Medical Herbs Catalogue



Botanical Name: Datura stramonium (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Solanaceae
(The dried leaves are not regarded as poisonous. - EDITOR.)
Synonyms: Stramonium. Datura. Devil's Apple. Jamestown-weed. Jimson-weed. Stinkweed. Devil's Trumpet. Apple of Peru.
Parts Used: Leaves, seeds.
Habitat: Throughout the world, except the colder or Arctic regions.

The Thornapple is, like the Henbane, a member of the order Solanceae. It belongs to the genus Datura, which consists of fifteen species, distributed throughout the warmer portion of the whole world, the greatest number being found in Central America. Nearly all of them are used locally in medicine, and are characterized by similar properties to those of the official species, Datura Stramonium. The plants vary from herbs to shrubs, and even trees.

The question of the native country and early distribution of D. Stramonium has been much discussed by botanical writers. It is doubtful to what country this plant originally belonged. Many European botanists refer it to North America, while there it is looked on as a denizen of the Old World. Nuttall considers it originated in South America or Asia, and it is probable that its native country is to be found in the East. Alphonse de Candolle, Géographie Botanique (1855), gives it as his opinion that D. Stramonium is indigenous to the Old World, probably to the borders of the Caspian Sea or adjacent regions, but certainly not India; it grows wild abundantly in southern Russia from the borders of the Black Sea eastward to Siberia. Its seeds are very retentive of life, and being often in the earth put on shipboard for ballast, from one country to another, the plant is thus propagated in all regions, and it is now spread throughout the world, except in the colder or Arctic regions. Gypsies are also said to have had a share in spreading the plant by means of its seeds from western Asia into Europe. In the United States, it is now a familiar weed, found everywhere in the vicinity of cultivation, especially about barnyards, timber-yards, docks and waste places, frequenting dung-heaps, the roadsides and commons, and other places where a rank soil is created by the deposited refuse of towns and villages. Where the plant grows abundantly, its vicinity may be detected by the rank odour which it diffuses. Notwithstanding the abundance of the plant in North America, it is cultivated there in order to obtain a drug of uniform quality. The Bureau of Plant Industry, United States Department of Agriculture, has conducted experiments on a large scale: several hundred pounds of leaf were grown and cured by artificial heat in a tobacco barn, proving of excellent quality, being marketed at a price in advance of the highest quoted figures.

In Great Britain, it is only occasionally found and can scarcely be considered naturalized here, though it is sometimes met with in the south of England, generally in rich, waste ground, chiefly near gardens or dwellings. It is sometimes grown in private gardens in England as an ornamental plant. It was cultivated in London towards the close of the sixteenth century.

The name Stramonium is of uncertain origin: some authorities claim that it is derived from the Greek name of the madapple. Stramonia was the name of D. metel at Venice, in the middle of the sixteenth century, and the plant is figured under that title in the great Herbals of Tragus and Fuchsius. D. Stramonium seems to have been a later introduction into Europe than D. metel, not becoming general till after the middle of the sixteenth century, but as it rapidly spread and became a common plant, the name of the latter was transferred to it.

The generic name, Datura, is from the Hindoo Dhatura, derived from the Sanskrit, D'hustúra, applied to the Indian species fastuosa, well known to the mediaeval Arabian physicians under the name of Tatorea.

Description: The Thornapple is a large and coarse herb, though an annual, branching somewhat freely, giving a bushy look to the plant. It attains a height of about 3 feet, its spreading branches covering an area almost as broad. On rich soil it may attain a height of even 6 feet.

The root is very long - thick and whitish, giving off many fibres. The stem is stout, erect and leafy, smooth, a pale yellowishgreen in colour, branching repeatedly in a forked manner, and producing in the forks of the branches a leaf and a single, erect flower. The leaves are large and angular, 4 to 6 inches long, uneven at the base, with a wavy and coarsely-toothed margin, and have the strong, branching veins very plainly developed. The upper surface is dark and greyish-green, generally smooth, the under surface paler, and when dry, minutely wrinkled.

The plant flowers nearly all the summer. The flowers are large and handsome, about 3 inches in length, growing singly on short stems springing from the axils of the leaves or at the forking of the branches. The calyx is long, tubular and somewhat swollen below, and very sharply five-angled, surmounted by five sharp teeth. The corolla, folded and only half-opened, is funnel-shaped, of a pure white, with six prominent ribs, which are extended into the same number of sharppointed segments. The flowers open in the evening for the attraction of night-flying moths, and emit a powerful fragrance.

