue, even when pulsatilla and other remedies obtained from ranunculaceous plants have proved useless. Van Praag,1 on the score of some careful observations, recommends delphinine in acute rheumatism. It appears to act also as a sedative to the heart and to the muscular and nervous systems. Van Praag gave it in doses of about 1/10 to 1/8 grain, or less, three times a day.
1Arch. Pharm. (2), cxviL, 43; Husemann: Die Pflanzenstoffe in chem., physiol, pharmakol. u. toxicol. Hinsicht (Berlin, 1871).
2 See the summary in Husemann. op. cit., pp. 235-242.
It is in the form of a tincture that the seeds of this plant deserve special consideration. In obstinate neuralgia, affecting the facial and superficial spinal nerves of the neck, the tincture has frequently effected a cure when all other remedies have failed. In rheumatism it has been strongly recommended, though, as far as my own personal experience goes, the results in such cases have been far from satisfactory. In periostitis, and shifting pains in the long bones, stavesacre is to be favorably regarded.
Like several other plants of this natural order, staphisagria is useful in certain affections of the eyes, and especially in ophthalmia tarsi. It checks the superabundant secretion of the conjunctiva, the Meibomian follicles, and the ciliary glands, and renders the discharge less puriform. Irritation and itching of the eyes are allayed by it, and in case of ulceration it helps to promote an excellent healing action.
External Use. - Stavesacre seeds reduced to powder are valuable in scabies, fungous ulcerations, and humid sores of analogous character, and, above all, as an instrument for the destruction of pediculi in the head, whence their popular name of "lice-bane." To be used efficiently for this purpose, after being pulverized, the material should be incorporated with ordinary hair-powder. When employed for external purposes, the alcoholic solution (one part in sixty) is to be resorted to. It may be dropped into the cavity of an aching tooth; for neuralgia it may be painted upon the skin; and in rheumatism an ointment or liniment of similar strength may be employed.
Preparations And Dose. - Tincture of the seeds, dose 5 to 20 minims; decoction of the seeds, dose 1 to 2 ounces, as an anthelmintic; ointment of the seeds; liniment of the seeds; the alkaloid delphinine, dose 1/16 to 1/8 grain. None of these are officinal in the U. S. Ph.