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.
Nux vomica has long been used as a medicine in India, and was described by the early Arabian writers, by whom it was made known to modern Europe. The name is not appropriate: for in ordinary doses the medicine is not apt to irritate the stomach, and, when given largely, seldom vomits, and could never be given with propriety in reference to an emetic effect.
The bean of St. Ignatius, though supposed by some to be the nux vomica of Serapion, was probably first made known in Europe after the discovery and settlement of the Philippine Islands, where the tree producing it is indigenous, and the seeds were used as a medicine by the natives. It was from their supposed value in the treatment of intermittent fever, and various other complaints, that the Jesuit missionaries to those islands were induced to honour the medicine with the name of the founder of their order.
Both nux vomica and the bean of St. Ignatius have, at various times, been used in numerous complaints, but, it must be confessed, rather empirically. Intermittent fever, the plague, gout, rheumatism, cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery, colic, constipation, worms in the bowels, the poisonous effects of snake-bites, scorbutic ulcers, insanity, hypochondriasis, hysteria, epilepsy, chorea, hydrophobia, neuralgia, hemicrania, palsy, and impotence are among the affections in which one or the other, or both of these medicines have been recommended. Better acquainted than our predecessors with their mode of operating, we can now prescribe them more intelligently, and with more accurate discrimination.
It will be remembered that the medicine is in small doses simply tonic, though probably with a special tendency to the nervous centres, and. more largely given, acts with great energy upon the spinal marrow, and to a certain extent also on the base of the brain, stimulating both the sensitive and motor functions. Hence arise two distinct indications for its use, one as a tonic in local or general debility, particularly when the nervous functions are involved: and the other as a direct stimulant of the nervous centres in cases of loss of sensation or the power of motion, or of both, in other words, in paralytic affections. Under these two heads will be arranged the practical remarks which are to follow.