Cubebs are the dried unripe fruit of Piper Cubeba (Cubeba officinalis of Miquel), a climbing perennial of the E. Indies, inhabiting especially Java and the neighbouring islands.

Sensible Properties. The fruit is spherical, about the size of a small pea, and furnished with a short stalk, continuous with a network of raised veins which surround the berry. Their colour in mass is a dark gray; some of the berries being almost black, others much lighter-coloured. The powder is dark and oily, and bears no inconsiderable resemblance to that of opium, which has been fatally mistaken for it. The odour is peculiar and aromatic, the taste warm, bitterish, and camphorous, imparting a sense of coolness when the air is drawn through the mouth. Water very imperfectly extracts the virtues of cubebs, alcohol and ether completely. They gradually deteriorate by age, and, as this deterioration takes place most rapidly in powder, they should be kept whole, and pulverized as wanted for use.

Chief Constituents. These are volatile oil, an acrid resin, and a peculiar principle called cubebin. The volatile oil, which is obtained by distillation with water, is when pure quite colourless, but, as commonly met with, yellowish or greenish. It is lighter than water, of about the consistence of olive oil, of an odour like that of cubebs, and a warm, aromatic, camphorous taste. The resin is, according to Vauquelin, somewhat acrid, and has a balsamic odour and taste resembling those of copaiba. Cubebin is closely analogous to piperin, and, when pure, quite destitute of odour and taste. The chief active constituent is undoubtedly the volatile oil, the operation of which is somewhat aided by the resin. Cubebin is probably inert.

Medical Properties and Uses

It is probable that cubebs were known to the ancient Greeks. The Arabians certainly were acquainted with; them, and by these they were introduced into Europe. Employed for the same purposes as black pepper, they were at once feebler and less agreeable, and fell at length into entire neglect. It is only about forty or fifty years since the use of them was revived, in consequence of the favourable reports of English physicians in India, as to their efficacy in the treatment of gonorrhoea, in which they had been long employed by the native practitioners. Cubebs have the properties of the stimulant aromatics, with a peculiar direction to the urinary organs. When freely taken, they produce a feeling of warmth in the stomach, increase the frequency of pulse and heat of skin, sometimes occasion giddiness or headache, and, in consequence of the absorption of the volatile oil, and its escape through the kidneys, augment the secretion of urine, and impart to it a peculiar odour. In excess, they may cause burning in the stomach, nausea and vomiting, griping pains in the bowels with more or less of a laxative effect, irritation or inflammation of the urinary passages, and a general febrile condition. Occasionally their operation, in ordinary doses, is attended with a rash upon the surface, somewhat resembling urticaria. Though applicable to the same purposes as pepper, in reference to their cordial operation on the stomach, it is mainly in the treatment of gonorrhoea, and other affections of the urino-genital organs, that they are employed. They are recommended in the earliest stage of gonorrhoea, and, thus given, occasionally produce speedy cures; but they often also fail, and have been accused of increasing inflammation, and aggravating any existing tendency to swelled testicle. They should, I think, be used with caution when inflammation exists, beyond that which is an essential constituent of the affection; and it is probable that their greater efficacy in the earliest stage is owing to the circumstance, that highly inflammatory symptoms have not yet been developed. They probably operate through a direct alterative influence of the urine, impregnated with their properties, upon the portion of mucous membrane affected. In the advanced or chronic stage of gonorrhoea, and in gleet, though perhaps less efficient, they would be less likely to produce mischievous effects. Upon the same principle as in this complaint, they have been recommended in chronic cystirrhoea, chronic pyelitis, leucorrhoea, abscess of the prostate, and other conditions of the urinary and genital passages, in which a moderate stimulation of the diseased surface is indicated.* They are said to have proved useful in piles. Some suppose them to have an alterative action on the mucous surfaces generally, and therefore recommend them also in chronic bronchial affections, attended with copious expectoration, and a relaxed condition of the tubes.


The most common form of exhibition is that of powder, of which from ten grains to half a drachm is usually given in affections of the bladder, kidneys, and bronchial tubes; but in gonorrhoea the requisite dose is larger, varying from half a drachm to three drachms, three or four times a day. The volatile oil (Oleum Cubebae, U. S.), which is obtained by distilling cubebs with water, may be employed in emulsion, or dropped on sugar, in the dose of ten drops to begin with, gradually increased till its effects on the urinary passages have become evident. The dose has sometimes been increased to a fluidrachm. An Oleoresin (Oleoresina Cubebae, U. S.; Extractum Cubebae Fluidum, U. S. 1850) is directed by the U.S. Pharmacopoeia. It is made by extracting the virtues of the medicine with ether, and then allowing the ether to evaporate. It is a greenish-brown fluid, of variable consistence, and may be given in doses of from five to thirty minims, either mixed with sugar, or suspended in sweetened water. There is an officinal Tincture (Tinctura Cubebae, U. S.), of which the dose is from thirty minims to two or three fluidrachms.

* Dr. Caudmont has obtained peculiar advantages in affections, whether inflammatory or neuralgic, of the neck of the bladder and the prostatic portion of the urethra, from a combination of cubebs with copaiba. The medicine may be given in the form of bolus, each containing about six grains of the mixed medicine, and of which from fifteen to twenty-five are to be given in the twenty-four hours. (Bulletin Gen. de Therap., Juillet 30, 1861).

I do not know where better to introduce the following medicine, than in a subordinate position to pepper and cubebs, with which it agrees in botanical affinities, and, to a considerable degree, in its effects.

Matico. U.S. - Matica. Br. This consists of the herbaceous parts, more especially the leaves, of Piper anguslifolium (Artanthe elongata, Miquel), a shrub growing in Peru. The medicine, as imported, usually consists of the dried leaves, spikes, and stalks, mixed together, and closely flattened by pressure. They are of a greenish colour, and, when pulverized, yield a greenish, light, absorbent powder. They have an agreeable aromatic odour, and a strong spicy teste. These properties, as well as their medical virtues, they yield readily to alcohol, and less perfectly to water. Their active constituents are volatile oil, a bitter principle, soluble in alcohol and water, called maticin, and probably resin. They contain neither tannic nor gallic acid.

Matico has long been used in Peru, externally as a styptic in hemorrhage, and a stimulant to ulcers, and internally as an aphrodisiac, and a remedy in venereal diseases. But it was not introduced into Europe until 1839, when a portion of it was taken to Liverpool, and prescribed by Dr. Jeffreys, of that place, in various diseases. Its effects on the system are those of an aromatic tonic and stimulant, bearing no inconsiderable resemblance to those of pepper and cubebs. It has been employed, with asserted advantage, in chronic inflammation of the mucous membranes, as gonorrhoea, leucorrhoea, catarrh of the bladder, and dysentery, and as a haemostatic in hemorrhage from the nostrils, lungs, stomach, urinary organs, and uterus. If useful in these latter affections, it is not through any astringent properties, of which it is quite destitute, but probably by an influence analogous to that of oil of turpentine, which is often an efficient remedy in hemorrhage. Its chief use, given internally, is as an alterative to chronically inflamed mucous membranes. As a local styptic, it has been highly recommended. In this application, it probably acts mechanically, by absorbing the blood, and favouring its coagulation. The dose of the powder is from half a drachm to two drachms, three times a day. The Infusion (Infusum Maticae, Br.), directed in the British Pharmacopoeia, is made in the proportion of half an ounce to ten fluidounces of boiling water, and given in the dose of one or two fluid-ounces. The Dublin College formerly directed a Tincture (Tinctura Matico), of which the dose was from one to three fluidrachms.