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Pulsatilla vulgaris Mill. Ranunculaceae. Pasque flower. Distribution: Europe. Lindley (1838) and Woodville (1790) knew this as Anemone pulsatilla, the common name being Pasque (Easter) Flower. At the end of the 18th century it was recommended for blindness, cataracts, syphilis, strokes and much more, treatments which, as was clear to physicians at the time, were valueless. Gerard (1633) writes: ‘They serve only for the adorning of gardens and garlands, being floures of great beauty’. It is in the buttercup family, Ranunculaceae, all members of which are poisonous. It was recommended, by mouth, for ‘obstinate case of taenia’ (tapeworms). One hopes it was more toxic to the worm than the patient. Flowers with a central disc and radiating florets were regarded as being good for eye complaints under the Doctrine of Signatures. Porta (1588) writes (translated): ‘Argemone [Papaver argemone], and anemone, have flowers of this shape, from this they cure ulcers and cloudiness of the cornea’. There were occupational diseases even before there were words like pneumoconiosis, and Lindley writes that ‘the powder of the root causes itching of the eyes, colic and vomiting, if in pulverising it the operator do not avoid the fine dust which is driven up.’ Photographed in the Medicinal Garden of the Royal College of Physicians, London.
- Dr Henry Oakeley
Papaver somniferum L. Papaveraceae Opium Poppy Distribution: Asia minor, but has been dated to 5000BC in Spanish caves. Now grows almost everywhere. The oldest medicine in continuous use, described in the Ebers' papyrus (1550 BC), called Meconium, Laudanum, Paregoric and syrup of poppies. Culpeper (1650) on Meconium '...the juyce of English Poppies boyled till it be thick' and 'I am of the opinion that Opium is nothing else but the juyce of poppies growing in hotter countries, for such Opium as Authors talk of comes from Utopia.[he means an imaginary land, I suspect]’]. He cautions 'Syrups of Poppies provoke sleep, but in that I desire they may be used with a great deal of caution and wariness...' and warns in particular about giving syrup of poppies to children to get them to sleep. The alkaloids in the sap include: Morphine 12% - affects ?-opioid receptors in the brain and causes happiness, sleepiness, pain relief, suppresses cough and causes constipation. Codeine 3% – mild opiate actions – converted to morphine in the body. Papaverine, relaxes smooth muscle spasm in arteries of heart and brain, and also for intestinal spasm, migraine and erectile dysfunction. Not analgesic. Thebaine mildly analgesic, stimulatory, is made into oxycodone and oxymorphone which are analgesics, and naloxone for treatment of opiate overdose – ?-opioid receptor competitive antagonist – it displaces morphine from ?-opioid receptors, and constipation caused by opiates. Protopine – analgesic, antihistamine so relieves pain of inflammation. Noscapine – anti-tussive (anti-cough). In 2006 the world production of opium was 6,610 metric tons, in 1906 it was over 30,000 tons when 25% of Chinese males were regular users. The Opium wars of the end of the 19th century were caused by Britain selling huge quantities of Opium to China to restore the balance of payments deficit. Laudanum: 10mg of morphine (as opium) per ml. Paregoric: camphorated opium tincture. 0.4mg morphine per ml. Gee’s Linctus: up to 60 mg in a bottle. J Collis Browne’s chlorodyne: cannabis, morphine, alcohol etc. Kaolin and Morph. - up to 60 mg in a bottle. Dover’s Powders – contained Ipecacuana and morphine. Heroin is made from morphine, but converted back into morphine in the body (Oakeley, 2012). One gram of poppy seeds contains 0.250mgm of morphine, and while one poppy seed bagel will make a urine test positive for morphine for a week, one would need 30-40 bagels to have any discernible effect. Photographed in the Medicinal Garden of the Royal College of Physicians, London.
- Dr Henry Oakeley
Scutellaria baicalensis Georgi Lamiaceae. Baikal skullcap. Distribution: China. There are several hundred species of Scutellaria, also known as skull caps, so correct identification is important - in particular from Scutellaria lateriflora an American species known as Blue skullcap. The latter is used as an abortifacient and to expel placenta by the Cherokee and for cleaning the throat by the Iroquois (Austin, 2004). Much vaunted as a treatment for rabies with unlikely statistics (1,400 cases cured by one doctor alone). Also as ‘antispasmodic, nervine, [for] chorea, convulsions, tetanus, tremors, delirium tremens, [and as a] diaphoretic and diuretic'. Toxicity symptoms include mental confusion, stupor, headache, vertigo, photophobia, dilated pupils, difficulty in micturition, bradycardia, tremulousness and languor, followed by wakefulness and restlessness (Milspaugh, 1974). Hutchens (1991) reported that it reduces sexual desire and was used for almost every nervous illness. Scutellaria baicalensis contains baicalin, baicalein and wogonin (European Medicines Agency, September 2010). It is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for treating inflammation, cancer, bacterial and viral infections of the lungs and gut and is one of the '50 Chinese herbs' in the lists of some authors. Scutellaria lateriflora (combined with Verbena officinalis, Passiflora incarnata and the seed of Avena sativa (oats) is licensed for use in Britain as a herbal medicine for temporary relief of mild symptoms of stress such as mild anxiety and to aid sleep, based upon traditional use only. Scutellaria baicalensis is not licensed for use in the UK (UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA)). Photographed in the Medicinal Garden of the Royal College of Physicians, London.
- Dr Henry Oakeley