The flowers are succeeded by large, eggshaped seed capsules of a green colour, about the size of a large walnut and covered with numerous sharp spines, hence the name of the plant. When ripe, this seed-vessel opens at the top, throwing back four valve-like forms, leaving a long, central structure upon which are numerous rough, dark-brown seeds. The appearance of the plant when in flower and fruit is so peculiar that it cannot be mistaken for any other native herb.

The plant is smooth, except for a slight downiness on the younger parts, which are covered with short, curved hairs, which fall off as growth proceeds. It exhales a rank, very heavy and somewhat nauseating narcotic odour. This foetid odour arises from the leaves, especially when they are bruised, but the flowers are sweet-scented, though producing stupor if their exhalations are breathed for any length of time.

The plant is strongly narcotic, but has a peculiar action on the human frame which renders it very valuable as a medicine. The whole plant is poisonous, but the seeds are the most active; neither drying nor boiling destroys the poisonous properties. The usual consequences of the poison when taken in sufficient quantity are dimness of sight, dilation of the pupil, giddiness and delirium, sometimes amounting to mania, but its action varies greatly on different persons. Many fatal instances of its dangerous effects are recorded: it is thought to act more powerfully on the brain than Belladonna and to produce greater delirium. The remedies to be administered in case of poisoning by Stramonium are the same as those described for Henbane poisoning, and also Belladonna poisoning. It is classed in Table II of the poison schedule. The pupils have become widely dilated even by accidentally rubbing the eyes with the fingers after pulling the fresh leaves of Stramonium from the plant.

The seeds have in several instances caused death, and accidents have sometimes occurred from swallowing an infusion of the herb in mistake for other preparations, such as senna tea.

Browsing animals as a rule refuse to eat Thornapple, being repelled by its disagreeable odour and nauseous taste, so that its presence is not really dangerous to any of our domestic cattle. Among human beings the greater number of accidents have occurred among children, who have eaten the halfripe seeds which have a sweetish taste.

The poisonous properties of the seeds are well known in India, where the Datura is abundant, the thieves and assassins not unfrequently administering them to their victims to produce insensibility.

In America it is called the 'Devil's Apple,' from its dangerous qualities and the remarkable effects that follow its administration. When the first settlers arrived in Virginia, some ate the leaves of this plant and experienced such strange and unpleasant effects that the colonists (so we are told) gave it this name by which it is still known in the United States. It is also known very commonly there by the name of 'Jamestown (or Jimson) Weed,' derived probably from its having been first observed in the neighbourhood of that old settlement in Virginia.

There are two varieties of this species of Datura, one with a green stem and white flowers, the other with a dark-reddish stem, minutely dotted with green and purplish flowers, striped with deep purple on the inside. The latter is now considered as a distinct species, being the D. Tatula of Linnaeus. The leaves are mostly of a deeper green, and have purplish foot-stalks and mid-ribs.

De Candolle considered D. Tatula to be a native of Central America, whence it was imported into Europe in the sixteenth century, and naturalized first in Italy and then in South-west Europe, where it is very common. It occurs in England more rarely than D. Stramonium, under similar conditions and seems a more tender plant. It is sometimes cultivated here. The properties of both species are the same.

In early times, the Thornapple was considered an aid to the incantation of witches, and during the time of the witch and wizard mania in England, it was unlucky for anyone to grow it in his garden.

Cultivation: Thornapple is easily cultivated, growing well in an open, sunnysituation. It will flourish in most moderately good soils, but will do best in a rich calcareous soil, or in a good sandy loam, with leaf mould added.

Seeds are sown in the open in May, in drills 3 feet apart, barely covered. Sow thinly, as the plants attain a good size and grow freely from seed. Thin out the young plants to a distance of 12 to 15 inches between each plant in the drill. From 10 to 15 lb. of seed to the acre should be allowed.

The soil should be kept free from weeds in the early stages, but the plants are so umbrageous and strong that they need little care later. If the summer is hot and dry, give a mulching of rotted cow-manure.

The plants may also be raised from seeds, sown in a hot-bed in February or March, or in April in boxes in a cool greenhouse, the seedlings, when large enough, being transferred to small pots, in which they are grown with as much light and air as possible till June, when they are planted in the open. Thornapple transplants readily.

If grown for leaf crop, the capsules should be picked off as soon as formed, as in a wind the spines tear the leaves. Some seed, for propagation purposes, should always be collected from plants kept specially for the purpose.

