Nux Vomica, a name formerly given to some other seeds, but now applied to a drug which is the produce of strychnos nux-vomica, a tree of the family Loganiacece. It is a small tree with opposite, three- to five-nerved, smooth leaves, and terminal corymbs of tubular flowers with a five-parted limb; the fruit is smooth, about the size and color of an orange, with a somewhat hard shell, and containing a soft gelatinous pulp in which are imbedded several seeds. The wood of the tree is white, hard, and durable; and the bark is gray, very brittle when dry, and intensely bitter. The seeds are scarcely an inch in diameter, round, flat, slightly convex on one surface and concave on the other, and covered with short silky hairs, of an ash-gray or yellowish color, which are directed from the centre toward the circumference. The seeds are called by the Germans crow's eyes, and in this country they are called dog beans, and sometimes, on account of their drab color, " Quaker buttons." The mass of the seed consists mainly of the albumen, at the base of which the embryo is placed in a small cavity.
The albumen (which in botany is the nourishment provided for the embryo, without reference to its chemical characters) is exceedingly horn-like and tough, and in small sections semi-transparent; it is one of the most difficult of drugs to powder, but after thorough steaming the seeds are broken up with much less difficulty. The taste of nux vomica is acrid and bitter. The highly poisonous nature of the drug has long been known; while in man and carnivorous animals it readily destroys life, herbivorous animals are less affected by it; a few grains destroy a dog, while it requires several ounces to kill a horse, and a bird of the countries in which the tree grows is said to eat the seeds with impunity. The first accurate analysis of nux vomica was made in 1818 by Pelletier and Caventou, who found the alkaloids strychnia and brucia, in combination with peculiar acids; and a less important alkaloid, igasuria, has since been detected. The most active of these principles is strychnia. (See Styrohnia.) Nux vomica in powder was formerly employed in medicine, but being variable in its strength and uncertain in its operation, strychnia is preferred on account of its greater uniformity, though some physicians prefer the alcoholic extract of the seeds as representing more correctly all the constituents of the drug.
A pound of nux vomica thoroughly exhausted by alcohol gives, upon evaporation of the tincture, about one ounce of extract. In doses of three or four grains of the powder or half a grain of the extract, nux vomica has been used as a tonic and a stimulant of the secretions; its medicinal and poisonous effects are given under Strychnia. About 1850 much excitement was created in England by the statement of a French chemist that nux vomica was largely used in the preparation of English bitter beer. The leading brewers demanded an investigation, and samples of their beer, procured at different places in such a manner as to preclude any preparation for the examination, were found to be entirely free from other than the proper constituents of malt liquor. Still the fact remains that as many tons of nux vomica are now imported into England as there were pounds 25 years ago, and the increased consumption is not accounted for. The bark of the nux vomica tree is of interest from the fact that at one time a large quantity of it was sent to Europe, and, finding no sale under its proper name, it was placed in commerce as Angostura bark, a most dangerous substitution of a highly poisonous bark for one which is simply an aromatic tonic, used much the same as Peruvian bark.
The true Angostura is separable into laminae and easily broken or cut, while the nux vomica bark is the opposite in these as well as in other characters. - St. Igna-tius's bean is so much richer in strychnia than nux vomica, that it is generally used in the preparation of that alkaloid. The seeds are about the size of an olive, convex on one side and angular on the other, dark brown, and of an exceedingly horny texture. They are now regarded as the product of strychnos Ignatia, a climbing species of the Philippines, with a fruit as large as a melon. Other species of strychnos have fruit with edible or innocuous pulp and poisonous seeds; among which is S. potatorum, the clearing nut of India, which clarifies water if placed in a vessel whose interior has been rubbed with one of the nuts. S. Tieute affords the arrow poison of Java, and the South American Indians obtain a similar poison from other species. (See Woorara).
Nux Vomica Tree (Strychnos nux-vomica).