(From the Arabic term charmah, or karam). Also called coccum scarlatinum, chermesinum tinctorium and bapticum,alkermes, coccibadicum, grana kermes, coccum insectorimn, quisquilia, scarlet grain, and Kermes Berries.
Kermes, among the Arabians, and among the
Greeks, signifies a small worm; grana arboris Ilicis, quibus punicea inficiuntur.
An insect which much resembles the green house bug, lays its eggs on the quercus ilex Lin. Sp. Pi. 1420, the scarlet oak. The females of this kind have no wings. The colour of these berries, or rather insects, is like that of a blue plum; the red colour which they have when brought to us, is from their having been washed with vinegar. They are about the size and shape of juniper berries that are cut into two parts; the hole, in the flat surface, leads to the skin of the belly. When these insects are fresh, they appear full of minute reddish ova, and which, in long keeping, change to a brownish red colour. They arc preserved by sprinkling with vinegar, which prevents the exclusion of the ova, and kills such of the animalcules as are already hatched, and would otherwise soon fly away. They are brought from France, Spain, Candia, etc. where they are gathered in May, and early in the mornings, while the prickly thorns, on which they adhere, are soft with the dew.
Geoffroy obtained an alkaline spirit from them by distillation. The fresh kermes, on expression, yield a red juice of a light, agreeable smell, and a bitterish sub-astringent, and somewhat pungent taste; but before it is brought to us, it is boiled with sugar into the consistence of a syrup. The dried grain, if not too long-kept, gives out, both to water and to spirit, the same deep red colour, the same smell and taste, as is in the expressed juice. By evaporation, the watery tincture loses nearly all its smell and taste, but the spirituous retains both; and spirit extracts the active parts most completely.
They are grateful to the palate, esteemed cordial and astringent, and aphrodisiac, without any real virtue, or in any considerable degree. A confection, called con-jectio alkermes, was made of the juice of chermes berries, and once not unfrequently prescribed; it was invented by Mesue, and was a favourite medicine of Geoffroy; but, at this time, practitioners have no dependence on it. Within our own remembrance, the syrup, with fragments of leaf gold, was given as a cordial in small pox.
Chermes mineralis. See Antimonium.