Though cultivated in this country, on some of the herb farms, such as Long Melford and Brentford, Thornapple was not much grown on a commercial scale before the War, considerable quantities of the dried leaves having always been imported from Germany and Hungary.

Parts Used, Harvesting and Preparation for Market: All parts of the Thornapple have medicinal value, but only the leaves and seeds are official. The United States Pharmacopceia formerly recognized leaves, root and seeds, but since 1900 the leaves alone are recognized as official. They are used in the dried state and are referred to as Stramonium.

Stramonium leaves are official in all Pharmacopoeias. Many require that they be renewed annually. The Belgian excludes discoloured leaves. The Portuguese directs the use of the entire plant except the root, and allows the substitution of D. Tatula. To how great an extent it is true that the quality deteriorates on being kept is conjectural.

The commercial drug as imported into Great Britain consists of the leaves and young shoots, collected while the plant is in flower, and subsequently dried, and containing the shrivelled, bristly young fruits, tubular calyx, and yellowish corolla, but the official description, for medicinal purposes, permits of the use of the leaves only.

The leaves should be gathered when the plant is in full bloom and carefully dried. The United States Pharmacopoeia considers that they may be gathered at any time from the appearance of the flowers till the autumnal frosts. In this country they are generally harvested in late summer, about August, the crop being cut by the sickle on a fine day in the morning, after the sun has dried off the dew, and the leaves stripped from the stem and dried carefully as quickly as possible, as for Henbane.

The dried leaves are usually much shrivelled and wrinkled, and appear in commerce either loose, or more or less matted together, of a dark-greyish green colour, especially on the upper surface, stalked and often unequal at the base, and are characterized by the very coarse pointed teeth. About 34 parts of dried leaves are produced from 100 parts of fresh leaves.

The fresh leaves, when bruised, emit a foetid, narcotic odour, which they lose on drying. Their taste is bitter and nauseous. These properties, together with their medicinal virtues, are imparted to water and alcohol and the fixed oils. The leaves if carefully dried retain their bitter taste.

The inspissated juice of the fresh leaves was formerly commonly prescribed, but the alcoholic extract is now almost exclusively used.

Stramonium seeds are official in a number of Pharmacopoeias. The thorny capsules are gathered from the plants when they are quite ripe, but still green. They should then be dried in the sun for a few days, when they will split open and the seeds can be readily shaken out. The seeds can then be dried, either in the sun or by artificial heat.

The dried, ripe seeds are dark brown or dull black in colour, flattened, kidney-shaped in outline, wrinkled and marked with small depressions, and average about 1/6 inch in length. Though ill-smelling when fresh, when dry they have a scarcely perceptible odour till crushed, but a bitter, oily taste. They should not be stored in a damp place, or will mildew. Kiln-dried seeds, it should be noted, are no use for cultivation.

The demand for the seed is very limited, but the dry leaves find a ready market. The south of Europe furnishes a quantity, but owing to careless collection and neglect of botanical characters, the South European product is often mixed with other leaves of no value, which are sometimes entirely substituted for it, especially species of Xanthium, which has spiny though smaller fruits. Spanish Stramonium which contains no Stramonium at all has been offered in London and Liverpool. The imported commercial Stramonium leaves are also frequently found freely adulterated with those of Carthamus helenoides.

Constituents: Stramonium leaves contain the same alkaloids as Belladonna, but in somewhat smaller proportion, the average of commercial samples being about 0.22 per cent: the percentage may, however, rise to as much as 0.4 per cent. The mid-rib and footstalk of the leaf contain a far larger proportion than the blade. It is generally considered that the main stems and the root contain little alkaloid, and should, therefore, not be present in the drug. The American Journal of Pharmacy (January, 1919) directs attention to the fact that if the stems could be utilized, the cost of labour in harvesting a crop of Stramonium would be only onefourth or one-fifth of what it is where the leaves alone are gathered, since machinery for the purpose could be employed. Dr. G. B. Koch, of the Biological Laboratories of the H.K. Mulford Co., Philadelphia, has been making careful experiments on the relative value of the stem and root of this plant, and has arrived at the following conclusions: 1. The whole plant, either with or without the root, can be harvested and used for the commercial preparations without fear of the total alkaloid content falling below 0.25 per cent, which is the desired standard of the United States Pharmacopoeia.

2. The total mydriatic (pupil-dilating) alkaloids of the leaf and secondary stems when analysed individually, or the leaves with 10 per cent of the secondary stems, run much higher than the United States Pharmacopoeia requirement.

