Cereus, Night BloomingBotanical Name: Cereus grandiflorus (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Cactaceae
Synonyms: Vanilla Cactus. Sweet-scented Cactus. Large-flowered Cactus.
Parts Used: The flowers, young and tender stems.
Habitat: Tropical America, Mexico, West Indies, and Naples.
Description: A fleshy, creeping, rooting shrub, stems cylindrical, with five or six not very prominent angles, branching armed with clusters of small spines, in radiated forms. Flowers, terminal and lateral from the clusters of spines, very large 8 to 12 inches in diameter, expanding in the evening and only lasting for about six hours, exhaling a delicious vanilla-like perfume. Petals are white, spreading, shorter than the sepals, which are linear, lanceolate, outside brown, inside yellow. Fruit ovate, covered with scaly tubercles, fleshy and of a lovely orange-red colour, seeds very small and acid. The flower only lasts in bloom about six hours and does not revive- when withered, the ovary enlarges, becomes pulpy and forms an acid juicy fruit, something like a gooseberry. The plant was brought to the notice of the medical profession by Dr. Scheile but it aroused little interest till a homoeopathic doctor of Naples, R. Rubini, used it as a specific in heart disease. The flowers and young stems should be collected in July and a tincture made from them whilst fresh. The plant contains a milky acrid juice.
Constituents: No special analysis seems yet to have been made; the chief constituents are resins, the presence of the alleged alkaloid cactine not having been confirmed.
Medicinal Action and Uses: Diuretic Sedative, Cardiac. Cereus has been used as a cardiac stimulant and as a partial substitute for digitalis. In large doses it produces gastric irritation, slight delirium, hallucinations and general mental confusion. It is said to greatly increase the renal secretion. It does not appear to weaken the nervous system. It has a decided action on the heart and frequently gives prompt relief in functional or organic disease. It has been found of some service in haemoptysis, dropsy and incipient apoplexy.
Dosages and Preparations: Liquid extract of Cereus, B.P.C.: dose, 1 to 10 minims. Tincture of Cereus, B.P.C.: dose, 2 to 30 minims.
C. flagelliformis and C. divaricatus are said to have anthelmintic properties.
Opuntias decumana and other species are often substituted for C. grandiflorus, but are of little use. C. giganteus, the Suwarron or Saguaro of the Mexicans, is the largest, and most striking species of the genus. The fruits are 2 to 3 inches long, oval and green, having a broad scar at the top caused by the flowers falling away when the fruits are ripe. They burst into three or four pieces, which curve back to resemble a flower. Inside they contain small black seeds embedded in a crimson pulp, which the Pimos and Papagos Indians make into an excellent preserve. They also eat the ripe fruit as a food and gather it by means of a forked stick tied to the end of a long pole.
Opuntia vulgaris (Prickly Pear), of the Cactus tribe, is cultivated in the south of Europe, and much esteemed by the Spaniards, who consume large quantities. In homoeopathy a tincture is made from the flowers and wood for spleen troubles and diarrhoea.
O. cochinellifera, the Cochineal Insect Cactus, is a native of Mexico, but cultivated in the West Indies and other places. There are two kinds of O. grana - finagrana and sylvestre. The substance which envelops the insect is pulverulent in the first species and flocculent in the second. It has not yet been decided whether they are different species of COCCUS or whether the difference is in the plant.