Illustrations of Indian Botany, Vol. 1/Papaveraceae
A small, but very important order of herbaceous, or suffruticose, milky plants; with alternate leaves, and long one-flowered peduncles, but so strictly extra-tropical, that, but for the perfect naturalization among us of Argemone Mexicana, an American member of the order, I should not have been able to have given a representation of the family, taken from a growing specimen. The calyx in this order consists of only two sepals, and these so caducous, that for the most part, they drop nearly as soon as expanded. The carolla is composed of 4 petals, or of twice or three times that number, but always of some multiple of four; the stamens in like manner, though generally numerous, are always some multiple of four, rarely only eight, forming four bundles, one inserted at the base of each petal; the anthers are two-celled, erect, opening within. Ovary solitary, stigmas sessile, or with a short style, two, or many, and in the latter case, stellate on the flat apex of the ovarium. Fruit one-celled, with parietal placentae, equalling the number of the stigmas: albumen between fleshy and oily, at the base of which, is a minute straight embryo, with piano convex cotyledons.
Affinities. The nearest affinity of this order is with Ranunculacece, from which, in some extreme cases, it is scarcely to be distinguished except by the difference of the juices, which in this is milky, yellow, or white, and narcotic, in that aqueous and acrid.
Essential Character. Polypetalous, polyandrous, anthers inate : ovary wholly superior: carpels combined into a solid fruit, with more placentas than one. Juice milky, leaves alternate exstipulate.
Geographical Distribution. This, as already remarked is so completely an extra-tropical order that, with the exception of Argemone Mexicana a naturalized plant, not one is found on the plains of India. Europe is their principal seat, being there found in all directions, and containing nearly two-thirds of the whole order.
Properties and Uses. The narcotic is the predominating principle of this order. The seeds however of Argemone Mexicana are said to possess emetic properties, and are used in South America and the West Indies as substitutes for Ipecacuana. Other accounts however state that they are powerfully narcotic, especially when smoked with tobacco. Whether these opposite statements are founded on carefully ascertained facts, and can be reconciled, remains to be proved. The juice of this plant is employed in this country as a remedy for cutanious diseases, and is said to be a very effectual one. I confess I have never either prescribed the remedy myself, nor seen it employed by others. The native doctors also employ it as a remedy for ophthalmia; applied, according to my information, over the tarsus and eyelids, but according to Dr. Ainslie's statement, dropped into the eye. The oil, extracted from the seed, is, like the juice, considered a useful application in cutanious diseases, but probably merely acts as an emolient application like any other sweet oil.
The medicinal properties of the juice of the poppy are too well known to require notice here, but a few remarks may be made respecting this substance in a commercial point of view.
The Opium Poppy, though not a native of India, is now so very extensively cultivated in some of her provinces, those namely of Bahar, Benares, and Malwa, that nearly three millions of pounds of Opium are annually raised in these districts, producing a return to the country of above two and a half millions sterling. This kind of cultivation would, I believe, be made to occupy a much wider range of country were the operations of the agriculturist unrestricted. It has already been tried on the Neilgherries, to a small extent it is true, but sufficient to ascertain the fitness of the soil and climate for the production of Opium of a marketable quality. Many parts of Mysore might equally be appropriated to its cultivation, were the extension of the production of this drug either desirable or necessary. Neither the one or the other however is the case; the more so, now, that the China market is shut against its introduction: a prohibition, likely to inflict ruin and destruction on thousands of persons engaged in the growth and traffic of this much coveted drug, of which there is now, a surplus in hand sufficient to supply the wants of the country for years to come.
This is not the place to discuss the question of its effects on the human constitution, but I may observe in passing, that in this as in many other disputed points, the truth seems to lie between the contending parties. Those who view Opium as the most deleterious ofintoxicating substances, of course form their opinion from looking to extreme cases only, but which, if compared with the extreme effects arising from the unrestrained indulgence in the use of spirits, show but too clearly, that the one is nearly as bad as the other, though the latter, from being so much more common among us, and its effects better understood, is less thought of. Those on the other hand who are disposed to underrate the injury opium inflicts, draw their conclusions from probably a limited number of cases, or from instances where the drug is used
in such moderation, as scarcely to affect the system more, than we daily witness from the habitual use of a small quantity of ardent spirits. That both are bad is undoubtedly true, and equally that the less consumed of either one or the other so much the better for the consumer, but, judging from the accounts of travellers, who have visited countries inhabited principally by Musselmen, nearly all of whom, from being restricted by the ordinances of their religion from indulging in the use of spirits, use opium, the balance in favour of spirits does not appear by any means so great, as the former would have us believe; and as the sources of their (spirits) supply are so much more numerous, and the facility of production so much greater, perhaps upon the whole, could the world be entirely deprived of one of the two, it would be a gainer by the abstraction of spirits. Used moderately and with due discrimination, neither are so bad as extreme moralists would have us believe, while both are in particular circumstances necessary to our welfare; the one, not seldom, being indispensable, where the other would prove exceedingly hurtful. Used to an injurious excess, language does not possess terms strong enough to portray the horrors which both induce, and which the mere looker on can easily perceive, though none but the confirmed inebriate can adequately describe.
Dr. Macnish (Anatomy of Drunkenness), seems to think that the injurious effects of Opium on the human constitution are not always confined to the individual using it, but may extend to the offspring. The following are the facts on which he grounds this opinion. "An inquest was held at Walpole lately on the body of Rebecca Eason, aged 5 years, who had been diseased from her birth, was unable to walk or articulate, and from her size did not appear more than 5 weeks old. The mother had for many years been in the habit of taking Opium in large quantities, (nearly a quarter of an ounce a day), and it is supposed had entailed a disease on her child which caused its death; it was reduced to a mere skeleton, and had been in that state from birth. Verdict—'Died by the Visitation of God ; but from the great quantity of Opium taken, before birth and while suckling it, by the mother, she had greatly injured its health.' It appeared that the mother of the deceased had had five children; that she began to take Opium after the birth and weaning of her first child, which was and is remarkably healthy; and that the other children have all lingered and died in the same emaciated state as the child who was the subject of the inquest." The interesting facts brought to light through this inquest, cannot be made too extensively known, but at the same time, it would be unphilosophical to infer from those stated that, all the evil here recorded was attributable to the Opium, since we are not informed, whether or not, the mother was led into the habit to alleviate distress arising from corporeal disease, perhaps of the organs of generation themselves, from which, the offspring may have in part inherited, the disease to which it fell a victim.
The poppy is largely cultivated in many parts of Europe for the sake of its seed, and capsules, without reference to the juice. The seeds abound in a very pure sweet oil, inferior only to that of the olive, for all culinary purposes to which such oils are applied, and are besides esteemed for their alimentary qualities.
EXPLANATION OF PLATE 11.
- 1. Flowering branch of Argemone mexicana—natural size.
- 2. Stamens and ovary, the sepals and petals removed.
- 3, 4. Stamens and pollen.
- 5. Petal detached. 6. Ovary cut vertically, showing the numerous ovule* attached to the parietal placentae, the whole length of the ovary—magnified.
- 7. Ripe fruit, with valves of the capsule open, leaving the filiform, placentae still attached to the stigma—natural size.
- 8. Fruit cut transversely, showing the 5 placentas with their attached ovules—all more or less magnified.
- 9. A detached seed.
- 10. The same cut longitudinally, showing the embryo at the base of a large albumen.
- 11. Embryo separated.