3. Of the whole plant, including stem, root and leaf, the leaf represents about 41 per cent.

4. Excluding the root, the ratio of the leaf to the stem is about 47.5 to 52.3 per cent.

In general it has been found that fresh parts yielded more alkaloid than the dried parts. The alkaloid consists chiefly of hyoscyamine, associated with atropine and hyoscine (scopolamine), malic acid also being present. The Daturin formerly described as a constituent is now known to be a mixture of hyoscyamine and atropine. The leaves also yield 17 to 20 per cent of ash, and are rich in potassium nitrate, to which, doubtless, part of the antispasmodic effects are due, and they contain also a trace of volatile oil, gum, resin, starch, and other unimportant substances.

Seeds. Except that they contain about 25 per cent of fixed oil, the constituents of the seeds are practically the same as those of the leaves, though considered to contain a much greater proportion of alkaloid, which renders them more powerful than the leaves. But the presence of the large amount of fixed oil makes it difficult to extract the alkaloids or to make stable preparations and the leaves have, therefore, greatly taken the place of the seeds.

Medicinal Action and Uses: Antispasmodic, anodyne and narcotic. Its properties are virtually those of hyoscyamine. It acts similarly to belladonna, though without constipating, and is used for purposes similar to those for which belladonna is employed, dilating the pupil of the eyes in like manner. It is considered slightly more sedative to the central nervous system than is belladonna.

Stramonium is, in fact, so similar to belladonna in the symptoms produced by it in small or large doses, in its toxicity and its general physiological and therapeutic action, that the two drugs are practically identical, and since they are about the same strength in activity, the preparations may be used in similar doses.

Stramonium has been employed in all the conditions for which belladonna is more commonly used, but acts much more strongly on the respiratory organs, and has acquired special repute as one of the chief remedies for spasmodic asthma, being used far more as the principal ingredient in asthma powders and cigarettes than internally. The practice of smoking D. ferox for asthma was introduced into Great Britain from the East Indies by a certain General, and afterwards the English species was substituted for that employed in Hindustan. Formerly the roots were much used: in Ceylon, the leaves, stem and fruit are all cut up together to make burning powders for asthma, but in this country the dried leaves are almost exclusively employed for this purpose. The beneficial effect is considered due to the presence of atropine, which paralyses the endings of the pulmonary branches, thus relieving the bronchial spasm. It has been proved that the smoke from a Stramonium cigarette, containing 0.25 grams of Stramonium, leaves contains as much as 0.5 milligrams of atropine. The leaves may be made up into cigarettes or smoked in a pipe, either alone, or with a mixture of tobacco, or with cubebs, sage, belladonna and other drugs. More commonly, however, the coarsely-ground leaves are mixed into cones with some aromatic and with equal parts of potassium nitrate, in order to inincrease combustion and are burned in a saucer, the smoke being inhaled into the lungs. Great relief is afforded, the effect being more immediate when the powdered leaves are burnt and the smoke inhaled than when smoked by the patient in the form of cigars or cigarettes, but like most drugs, after constant use, the relief is not so great and the treatment is only palliative, the causation of the attack not being affected. Accidents have also occasionally happened from the injudicious use of the plant in this manner.

Dryness of the throat and mouth are to be regarded as indications that too large a quantity is being taken.

The seeds, besides being employed to relieve asthma in the same manner as the leaves, being smoked with tobacco, are employed as a narcotic and anodyne, generally used in the form of an extract, prepared by boiling the seeds in water, or macerating them in alcohol. A tincture is sometimes preferred. The extract is given in pills to allay cough in spasmodic bronchial asthma, in whooping-cough and spasm of the bladder, and is considered a better cough-remedy than opium, but should only be used with extreme care, as in over-doses it is a strong narcotic poison.

Applied locally, in ointment, plasters or fomentation, Stramonium will palliate the pain of muscular rheumatism, neuralgia, and also pain due to haemorrhoids, fistula, abscesses and similar inflammation.

