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XI.—Illustrations of the Botany and other branches qf the Natural History of the Himdlag/an Mountains and of the Flora of Kashmir; Part ll. By J. Forums Rorru, Esq. F. L. S. and G. S. M. R. A. S. 290.
Mr. Rovr.n’s Snconn PART maintains its claim to the praise that the scientific journals of Europe had pronounced upon his first. The introduction continues his general observations on the geographical and geological structure of the great continent of India, drawing, for those portio'ns, which he has not had an opportunity of visiting, his materials from Srxns, CALDER, Honcsou, Gnnann, &c. and from HUMBOLDT for the systems of mountains in central Asia. The first plate also exhibits two geological sections of the Himalayan range, and a sketch of the rocks from Sbergéti to Rogonathpur ; the former we shall hereafter transfer to our pages when the introductory remarks,which break off at the 12th page , are completed: the latter has been already given in Mr. Evnnnsr’s notes of ajourney to Ghazipfir, (Gr.namues, iii. 129.)
The purely botanical portion of the work commences with the Ranunculaceze, of which nearly a hundred species have been discovered in the Himalayas. Several of them are identical with those of other countries. The Himzilayan genera, with one exception, are exactly those enumerated by LEDEBOUR as inhabitants of the Altai mountains : also, with exception of Helleborus and Nigella, which do not extend either eastward to the Altai or southward to the Himalaya, the same genera are enumerated by MEYER and BIEBERSTEIN as indigenous to the ranges of Taurus and Caucasus.
Our author's observations on the application of the plants of this family in the Materia Medica. of India are so valuable, that we need offer no apology for extracting them entire. VVe would willingly follow them up by his remarks on the other natural families Dilleniacew, Zlfagnoliacew, Ammaceaz, Menispermaceze, Berberidw, &c. but neither our limits, nor justice to the author would permit so extensive a. robbery. No one who would be acquainted either with the ornamental, the cultural, or the medical qualities of the Indian Flora, can dispense with the possession of Dr. RoYLE’s highly valuable labours—labours which he is now ushering to the world at great expense to himself and without the same extent of patronage with which the Honorable Company were wont in days of yore to encourage such meritorious works in their servants.
“ The Rammculacem form a very natural family, not only with respect to structure and geographical distribution, but also in possessing the same sensible pro. perties and modes of action on the human frame. This is owing to their containing in all parts an acrid principle, which KRAPF ascertained to be neither acid nor alkaline, but of so volatile a nature, that in most cases simple drying in the air, or infusion, or decoction in water, is sufficient to destroy it; that its activity is increased by acids, sugar, honey, wine, and spirits, and is only effectually destroyed by vrater and vegetable acids. (Fée, Com-s. d’Hist. Nat. Pharm. vol. i. p. 373.) Two vegetable alkalies, Delpia and Aconitia, the latter little known, are produced by the plants of this family ; if the acrid principle be always of the volatile nature that it is represented, the powerful etfects attendant on the administration of the root of Aconitumferom even after it had been preserved ten years must be ascribed to the presence of some principle of a more permanent natureAccording apparently to the proportion of the acrid principle to the rest of the vegetable substance, or perhaps owing to the peculiar nature of the acrid principle in each species, it is found that they act either on the system generally, or in different degrees on particular organs. Thus several species of Ranunculus are used as rubefacients and vesicatories; while the roots of Zanthorhiza, Coptic, and Hydrastis, as tonics; and those of Thalictrum majus as a substitute for rhubarb. Hellebore has long been known as a powerful cathartic, and Actmite as a no less powerful narcotic and poison ; while some from the destructibieness of their noxious property by water have been used as food. The Mahomedan physicians in India having derived their knowledge of drugs chiefly from Arabian authors,
who translated from the Greek, it is not surprising to find such articles as Helle- ,
bore, Pwzmy, Lycoctonum, and Stavesacre, all of which as well as others might be grown in the Hirmilayas, prescribed in every part of India, though the druggists, calculating upon the ignorance of both practitioners and patients respecting the true drug, generally substitute some which they consider an equivalent. Yet it is interesting to observe, that independent observation has introduced into Indian practice several drugs from this family, to which the same properties are ascribed as in Europe. Thus Rammculue sceleratus is used as a vesicatory. The roots of Thalictrum foliosum as a bitter in the cure of fevers—those of Acorn‘tum helerophyllum as a tonic, and of Aconitum ferox, though a poison, as a narcotic in rheumatism. Nigelln sativa is alone cultivated in India, as in most eastern countries, and continues in the present day, as in the most ancient times, to be used both as a condiment and a medicine.
