Elaterium (Gr. to drive out), a substance deposited by the juice of the fruit of momordica elaterium, or squirting cucumber, a plant of the order cucurbitaceoe, growing in the south of Europe. (See Cucumber.) It is found in thin flat cakes of a gray or greenish color, which have a feeble odor and a slightly bitter taste. Its medicinal activity depends upon a crystalline, neutral, active principle, called elaterine. This is insoluble in water and alkaline solutions, sparingly soluble in dilute acids, and freely soluble in alcohol. The proportion of elaterine in different specimens of elaterium varies exceedingly, and the medicinal activity of the latter article varies proportionally. Elaterium and its active principle elaterine are violent cathartics, and also increase somewhat the secretion of urine. In small doses, that is, from 1/16 to 1/12 of a grain of elaterine and from 1/8 of a grain to 2 grains of elaterium, these articles produce copious watery discharges, which are frequently attended with nausea, vomiting, and depression. In larger doses they act with great violence upon the stomach and bowels, and in still larger doses excite an inflammation of these organs which has sometimes proved fatal. Their action is rapid.
They generally purge in an hour or less, and a legitimate dose may be repeated in an hour if it has not acted by that time. On account of the energy of their operation, they are not much used medicinally except when, in the treatment of dropsy and disease of the kidneys, it is desirable to obtain copious, frequent, and watery evacuation. They should always be administered cautiously, and never given when great constitutional weakness exists.