Substances & Homeopatic Remedies

Strophantus hispidus

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Strophanthus gratus, Kombé (OLIV.)


hirsute leaves / hispidus bristly, hairy


Traditional name

Strophanthus hispidus. Kombé Seeds. Strophanti Semina,Inee,Onaye, Onage,Poison of Pahonias

Used parts

Dried, ripe seeds, deprived of their awns.


Plantae; Spermatophyta, Angiospermae - Flowering Plants; Dicotyledonae; Cornidae; Gentianales; Apocynaceae


see digitalis

Original proving


Description of the substance

---Description---The name Strophanthus is derived from the Greek strophos (a twisted cord or rope) and anthos (a flower), thus expressing the chief peculiarity of its appearance, the limb of the corolla being divided into five, long, tail-like segments. The official description of the seeds is 'lance-ovoid, flattened and obtusely-edged; from 7 to 20 mm. in length, about 4 mm. in breadth, and about 2 mm. in thickness; externally of a light fawn colour with a distinct greenish tinge, silky lustrous form, a dense coating of flat-lying hairs (S. Kombé) or light to dark brown, nearly smooth, and sparingly hairy (S. hispidus), bearing on one side a ridge running from about the centre to the summit; fracture short and somewhat soft, the fractured surface whitish and oily; odour heavy when the seeds are crushed and moistened; taste very bitter.'

In Germany the seeds of S. hispidus are preferred because of their guaranteed purity. This plant when growing alone is in the form of a bush, but is usually found as a woody climber inhabiting the forests between the coasts and the centre of the African continent. It then reaches to the tops of the highest trees, coiling on the ground and hanging in festoons from tree to tree. The stem is several inches in diameter. The flowers are creamcoloured, yellow at the base, purple-spotted above.

The British, French and Swiss officially favour S. Kombé, while the United States Pharmacopoeia recognizes both. There is a voluminous literature on the subject.

The seeds of all species of the genus possess hairs that have a characteristic, thickened base, somewhat like those of nux vomica seeds; those of several species are used for the preparation of arrow poison in Africa, at Kombé in the Manganja country, in the Gaboon district, and in Guinea and Senegambia. In Gaboon the poison is called inée, onayé, or onage. Some of the poisons closely resemble those of the genus Acocanthera, which are used for a similar purpose. The plant yielding the arrow poison of Komb‚ was first brought to Europe by Sir John Kirke, and described as a new species by Oliver, of Kew, under the name of S. Kombé. In preparing the arrow poison, the seeds, deprived of their hairs, are pounded to a pulp, the adhesive sap of another plant is added, and the mixture smeared for 6 inches along the point of the arrow. Game wounded by such an arrow is said to be rarely able to move 100 yards, while the flesh can be eaten without bad effect.

"The seed of Strophanthus hispidus, De Candolle, deprived of its long awn (U. S. P.).
Nat. Ord.—Apocynaceae.
ILLUSTRATION: Köhler's Medizinal Pflanzen.

Botanical Source and History.—The genus Strophanthus which produces this drug, is chiefly of African origin, and consists, at present, of more than 25 species. (Regarding the geographical distribution of the various species in Africa, see E. M. Holmes, Pharm. Jour. Trans., Vol. XXIII, 1892-93, pp. 868 and 927.) Plants of this genus have usually woody stems, emitting a milky juice when wounded, and are generally twining vines, which climb the highest trees. The seed of commerce is probably collected from various species indiscriminately, which have been classified and differentiated by Pax, Planchon, Hartwich, Holmes, Blondel, and others. The medicinally valuable strophanthus seeds are yielded chiefly by two species—S. hispidus and S. Kombé. Both are official in the German Pharmacopoeia, only the former in the U. S. P., and the latter in the Br. Pharm.

Strophanthus hispidus, De Candolle, was one of four species described by De Candolle as early as 1802, and is the species to which this drug was first ascribed. Its habitat is Senegambia and Guinea, and other parts of western Africa. The stem is a twining, milky shrub, with opposite hirsute leaves (hence the name hispidus, Latin for bristly, hairy). The flowers are borne in terminal, many-flowered, dense cymes. The calyx consists of 5 hairy, green sepals about the length of the corolla tube. The corolla is white, with a short, funnel-shaped tube, yellowish within, and furnished with 10 small, nectariferous glands. The segments of the corolla are very long, tapering, slender, hairy without, having a length sometimes of 8 inches, and are the conspicuous part of the flower, giving the plant its generic name (from strophos, Greek for twisted cord). The stamens are 5, with sagittate anthers and slender filaments. The pistil consists of 2 distinct carpels, each of which, if fertilized, ripens into a long pod, filled with numerous seed. The seed, each bearing a slender style, terminating in a plumose pappus, consisting of long, fine hairs, is the part used in medicine, after being deprive, of their awns.

