[Thesis presented to the Faculty of Hahnemann College of Science in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Bachelor of Science.].
ITS FLUORESCENT AND MEDICINAL PROPERTIES.
Lignum nephriticum is a wood which was known as early as the fifteenth century. It continued to be celebrated throughout the sixteenth, seventeenth, and the early part of the eighteenth centuries. At the present there is hardly a piece of the wood to be found in any museum or a mention made of it in any book of pharmacology. This seems quite strange, for in those early times the wood was well known for its remarkable medicinal and fluorescent properties.
It was first introduced into the old world by explorers of the country known then as New Spain. Its introduction was made in the form of cups which, when water was put in them, turned the water a deep blue color. These cups were sent by the explorers to the royal sponsors of their investigations into the New World. They, the cups, were used extensively at the banquets of the royalty until it was noted that on prolonged use, those who attended the feasts and partook of the water and wine served in these same cups, suffered subsequently from rheumatic pains, a general feeling of malaise, and excessive urination. For this reason the custom of serving water and wine in them was abandoned.
As to its medicinal properties, a Spanish physician, Monardes, wrote:.
They also bring from New Spain a wood resembling that of a pear tree. It has been in use for many years in these parts for disease of the kidneys and of the liver. The first person I saw use it was a pilot, twenty years ago, who was afflicted with urinary and kidney trouble, and who after using it recovered his health and was very well.
This was written in 1965.
Also it seems to have been used as a prophylactic in New Spain for fowls. The cause for this preventive measure is vaguely referred to as “an epidemic with which fowls of that country are afflicted.” Its prophylactic properties were utilized by hewing out the center of the trees to form a trough and allowing the fowls to drink of the water put in these troughs.
In these early investigations there was no order or system at all. There was no thought as to source or classification. It seems that there were two distinct general of wood, both having fluorescent properties, but only one having marked medicinal properties. One is described as being from a tree so large that a door may be made from it in one piece. This same species also is described as appearing similar to pear wood in that it was white, dense, and without knots.
On the other hand there is on record a wood fluorescing in water. This comes from a small tree or shrub with a heart wood of very dark color and with an outer wood of lighter or a yellowish color. both of these were reputed to have come from the region now known as Mexico and along the northern border of South America. The former wood seems to have had the more marked medicinal value.
The proper classification and origin of this wood has remained obscure until W.E. Safford, of the U.S.Department of Agriculture, investigated the matter. His work was published in 1915. He found that the former wood, described above, is from the Philippine Islands. The latter is native to that area bounded on the north by Texas and Arizona and on the south by Guatemala.
The confusion in those older times was due largely to the ignorance of its source. They were both thought to grow in the same country, namely, New Spain. This was because they were both shipped from the country. Upon looking back now, the reason for this confusion is explained Islands to the Old World was through the country now known as Mexico and the region of the present Panama Canal. Thus the cargoes were carried over the land to the Atlantic Ocean, and then shipped to the Old World. So, while they were being carried across the land, the wood was freely distributed and widely known. In this way the assumption was made that both woods were native to the same country without a sound reason and scientific investigation. The wood growing in the American countries is the one with which this paper is primarily concerned.
The genus of the wood coming from the Philippine Islands is the Pterocarpus. I will drop this genus with a word that a wood of this genus is also found in the South American countries and Mexico. It is of no particular importance in that it does not show any fluorescent or medicinal properties as does the Philippine variety. It grows in swampy places and reaches a height of forty to sixty feet. It is a soft, dirty white wood useful only as a fuel.