The celebrated Indian poison called Bish or Bikk, being referred by all authorities to Ranunculacem, requires to be noticed, though it would not be easy, even in the present state of confusion of Indian Materia Medica, to find an article of which it is more difficult to give a satisfactory account, and of which, at the same time, it is so necessary that we should have a clear idea. The subject to be entered into, with the detail which it requires, would claim a much greater space than can be allotted to it here : little more therefore can be done than to state the little that is known, and to urge observers, who may be favourably situated, to prose. cute the inquiry.
Dr. BUCHANAN first acquainted the European world with the existence of four kinds of Bikh. 1. Singya Bikk. 2. Bish or Bi/ch, the poison. 3. Bikhma, a powerful bitter. 4. Nirbisi ,- also without deleterious properties. The first Dr_. B. referred to a species of Smilax ,~ the author has had two species of Comzallaria, called meetha-doodhya, and mohura-doodhya, represented to him as being of a poisonous nature. The three other kinds of Bikh Dr. B. refers to the genus Callha, but for what reason it is diflicult to discover, as the flower of the species he describes are without the characteristics of the genus ; and the plant, he allows, differs much in habit from Calflla palustris. It may be supposed, there. fore, that he had only an opportunity of examining the flowers in a young state, and it is known that when he published his description, he was without his specimens. These are now in the East-Indian Herbarium, and have been all referred by Dr. WALLICH to the genus Aconitum. The specimens of Caltha I Nirbisia and C‘. ? Codoa of Dr. Bucrrmvnzv, appear to be Dr. WALL1cH’s Aconitumferox, while those‘ of C. 7 Bishma, his Aconitum palmatum, all evidently in a young state, ‘and without flowers or fructification. That the virulent poison, emphatically called Birh, 1'. e. the poison, is the root of Aconitumferoz, admits, I think, of no doubt. The root is brought down to the plains of India from the mountains where
this plant is indigenous; that it was produced by it was first learnt by Dr. WALLICH in Nepal; the fact was confirmed by Dr. Govnnin Sirmore, andthe information communicated to the author on the same mountains was, that Bilrh is the name applied to At-onitum ferox and Meetha tellia to the root, which, though a violent poison, is occasionally used in medicine. It may further be stated, that the specimens of Aconitum ferow in the author’s Herharium, have the fusiform roots attached side by side, black and wrinkled externally, and of a brownish colour internally; they impress upon the tongue and fauces a peculiar burning sensation, and increase the flow of saliva, as is described to be the case with the Bikh. They moreover exactly resemble the specimens brought in the Indian bazars, of Meetka tellia, ‘in the author’s collection of Materia Medica.
Both Drs. Bucnau.-us aHdWALLICH have mentioned the uncertainty and confusion existing in the names of the several articles of the Indian Materia Medica. This is no doubt true, and it therefore becomes more necessary to elucidate the subject, when such powerful drugs are sold and administered as remedies for disease. Considerable assistance will be derived in this labour, if, when consulting native works on the subject, we at the same time procure as many as possible of the drugs Which are described. Without this no satisfactory progress can be made, as we have no means of ascertaining when the same drug is given in diifen ent parts of the country, under difiereut names, nor when, which is sometimes the case, difierent articles are given under the same name.
