1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Epsom Salts

EPSOM SALTS, heptohydrated magnesium sulphate, MgSO4·7H2O, the magnesii sulphas of pharmacy (Ger. Bittersalz). It occurs dissolved in sea water and in most mineral waters, especially in those at Epsom (from which place it takes its name), Seidlitz, Saidschutz and Pullna. It also occurs in nature in fibrous excrescences, constituting the mineral epsomite or hair-salt; and as compact masses (reichardite), as in the Stassfurt mines. It is also found associated with limestone, as in the Mammoth Caves, Kentucky, and with gypsum, as at Montmartre. Epsom salts crystallizes in the orthorhombic system, being isomorphous with the corresponding zinc and nickel sulphates, and also with magnesium chromate. Occasionally monoclinic crystals are obtained by crystallizing from a strong solution. It is used in the arts for weighting cotton fabrics, as a top-dressing for clover hay in agriculture, and in dyeing. In medicine it is frequently employed as a hydragogue purgative, specially valuable in febrile diseases, in congestion of the portal system, and in the obstinate constipation of painters’ colic. In the last case it is combined with potassium iodide, the two salts being exceedingly effective in causing the elimination of lead from the system. It is also very useful as a supplement to mercury, which needs a saline aperient to complete its action. The salt should be given a few hours after the mercury, e.g. in the early morning, the mercury having been given at night. It possesses the advantage of exercising but little irritant effect upon the bowels. Its nauseous bitter taste may to some extent be concealed by acidifying the solution with dilute sulphuric acid, and in some cases where full doses have failed the repeated administration of small ones has proved effectual.

For the manufacture of Epsom salts and for other hydrated magnesium sulphates see Magnesium.