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Description and Chemical Composition.-Soapwort is found growing in Europe and the United States, by roadsides and in waste places, flowering in July and August. The parts used medicinally are the root and leaves; they are without odor, and of a bitterish, slightly saccharine taste, with a subsequent persistent pungency and a benumbing sensation. With water they become frothy, like soap-suds; water or alcohol extracts their active properties. The active principle of this root was discovered in 1808 by J. C. C. Schrader, who named it saponin, and obtained it by extracting the powdered root with boiling alcohol and allowing to crystallize. Closely allied substances have since been found in the roots of Polygala Senega, Gypsophila Arrostii (not Struthium; see Flückiger, Archiv der Pharm., 1890, p. 192), in the barks of Quillaja Saponaria and Chrysophyllum glycyphloeum, in the seeds of Agrostemma Githago, Sapindus Saponaria, and in many other plants, e. g., the fruit of horse-chestnut, the root of the common pink, etc. (see complete enumeration by N. Kruskal, Dissert. Dorpat, 1891). Christophson (1874) found Gypsophila to yield the largest quantity of saponin (13 to 15 per cent). According to C. Schiaparelli (Amer. Jour Pharm., 1884, p. 273), saponin
(C32H54O18) from Saponaria officinalis is a white, amorphous powder which excites sneezing when inhaled through the nostrils; it has a pungent taste and is poisonous. It dissolves freely in water, but is insoluble in ether, benzene and chloroform, only slightly soluble in alcohol. A diluted aqueous solution forms a persistent froth upon shaking. Saponin is a glucosid, and is hydrolyzed by boiling with diluted acids into sugar and saponetin, which is insoluble in water, alcohol and ether. W. Von Schulz (Jahresb. Der Pharm., 1896, p. 516) states that the active principle of white soaproot is sapotoxin (see Quillaja); that of red soaproot is sapo-rubrin (3.45 per cent), a glucosid which he finds to be methyl-sapotoxin.
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.-Soapwort is tonic, diaphoretic and alterative; and forms a remedy in the treatment of syphilitic, scrofulous and cutaneous diseases, also in jaundice, liver affections, rheumatism, and gonorrhoea. It is generallyused in decoction; although an extract or the inspissated juice will be found equally efficient. Saponin has been advised as asubstitute for the root, but this is not satisfactorily established; it will likewise be found a powerful sternutatory. Dose, from 2 to 6 grains. E. Pelikan believes that saponin is destined to play a different part from that which is now given to it, and should be submitted to further investigations. According to his experiments he finds that saponin and identical substances produce a local paralysis followed by rigidity of the muscles and paralysis of the nerves of sensation; and also that between saponin and agents that act upon the pupil, as atropine and physostigmine, there exists considerable analogy (Gaz. Méd. de Paris, 1867). Decided emmenagogue properties are attributed to saponaria. Dose of the decoction (i to Oj), from 2 to 4 fluid ounces, 3 or 4 times a day; of the extract or inspissated juice, from 10 to 20 grains.