Spurge, (from or the
Italian term cacapuzza, to have an ill flavour). Under this name are ranked the Cataputia major; called also palma Christi, alkerva, ficus infernalis, pentadactylon, granadilla Peruviana, ricinus vulgaris, agnus castus; kiki,ricinus Americanus, nhambu guacu of Piso, cherva major; common palma Christi, great spurge, Mexico seed, castor; ricinus communis Lin. Sp. Pi. 430. It is of the natural order of tricoccae, and nearly allied to the croton and jatropha. The order of Jussieu is the tithymaloides.
This plant sometimes rises in one year to the height of twenty feet, and is spread into many branches; the leaves expand like a hand, with the fingers a little separated: the flowers are small and in bunches. On the body of the plant there are clusters of rough triangular husks, each containing three speckled seeds about the size of small kidney beans, and in their shells are white kernels of a sweet, oily, and sometimes of a nauseous, taste.
These seeds are called grana ragium, and were used by Hippocrates, and perhaps before him. If taken in substance they are acrid, and purge violently; but the oil expressed from them acts gently, though generally with effect.
The leaves, when beat and boiled in milk to the consistence of a poultice, are powerful suppurants, used for dressing blisters, and applied to the tinea of children.
The seeds are externally variegated with black and whitish streaks, resembling both in shape and colour the insect called ricinus, the tick, whence the name ricinus is given to the plant. The oil is the most valuable part, and is obtained both by expression and decoction; the latter is preferred as more mild in its operation.
This oil is known by the names of ol. ricini, alkerva, ol. palmae Christi, oleum cicinum kerva, oil of agnus castus, and castor oil. The Greeks call it oleum AEgyptium.
This oil operates soon after its exhibition, often in two or three hours: it seldom gripes, or gives more than two or three stools. It is particularly suited to the cure of costiveness and of spasmodic colic. It is not heating or irritating to the rectum, and consequently well suited to cases of haemorrhoids; besides its easily operating as a purge, it is of peculiar use in bilious constitutions, in febrile disorders of the same kind; and, by joining it with proper cordials, may be used in the low and putrid fevers. Its efficacy exceeds all other kind of purging medicines in calculous complaints, and in all such cases as require the bowels to be moved, and yet forbid the use of powerful stimulants. In colics, without addition, it is seldom sufficiently active; and even in fevers, as it does not greatly excite the action of the muscular fibres of the intestines, it often passes over collected scybala. See Cathartics.
To children it may be given in the manner of an oleo saccharum. Gooch, in his Medical Observations, commends the following method of administering it to adults, and assures us, that two or three spoonfuls, taken occasionally at bed time, keep the bowels soluble, even when the bleeding piles attend. A larger dose, or the above more frequently repeated, is sufficient for a purge on any occasion.
. Ol. ricini i. ss. vitel. ovi parum, probe contritis adde sensim aq. menth. pip. et aq. cinnam.āā.3 ij. syr. rosae, ss. m.
In the colic, a table spoonful of this oil may be mixed with a little peppermint water, and repeated every half hour, or every hour, until it promotes the desired evacuation. If the stomach rejects it, the irritability of this organ, should the necessity of a discharge not be urgent, may be previously corrected by opium.
In fevers it is cooling and laxative; but in the lower kind of fevers it requires the addition of an aromatic. In the yellow fever of the West Indies it is very useful. When the belly is already too lax from acrid bile, this oil sheaths the acrimony, and thus restrains the excessive discharge; in dysenteries it relieves by a similar power. If the symptoms of nephritic complaints and the properties of this oil are considered, its use in those complaints will be obvious, for it purges in small quantities, without irritation; it is cooling, and allays febrile heat; it corrects acrimony, and prevents the cohesion of calculous concretions. In gonorrhoeas, the fluor albus, the constipation peculiar to studious and sedentary persons, etc. this oil is of singular efficacy. The more resinous purgatives often leave costiveness, but the castor oil, it is said, after little use, acts even in less doses. The best method of preventing sickness or nausea, which it sometimes occasions, is to mix one part of tincture of senna to three parts of the oil. In this state the oil is less nauseous to the taste, and sits more easy on the stomach. It is sometimes taken in coffee, sometimes in mutton broth; frequently in an emulsion, mixed by means of the yolk of an egg, with some spirituous water, or while swimming on peppermint water. The dose is a table spoonful, or ss; but some require double the quantity. Where the oil is rejected, the seeds may be carefully separated from their shells and the inner white membrane, and formed into an emulsion, as an agreeable substitute for the oil.
The oil of a pale colour, limpid, and rather inclining to a greenish cast, almost insipid to the taste, with but little smell, and of a thickish consistence, is the best. See Lewis's Mat. Med. Lond. Med. Obs. and Inq. vol. ii. Canvane's Diss. on the Ol. Palmae Christi. Med. Mus. vol. iii. Cullen's Mat. Medica.
All the spurges are acrid: the milky juice, in which their virtue lies, is caustic and cathartic; the root, or bark, prepared by infusion in vinegar, hath been given in the dose of a drachm; three or four of the leaves purge strongly; the milky juice is said to destroy warts; but none of this tribe are now used, because of their excessive acrimony.
Under this article may be ranked the three following, viz.
Ricinoides (from ricinus, the tick, and forma; from its likeness to that reptile). The Barbadoes nut; jatropha curcas Lin. Sp. Pi.1429. Also called pineus purgans, pinhones Indici, carcas nux Barbaden-sis, faba purgatrix, carpata, chiviquilenga, ricinus Americanus major semine nigra, mundu bignacu. The fruit is oval shaped like a walnut, and contains oblong black seeds. The tree is a native of America, and also of the East Indies; it grows to a considerable size. The seeds are extremely acrid, and afford an oil that purges, but is rarely used, on account of its activity.