Origin and Properties. Columbo is the root of Cocculus palmatux, a climbing plant, growing in the forests of Mozambique, on the southeastern coast of Africa. As brought into the market, it is in transverse slices, circular or oval, from one to two inches in diameter, usually three or four lines thick, consisting of a thick exterior cortical portion, with a brownish wrinkled epidermis, and of an interior medullary portion, light, spongy, and more or less shrunk. The cut surface is yellowish, with a greenish tinge near the circumference, of a feeble somewhat aromatic odour, and a very bitter taste, which is strongest in the cortical part. The powder is greenish when fresh.

Active Principles

The root contains two bitter principles on which its virtues depend; one peculiar to it called columbin, the other supposed to be identical with berberina, an alkaloid found in Berberis vulgaris. Besides these there are a peculiar volatile oil, in small proportion, albumen and starch in large quantity, and other principles of less importance.

Chemical Relations. The bitterness and medical virtues of columbo are extracted by water and alcohol. The infusion, prepared cither with hot or cold water, is precipitated by tincture of galls, and the acetate and subacetate of lead; but the bitterness is not affected. No precipitates are produced by the salts of iron, zinc, or copper, nor by tartar emetic or corrosive sublimate. Tincture of iodine does not affect the infusion prepared with cold water, but gives to the decoction or hot infusion, after cooling, a blue colour.

Effects on the System

Columbo has the properties of the simple bitters, with the advantage over several of them, that it is less heating and stimulant, and less apt to irritate the stomach. Buchner states that a grain of the ethereal extract, introduced into a wound in the leg of a rab-bit, caused the death of the animal in ten hours; and hence it has been inferred that the root might possess narcotic properties; but this is much too narrow a basis for the support of such an opinion. I have never seen the slightest appearance; of narcotism from the use of columbo, though I have prescribed it very frequently and freely. It is probably nothing more than a simple bitter, somewhat qualified by the minute proportion of volatile oil contained in it, which, however, can scarcely have any other effect than possibly to render the medicine more acceptable to the stomach.

Therapeutic Application

This root is said to have been long employed, in bowel affections, by the natives of the country where it is produced. The first published notice of it was by Francis Redi in 1085; but it was not until after the publication of Dr. Thomas Perceval's Medical Essays, in 1V73, that it came into general use. It may be employed for all the purposes to which the simple bitters generally are applied (see page 213), with this advantage, that, in consequence of its mildness and acceptability to the stomach, it may sometimes be advantageously given when others prove offensive. The affection to which it is best adapted is probably dyspepsia. I have found few medicines more efficient in this complaint, when complicated with constipation and flatulence, than a compound infusion prepared with half an ounce of bruised columbo, half an ounce of ginger, a drachm or two of senna, and a pint of boiling water. A wineglassful should be taken before breakfast; if this do not open the bowels, another before dinner; and if this fail, a third in the evening. I have found the combination also promptly successful in severe gastralyic pains attendant on an enfeebled stomach. Even when there is reason to suspect the coexistence of some degree of chronic inflammation with dyspepsia, columbo is not always contraindicated; though its use requires more caution. In gastric irritability, unconnected with active congestion or inflammation, it is thought by some to have the effect of composing the stomach; and hence it has been recommended in the vomiting of pregnancy or hysteria, bilious vomiting, etc.; but I have no experience with it in these affections. It has also been especially recommended in the declining stages, or the imperfect convalescence of remittent fevers, and of various affections of the prima) viae, as cholera morbus, cholera infantum, diarrhoea, dysentery, etc., under circumstances requiring the use of tonics.


Columbo is sometimes given in the form of powder, which may be combined with ginger, subcarbonate of iron, or rhubarb, when one or more of these medicines is indicated. The infusion, however, is generally preferable.

The officinal Infusion (Infusum Calumbae, U. S.) is made with half an ounce of the bruised or coarsely powdered root and a pint of water. The present U. S. Pharmacopoeia prepares it preferably by percolation; and this may be followed by the apothecary; but the old method of maceration is more convenient extemporaneously. It is a question for consideration whether the water should be cold or hot. The infusion is apt to spoil quickly; depositing a considerable quantity of insoluble matter, becoming more or less ropy, and acquiring a disagreeable taste This tendency has been ascribed to the use of boiling water, by which the starch is dissolved. But it has been found that the infusion made with cold water is also liable to change, even more so, according to one observer, than the hot, though this does not exactly accord with my own observation. If cold water does not dissolve the starch, it does dissolve the albumen, which boiling water coagulates and renders insoluble; and, as albumen undergoes decomposition very readily itself, and promotes the decomposition also of other associated substances, it may be readily understood why the infusion prepared with cold water will not keep well. To obviate both these difficulties, the infusion may first be prepared with cold water, by which the starch is left behind, and then quickly raised to the boiling point, so as to coagulate the albumen dissolved, which may then be separated by filtration. This nicety, however, is necessary only when the infusion is required to be kept for several days. The most convenient method is to prepare it with hot water, and in small quantities at a time, as wanted for use. When cold water is employed, a much greater length of maceration is required, not than twelve hours, unless the process of percolation be resorted to. The infusion of columbo may be appropriately combined with the soluble salts of iron, zinc, or copper, or with corrosive sublimate when indicated; but not with the salts of lead. Free iodine should not be given with the hot infusion.

There is an officinal Tincture of Columbo (Tinctura Calumbae, U. S.), which may be used like the other bitter tinctures, and is liable to the same objections. (Sec Compound Tincture of Gentian, page 219).

The British Pharmacopoeia directs an extract (Extractum Calum-bae, Br.), which, being prepared with diluted alcohol, is free from the inert starch and albumen, and may be given in the dose of from five to fifteen grains three times a day. The small proportion of volatile oil contained in the root is mainly driven off in the process of evaporation; but the loss of it is probably of little importance.

The dose of powdered columbo is from ten to thirty grains; of the infusion, two fluidounces; of the tincture, from one to four fluidrachms; in each case, to be taken three or four times a day.

From the simple bitters above described, all the effects which this subdivision of tonics is capable of producing may be obtained; but there are three others, of indigenous growth, which, though less frequently used, deserve a brief notice, as they are scarcely less efficacious, and may sometimes be found convenient.