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. - Guaiacum resin has a slightly aromatio and balsamic odor; on being chewed, it softens, and communicates a slightly bitter and acrid taste, followed by a peculiar burning and prickling sensation in the back of the throat. The sp. gr. is 1.25. Not more than nine per cent. of it is soluble in water; but alcohol dissolves about 91 per cent., acquiring a deep brown color, and from this the resin is again precipitated by water. It is soluble also in ether and in alkaline solutions. The nature of guaiacum resin is that of an acid. It forms soluble salts with the alkalies, and is precipitated from alkalies by acids.
The constituents are about 10 per cent. of guaiaretic acid, C20H16O4, which is crystalline; and about 70 per cent. of guaiaconic acid, CI9H10O5, with other subordinate matters.
Physiological Action. - Guaiacum, given in small doses, has the effect simply of stimulating the vascular system, and often produces diaphoresis. Given in large doses, it produces dryness of the mouth, burning in the throat, a sensation of heat in the stomach, loss of appetite, heartburn, flatulence, nausea, vomiting, and purging.
These symptoms, which vary according to the dose and the length of time that the patient is kept subject to the influence of the drug, are accompanied by palpitation of the heart, headache, apparently of a congestive type, confusion of mind, giddiness, fainting, and general lassitude. Stiffness, of a rheumatic character, is felt at the same time in the nape of the neck and the small of the back, with pains in the bones of the legs, the limbs feeling as if swelled; darting pains, apparently of a rheumatic neuralgic character, extend also from the feet to the knees. The results described are further attended, in many instances, by profuse perspiration, and are sometimes followed by an exanthematous eruption, and casually, by ptyalism. When guaiacum fails to act upon the skin, it often operates as a diuretic.
Therapeutic Action. - Our first knowledge of guaiacum was obtained through the Spaniards, who brought it to Europe from St. Domingo, about the year 1508, with the reputation of its being antisyphilitic. The name of "lignum vitae" was given to it almost immediately, and by 1519 many thousands of patients are said to have been cured.
The mode of exhibiting the medicine was in decoction, this being frequently made with port wine. It was employed in every form of the disorder, and in every stage of its progress, the physicians prescribing at the same time the use of purgatives, baths, and appropriate diet. Resort to mercury was discontinued, and even censured, and for a period of two centuries the new medicine enjoyed the highest repute. Boerhaave went so far as to assert that guaiacum-wood was competent to expel the venereal poison from the system. Yet those who most strongly believed in its efficacy were constrained to admit occasional failures; and, on the other hand, we can now see that many conditions which guaiacum was supposed to cure probably did not belong to the venereal class, so that the drug acquired a celebrity it did not deserve.
The ancient reputation of guaiacum as an antisyphilitic remedy was in great part due to the celebrated name of one of the earliest patients who benefited by its use. This was no less a person than Ulric von Hutten, the satirical and military champion of the early Reformers, and author of the "Epistolae Obscurorum Virorum," a book which set all Europe laughing at the monks. This famous personage has himself related the story of his cure, which appears to have been effected by means of a compound decoction of various woods, of which guaiacum was assumed to be the most important.
Catarrh and Gout. - In chronic pulmonary catarrh, especially when occurring in gouty subjects, there can be no doubt that guaiacum manifests a beneficial action. Even in gout itself it once had great renown. Cullen speaks of it in terms of commendation.
Tonsillitis. - Dr. Hannah and Mr. Bell1 advise the use of guaiacum in tonsillitis. They state that it reduces the pain and inflammation with marked rapidity.
Menstrual Disorders. - I may add that guaiacum is useful also in amenorrhoea and in dysmenorrhoea.
Preparations and Dose. - Resina Guiaci, gr. x. - xxx. (.65 - 2.); Tinct. Guiaci, 3 ss. - iss. (2. - 6.); Tinct. Guiaci Ammoniata, 3 ss. - iss. (2. - 6); Decoct. Sarsaparillae Comp.,
- j. (15. - 30.); Syrupus barsapanl. Co., 3 ij. - iv. (10. - 20.)