Dr. BUCHANAN (Brewst. Journal, i. p. 250) gives Bish, Bikh, and Kodoya bis]: or bitch, as the synonymes: to these Meetha ought to be added, instead of being referred to bilclcma. Professor H. WILSON (Cal. Med. Trans. vol. ii. p. 280) referring to this article, says, that Bish, Bikh, or Web, means poison simply, and that it has several Sanscrit synonymes, as Amritam, Vatsanabhu, Visham, &c. Dr. CAREY, in his Bengalee Dictionary, refers Bish to Aconilum ferom, and quotes as synonymes with Vatzanabhu, Mitha, or Mitha zuher (sweet poison). Dr. W. HUNTER. (Cal. Med. Trans. vol. p. 410) has Meetha zuhur, Meetha bitch, and simply Mitlla as synonymes. Dr. WALLICH (Plantw As-iat. Rar. vol. i. p. 41) mentions that Dr. GOVAN found the root called Meetha-doodya and Meetha telya, and gives as synonymes, Visha, i. e. Venenum, et Ati visha, summum venenum ; Hindee, Vish or Bikh ; Newar, Bikh and Bi/cma. In the Mukh. zun-ool-Adwieh, probably the best Persian work on Materia Medica in use in India, several kinds of Bish are enumerated; as-1. Seenghee-2, so called from its resemblance to the horn of a Deer. 2. Buelmag, like judwar. 4. Teezuk, 5. Kuroon-ool-soombul. 6. Buhrasoorut. 7. Burhmunee. 8. Muhoodah. 9. Huldeh. 10. Kala koot. 11. Sutwa. 12. Tellia. But as it is doubtful whether these ar'o varieties or species, or whether more than those already mentioned, can he refer. red to the genus Aconitum, they are only enumerated as subjects for further inquiry. In the Taleef-Shereef, an Indian work on Materia Medica, lately translated by Mr. PLAYFAIR, Singia and Beclmaclc are given as two names of a most deadly poisonous root from Nepal, no doubt the Aconite.
In all the native works, the Bi/ch is represented as being a deadly poison, even in the smallest doses. The Hindoo works quoted by Dr. HUNTER describe it as being at first sweetish (hence the aflix meetha, sweet), and then followed by a roughness on the tongue, or as it is expressed in one work, “ seizing the throat.“ Dr. BUCHANAN has informed us, that it is equally fatal when taken into the stomach, and when applied to wounds; hence used for poisoning arrows and killing wild animals. The futility of the Gorkhas attempting to poison the springs of water was shown in the last campaign, and Dr. GOVAN has proved the improbability of deleterious exhalations from this plant being the cause of the unpleasant sensations experienced at great elevations, inasmuch as it is only found much below where these are experienced. But as it is a root of such virulent powers, it has no doubt been frequently employed as a poison, and its sale was therefore prohibited by the native powers in India. Notwithstanding this, the I-Iindoo physicians, noted for the employment of powerful drugs, such as arsenic, nux vomica, and croton, do not hesitate to employ this also in medicine. In the Taleef-Shereqf it is directed never to be given alone ; but mixed with several other drugs, it is recommended in a variety of diseases, as cholera, intermittent fever, rheumatism, tooth-ache, and bites of snakes. It is also used as an external application in rheumatism in the north-western provinces. Mr. PER.EIRA’S experiments have shown that this root, either in the form of powder, watery extract, or spirituous extract, is a most virulent poison : but of these forms the last is by far the most powerful. “ The “ effects were tried by introducing this extractinto the jugular vein, by placing it " in the cavity of the peritoneum, by applying it to the cellular tissue of the back, “ and by introducing it into the stomach. In all these cases, except the last, the “ effects were very similar ; namely, diflioulty of breathing, weakness, and subse‘fiquently paralysis, which generally commenced in the posterior extremities, ver“ tigoes, convulsions, dilatation of the pupil, and death, apparently from asphy. “ xia." (0. Wall. Pl. Asiat. Rar. loc. cit.)
