This section is from the book "A Treatise On Therapeutics, And Pharmacology Or Materia Medica Vol1", by George B. Wood. Also available from Amazon: Part 1 and Part 2.
This bark, which is the product of Nectandra Rodioei, or bebeeru-tree, a lofty tree inhabiting Guiana and neighbouring parts of South America, was introduced into the Pharmacopoeias mainly as the source of a peculiar alkaloid, having virtues analogous to those of the cinchona alkaloids. The bark is in large flat pieces, a foot or two long, from two to six inches broad, and three or four lines in thickness; grayish-brown on the outer, and deep-cinnamon on the inner surface; of a rough fracture, and of a somewhat astringent, extremely bitter taste. Two alkaloids are said to have been obtained from it, called respectively bebeerin (bebeeria) and sipeerin (sipeeria); but as the two are extracted by the same process, Dr. Maclagan, of Edinburgh, who analyzed the bark, is inclined to believe that the latter is merely the result of an oxidation of the former. Like cinchona, nectandra also contains tannic acid, of the variety which forms a green precipitate with the salts of iron. Bebeeria is amorphous, and forms uncrystallizable salts with the acids. It is pale yellow, of a resinous appearance, fusible and inflammable, without smell, very bitter, slightly soluble in water, and freely soluble in alcohol and in ether. It consists of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen; but its formula has not been precisely determined. Sipeeria is also amorphous; but differs from the preceding alkaloid, in being insoluble in ether; so that, when it is desirable to separate the two, the object may be readily effected by means of ether, which removes the bebeeria, leaving the sipeeria behind.
Nectandra is tonic and astringent, with febrifuge virtues analogous, though inferior to those of cinchona. It is seldom used in any other form than that of sulphate of bebeeria, either impure, as generally found in commerce, or pure, as directed to be prepared in the British Pharmacopoeia.
Sulphate of Bebeeria (Beberiae Sulphas, Br.) is prepared by treating the bark with water diluted with sulphuric acid, adding lime to the infusion thus obtained, but so as still to leave an acid reaction, then precipitating with ammonia, treating the precipitate with alcohol so as to dissolve the alkaloid, concentrating the alcoholic solution, neutralizing with sulphuric acid, and evaporating to dryness. For the details of the process, as well as for the method in which the impure sulphate of commerce is obtained, the reader is referred to U. S. Dispensatory (12th ed., pp. 1023 for the former, and 561 for the latter).
The impure sulphate is in thin, shining, brownish scales, becoming yellow when powdered, sparingly soluble in pure but freely in acidulated water, and freely soluble also in alcohol. It has all the remedial effects of the bark, and may be given either in pill, or dissolved in water by the addition of a drop of diluted or aromatic sulphuric acid for each grain of the impure sulphate.
The sulphate of the British Pharmacopoeia has the same sensible properties and probably differs little in any respect. The test of sufficient purity, given in the Pharmacopoeia, is that "it is entirely destructible by heat; water forms with it a clear-brown solution; its watery solution gives with caustic soda a yellowish-white precipitate, which is dissolved by agitating the mixture with twice; its volume of ether; and the ethereal solution separated by a pipette, and evaporated, leaves a yellow translucent residue entirely soluble in dilute acids.1' Anything left undissolved by the ether is probably sipeeria.
The medical virtues of nectandra were first announced so early as 1834, by Dr. Rodie, after whom the specific name of the tree was adopted. But Dr. Douglas Maclagan was still more instrumental in giving it credit. It was for a time supposed that a substitute had been found for quinia in the alkaloid of this bark; and there can be no doubt that it will often prove efficacious in remittent and intermittent fevers; but experience has subsequently shown that it cannot be relied on; and its chief importance at present consists in the fact that, in the absence of the cinchona alkaloids, or where circumstances render their administration impossible, or when they have failed after trial, recourse may be had to sulphate of bebeeria, with good hopes of advantage. The dose is from two to five grains; and from a scruple to a drachm may be given between the paroxysms of an intermittent. The medicine may be given in pill or in slightly acidulated solution.