(From Colchis, a city in Asia, where this plant abounds). Called also count, cotchicum commune; Anglicum, purpureum, et album. Cotchicum autumnale Lin. Sp. Pi. 485. Nat. Old. liliaceae of Murray. Meadow saffron.
It grows in meadows that are moist and rich, and sometimes in marshy grounds. It hath two fleshy bulbous roots; the one producing, from its lower part, a smaller bulb. From the last arises, in autumn, along a furrow, in the side of the old root, a slender, hollow, transparent pedicle; widening at the top into a flower, like that of a crocus; divided into six segments, of a purplish or whitish colour; withering in two or three days. From the same root spring, early in the following season, three or four upright leaves, like those of the lily; in the middle of which appear, on short pedicles, commonly three triangular pods, about the size of small walnuts, divided into three cells, full of roundish dark coloured seeds. The outer root is barren and shrivelled, the inner one produces the plant.
When the root is young and fresh, its taste is very acrid; but, when old, it is mealy and faint. For medical purposes it is best when full of sap. Two drachms of this root killed a large dog; after occasioning violent pain for about thirteen hours, it operated by vomit, stool, and urine. One grain of it swallowed by a healthy man produced heat in the stomach, and, soon after, flushing heats in different parts of the body, with frequent shiverings, followed by colic pains: itching in the loins and urinary passages was soon afterwards perceived, and then came on a continual inclination to make water, a tenesmus, pain in the head, a rapid pulse, thirst, and other disagreeable symptoms.
Notwithstanding these effects, when dissolved in vinegar, or made into an oxymel, it becomes a safe, but powerful medicine. The roots should be fresh and full of sap when they are used. In slicing them, they emit acrid particles, which affect the head, irritate the nostrils, throat, and breast; the fingers which hold them, when cutting, are benumbed for a time. Their acrimony is wholly taken up by vinegar.
When this root is imprudently swallowed, a pint of water, with an ounce of vinegar, or lemon juice, and half an ounce of the syrup of poppy heads, form a salutary mixture, which should be drunk frequently.
Acetum colchici. Take of the fresh roots of meadow saffron, sliced, an ounce; white wine vinegar, a pint. Mix and digest in a glass vessel, over a gentle fire, during forty-eight hours; then strain the liquor.
This vinegar is made into an oxymel, by adding to each pint two pounds of clarified honey, mixing them by boiling. This is the oxymel colchici of the London Dispensatory.
As it is of consequence that the bulbs be in perfection, they should be taken up in autumn.
This oxymel is agreeably acid, gently pungent, and moderately astringent, clearing the tongue effectually from mucus. In an increased dose it is an emetic, and sometimes purgative; but its most general effect is diuretic, and as such it is very constant, and remarkably powerful.
The dose should be small at the first; half a tea-spoonful may be given two or three times a day, increasing the dose as the stomach will admit. In dropsies and tertian agues its success has been great; as an expectorant, it succeeds when squills fail; and when opiates are joined with expectorants, this oxymel should be preferred, for no medicines in conjunction interfere with its operation. See Dr. Storck's Essay on the Use and Effects of the Root of the Colchicum Autumnale. For its use in dropsies, see London Med. Journal, vol. i. p. 395. In Germany and France, it continues still to be a favourite medicine. In England, it is generally thought a less efficacious diuretic than the squill, which vet excels it as an expectorant. We have, however, often found it a more effectual diuretic.
Colchicum Illyricum. See Hermodactylus.
Colchiclm Zeylanicum. See Zedoaria.