With respect to the Bikhma, or the secondkind of Bisk, the difliculties are greater, as the specimens of Ualtha 7 Bikhma, which Dr. BUCHANAN was informed produced the febrifnge root, belong to Dr. WALLIcH’s Awnitum palmatum, Cat. No. 4723; this may therefore produce a root possessed of the properties ascribed to the Bikhma by Dr. BU<:HANAN’S informants. Though we have no further information respecting it than its name, properties, and the short description of Radio tuberosa to guide us, it is interesting to endeavour if it can be traced in other parts of India, though names, especially provincial ones, we have seen vary in diiferent districts, and the properties ascribed to a drug is rather an uncertain guide in the present state of the Indian Materia Medica; but it appears to be more than an accidental coincidence, that the author, in his inquiries, has met with a tuberous root produced by a species of Aconite, which is extensively used in India as a tonic medicine. In the native works on Materia Medica, as well as in the common Persian and Hindoostanee and English Dictionaries, Atees is described as being the root of an Indian plant used in medicine. This the author learnt was the produce of the Himiilayas : he therefore sent to one of the commercial entrepots situated at the foot of the hills, and procured some of the root, making inquiries respecting the part of the mountains whence it was procured. The plant-collectors in their next excursions were directed to bring the plant, with the root attached to it, as the only evidence which would be admitted as satisfactory. The first specimens thus procured are represented in Plate 13, and the root Atees having been thus
‘ascertained to he the produce of a new species of Aconite, it was named Aconitum
atees (Joum. Asiat. Soc. vol i. p. 459), but which has since been ascertained to be the Ac-unitum helerophyllum of Dr. WALLICH. The roots obtained in different parts
of the country resemble one another, as well as those attached to the plant. They are about an inch in length, of an oblong oval-pointed form, light greyish colour externally, white in the inside, and of a pure bitter taste. That its substance is not so injurious as the Bish, I conclude from its being attacked by insects, while the other remains sound and untouched. The natives describe it as being of two kinds, one black, the other white, and both as bitter, astringent, pungent, and heating, aiding digestion, useful as a tonic and aphrodisiac. By inquiries in Nepal it might easily be ascertained whether this has any resemblance to the Bilclima of Dr. Bucnnuu.
Respectingthe third kind of Bish, Nirbisi, Nirbishi, or Nirbilchi, the uncertainties are also considerable; as we have only the information that it is a tuberous root without deleterious properties; while Dr. B.’s specimens of Callha ? Nirbieia are not to be distinguished from those of his Callha ? Codoa, which have been shown to be those of Aconitumferom in a young state. It is evident, therefore, th at the people employed did not take the necessary precautions, and, perhaps, brought the leaves of the latter plant, because they thought it was like the true one, andit may therefore be supposed to be one of the Ranunculacere, particularly as the an. thor, in the mountains of Sirmore and Gurhwal, found the name Nirbisia applied to Delphinium pauci/iorum .- and the roots brought down from these mountains with that name have the closest resemblance to the roots of some species of this genus, though he did not succeed in tracing it to the particular one; but that which is reckoned the best kind of Nirbisi in the Indian bazars is of a very difl'erent nature, and brought down from Bissehur and from Umritseer, the commercial capital of Lahore. This kind is fusiform, somewhat flattened and wrinkled, of a black colour externally, and in some respects resembling the Bi/ch itself ; when cut, the substance is found to be compact, and of a brownish colour, with a slight degree of bitterness and acrimony.
The name Nirbisi, with its Persian and Arabic synonymes, judwar and zudwar, has been already applied by Mr. Comaaooxa to the roots of Curcuma Zedoaria, because they agree pretty well with the round zedoary (zedoaria rotunda) of the shops; but that distinguished scholar, with a caution dictated by his extensive knowledge of the subject, observes, that if the drug be not the true zedoary, the synonymes must be transferred to some otherplant. The term Nirbisi, as observed by Mr. Connaaooxs, implies that the drug is used as an antidote to poison, being composed of the privative preposition nir and bis, poison ; and in the Mulch
zun-ool Adwieh, it is further explained, as repelling from and purifying the body from deadly poisons. It may therefore be considered as a medicine of considera
ble importance in Eastern countries, and that it is not only so at present, but has
been reckoned such from very ancient records, will appear from the following quotations. The Arabic synonyme Zudwar, leads us at once to the accounts of
the Zedoaria of old authors and the Geiduar of AVICENNA. Thus, Marmor.ns (Commentaries on Dioscorides, lib. ii. c. 154), tells us, “ Zedoaria (ut cap. clxxii. testis est Serapio) convehitur e Sinarum regione ultra extremes India oras ;” adding, after giving the medical properties, “ et in antidotis additur. Ideoque dixit Avicenna nihil esse ea praestantius ad ebibitum Napellum.” Giuzcms an Oars, who was for so many years one of the physicians at Goa, writes : “ Quod nos hie Zedoariarn appellamus, Avicenna, lib. ii. cap. 734, Geiduar dicitur; aliud no