Strophanthus Kombé, Oliver, is a similar plant, native, however, of eastern Africa, and was differentiated from S. hispidus by Oliver, in 1885. It has the same hirsute leaves, but they are more coriaceous. The sepals are shorter than the corolla tube, and cymes are fewer flowered than the S. hispidus. Some botanists contend that S. Kombé is merely a variety of S. hispidus.

Although, as before stated, the genus Strophanthus was established as far back as the year 1802, it was not until the early 60's that the drug came to the general notice of Europeans as being one of the several arrow-poisons (e. g., inée or onaye, in Senegambia, from S. hispidus, and S. Kombé, on the east coast, from S. Kombé) used among the African native tribes. (Regarding details on arrow-poisons, see article on Strophanthus, by J. U. Lloyd, in Western Druggist, 1897, p. 403, from which most of the subject herein presented is derived.) In this connection, the following observation, regarding arrow-poisons among the American Indians, may be of interest: "In some of my western work I have found among the Indians that the poisoning of their arrows, while mixed up a great deal with useless ceremonials, and often, no doubt, nearly useless plant extracts, has a basis in some sort of poison, probably ptomaine, or something of that character, derived from rotten meat. This was the case among the Klamath and Modoc Indians" (Frederick V. Coville, botanist to United States Government, in a private letter to Prof. Lloyd).

Description.—The U. S. P. describes strophanthus thus: "About 15 Mm. (3/5 inch) long and 4 or 5 Mm. (1/6 to 1/5 inch) broad, oblong-lanceolate, flattened and obtusely edged, grayish-green, covered with appressed, silky hairs, one side with a ridge extending into the attenuated, pointed end; kernel white and oily, consisting of a straight embryo, having 2 thin cotyledons, and surrounded by a thin layer of perisperm; nearly inodorous.; taste very bitter. A decoction, prepared with 1 part of the seed and 10 parts of water, has a brownish color, and is not changed in appearance on the addition of iodine T.S., ferric chloride T.S., or potassium mercuric iodide T.S."—(U. S. P.).

Chemical Composition.—In 1877, the name strophanthin was given by Hardy and Gallois (Jour. Pharm. Chim., Vol. XXV, p. 177) to a crystalline but non-glucosidal substance obtained from the seed of Strophanthus hispidus by extracting the latter with alcohol acidulated with hydrochloric acid. Thus it might have been strophanthidin (see below), but it is described as being soluble in cold, more soluble in warm water. Prof. T. R. Fraser, of Edinburgh, isolated from the same source amorphous, glucosidal strophanthin capable of being hydrolyzed with diluted acids (slowly in the cold, more rapidly by heat) into sugar and strophanthidin, a crystallizable body (Pharm. Jour. Trans., Vol. XX, 1889-90, pp. 328-335). In addition to strophanthin, Prof. H. Thoms (Berichte der Deutsch. Chem. Ges., 1898, p. 271) found the seeds of this species to contain the bases choline and trigonelline, the latter being the characteristic alkaloid of fenugreek. An alkaloid (ineïne) was previously indicated by Hardy and Gallois (loc. cit.) in the awns of the seeds; the observation could not be subsequently verified. As to the seeds of Strophanthus Kombé, Catillon (1880) affirmed the existence of two glucosids, one being strophanthin, the other nitrogen-bearing and splitting with acids into sugar and a distinct alkaloid. Arnaud in 1888 gave strophanthin from Kombé seeds the formula C31H48O12, and concludes that it is methyl-ouabain (see Related Principles, p. 1849).

Strophanthin of Fraser, is a very bitter, amorphous, nitrogen-free glucosid, freely soluble in water and alcohol, insoluble in pure ether or chloroform (A. W. Gerrard, 1887). It is also insoluble in a concentrated solution of ammonium sulphate (H. Thoms, 1898). Strophanthin produces with concentrated sulphuric acid a bright-green color which is permanent for some time. The seeds containing strophanthin (occurring in the endosperm and sometimes also in the cotyledons) give the same reaction, hence may be readily distinguished from seeds devoid of this active principle (see e. g., Hartwich, Archiv der Pharm., 1892, p. 411). Strophanthidin is crystallizable, insoluble in ether, "very slightly soluble in cold water" (Fraser), soluble in alcohol, moderately soluble in chloroform and amyl alcohol. According to F. Feist (Berichte der Deutsch. Chem. Ges., 1898, p. 534), it yields by oxidation, among other products, benzoic acid. It is stated that strophanthin from S. hispidus is amorphous, that from S. Kombé crystallizable.

Kombic acid is a peculiar acid obtained by Fraser from Kombé seeds. Its aqueous solution is precipitated by lead acetate. To assay tincture of strophanthus for strophanthin, Mr. Barclay proposes to convert this active principle by hydrolysis into the more positive strophanthidin. (See two interesting papers on this subject in Pharm. Jour. Trans., Vol. III, 1896, p. 463, and Vol. VII, 1898, p. 655.)