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Cephaelis ipecacuanha (Rubiaceae)

IPECACUANHA ROOT, MATFO GROSSO

 

Enthusiastically adopted from the New World by Europe in the 17th century, ipecacuanha root is used by herbalists and orthodox doctors for coughs and to cause vomiting after drug overdose. Homeopaths prescribe it for nausea and vomiting.

 

This plant is still harvested from the tropical forests of Brazil, where it is native. Its medicinal value was recorded first by a Portuguese friar who lived in Brazil around 1600, and it was brought to Europe 70 years later. It became so popular as a treatment for dysentery that the French government bought a formula of the herb from the doctor Helvetius, who was selling his own patent medicine. A perennial with a fibrous root and oval leaves, it produces clusters of small mauve flowers in the autumn, followed by small purple berries.

 

PARTS USED

Root.

 

ACTIVE INGREDIENTS

Alkaloids, especially emetine, cephaeline, and protoemetine; tannins; glycosides; saponins.

 

ACTIONS

Expectorant; causes vomiting; kills protozoa.

 

MEDICINAL USE

Prescribed by herbalists and in orthodox medicine for chesty coughs such as bronchitis, and also given as an emetic to cause vomiting, especially in drug overdose where the stomach needs to be emptied immediately. As a herb, it has been used against amoebic dysentery. Used in homeopathy (Ipecac) for coughing associated with nausea and vomiting, and for morning sickness.

 

PREPARATIONS

Decoction, tincture, in proprietary cough medicines, homeopathic remedies.

 

CAUTION

Large doses are irritant to the whole intestine and should be taken only on the. advice of a qualified practitioner.

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