Preparations and Dosages: Powdered leaves, 1/10 to 5 grains. Fluid extract leaves, 1 to 3 drops. Fluid extract seeds, 1 to 2 drops. Tincture leaves, B.P. and U.S.P., 5 to 15 drops. Powdered extract, U.S.P., 1/5 grain. Solid extract, B.P., 1/4 to 1 grain. Ointment, U.S.P. Gerard declared that: 'the juice of Thornapple, boiled with hog's grease, cureth all inflammations whatsoever, all manner of burnings and scaldings, as well of fire, water, boiling lead, gunpowder, as that which comes by lightning and that in very short time, as myself have found in daily practice, to my great credit and profit.' It has been conjectured that the leaves of D. Stramonium were used by the priests of Apollo at Delphi to assist them in their prophecies, and in the Temple of the Sun, in the city of Sagomozo the seeds of the Floripondio (D. Sanguinea) are used for a similar purpose. The Peruvians also prepare an intoxicating beverage from the seeds, which induces stupefaction and delirium if partaken of in large quantities. The Arabs of Central Africa are said to dry the leaves, the flowers, and the rind of the rootlet, which is considered the strongest preparation, and to smoke them in a common bowl, or in a waterpipe. It is esteemed by them a sovereign remedy for asthma and influenza, and although they do not use it like the Indian Datura poisoners, accidents nevertheless occur from its narcotic properties.

Stramonium was at one time esteemed as a sedative in epilepsy, and in acute mania and other forms of active insanity, but its action is very uncertain.

The introduction of Stramonium into medicine is due chiefly to the exertions of Baron Storch, in the latter half of the eighteenth century, who was also instrumental in re-introducing Henbane into modern medicine.

In a recent issue of an American medical journal, the opinion was expressed that Stramonium was a remedy for hydrophobia, the writer saying 'there is no drug so far proven that deserves as thorough and careful a trial in this dread disease as Stramonium.'

The poorer Turks are said to use Stramonium instead of opium, for smoking.

Other Species:
In India and the Eastern and West Indian Colonies, the leaves and seeds of D. fastuosa var. alba are also official, under the name of Datura. They possess similar properties, and are regarded as of equal strength.

D. fastuosa is a small shrub indigenous to tropical India. There are said to be several varieties of this species, and it is generally conceded to be the most toxic of the Indian Daturas. The leaves are ovate and more or less angular, the flowers being mostly purplish, sometimes white.

Of the varieties of D. fastuosa, the British Pharmacopoeia recognizes that known as alba. From it the Thugs prepared the poison Dhât, with which they used to stupefy their victims. It is used in India as a criminal poison, the professional poisoners being called Dhatureeas.

The drug has a slight, unpleasant odour and a bitter taste. It contains the alkaloid Hyoscine, a resin and a fixed oil, hyoscyamine being also present and a small proportion of atropine.

It is used by the native doctors (India) for the relief of rheumatic and other painful affections.

While this drug produces effects more or less similar to those of belladonna, its precise action has not been clearly determined.

This species of Datura grows in abundance in almost all the islands of the Philippine group, in some localities reaching a height of 6 feet, and might afford a favourable source of atropine and hyoscyamine, though it has not so far been made use of commercially, there being no attempt at cultivation or even systematic collection of the drug, though attention was drawn to its latent possibilities during the War.

Under the names of Man t'o lo fa, Wan t'o hua and Nau Yeung fa the Chinese use as a medicine the flowers of the D. alba.

D. metel is also an Indian plant and resembles D. fastuosa; it differs in that the leaves are heart-shaped, almost entire and downy, and the flowers always white. The leaves contain 0.55 per cent alkaloid, the seeds 0.5 per cent, all hyoscine.

D. alba or D. metel also produce similar effects. The Rajpoot mothers are said to smear their breasts with the juice of the leaves, to poison their newly-born female infants.

D. arborea, a South American species (the Tree Datura), growing freely in Chile, contains about 0.44 per cent alkaloid, nearly all hyoscine. A tincture of the flowers is used to induce clairvoyance.

D. quercifolia, of Mexico, contains 0.4 per cent. in the leaves and 0.28 per cent of alkaloids in the seeds, about half hyoscyamine and half hyoscine.

El Bethene, a Datura of the Sahara Desert, is capable of causing delirium, coma and death.

D. Tatula, Purple Stramonium has already been mentioned. It owes its activity to the same alkaloids as D. Stramonium, and its leaves are also much used in the form of cigarettes as a remedy for spasmodic asthma.

D. ferox, Chinese Datura, is used in homoeopathy.

A tincture is made from the unripe fruit and a trituration of the seeds.

An Old Recipe 'for A Burne' 'Take of the plant called Thorneaple, and Elder leaves, 2 good handfuls; pound both leaves and apples very small in A stone mortar; then take a pound of Barow hogs lard watered and putt them altogether in an earthen pan, working them well together; lett itt stand till it begins to hoare [grow musty], and then sett itt over A soft fire, not letting it boyle; then strain it, and putt in fresh herbs; order itt as before; this doe three times; and then keep itt for your use, it will keep seven years.' - (A Plain Plantain.)