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SQUILL

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V25, Page 747 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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SQUILL, the name under which the bulbous root of Urginea Scilla is used in medicine. It belongs to the natural order Liliaceae. The name of " squill " is also applied by gardeners to the various species of Scilla. The medicinal squill is a native of the countries bordering the Mediterranean, and grows from the sea-level up to an elevation of 3000 ft. The bulbs are globular and of large size, often weighing more than 4 lb. Two varieties are met with, the one having white and the other pink scales. They are collected in August, when they are leafless, the membranous outer scales being removed and the fleshy portion cut transversely into slices and dried in the sun. These are then packed in casks for exportation. They are chiefly imported into the United Kingdom from Malta. When reduced to powder and exposed to the air the drug rapidly absorbs moisture and cakes together into a hard mass. Squill has been used in medicine from a very early period. The ancient Greek physicians prescribed it with vinegar and honey almost in the same manner as it is used at present. The composition of the drug, first efficiently studied by Merck in 1878, is very complex. The chief constituent is scillitoxin, a bitter and intensely irritant principle. A somewhat similar substance, scillipiain, is also physiologically active. The bitter glucoside scillin, or scillain, is unimportant. The bulb also contains mucilage, and a considerable quantity of an irritant resin. It has been shown that a definite action on the heart is not obtainable unless so large a dose of squill is given that some astro-intestinal irritation or even inflammation is set up by this resin. The dose of squill is from I to 3 grains. Of the numerous pharmacopoeial preparations only three are of any importance: the syrup of squill, composed of one part of squill, eight of dilute acetic acid and four of sugar; the Piinla Ipecacuenhae cum Scilla, in which ipecacuanha and opium are the chief constituents; and the tincture of squill, which is still widely used, made by macerating one part of squillwith five of alcohol. The action of the drug is that of a cardiac stimulant, with three important further properties all dependent on its irritant constituents. Even in small doses, such as will not affect the heart, it is a gastro-intestinal, a bronchial and a renal irritant. The two latter properties constitute it a powerful expectorant and a fairly active diuretic. The drug must not be given alone, owing to its irritant action. It is very frequently given as a diuretic in cardiac cases in the form of a pill containing one grain each of mercury, digitalis and squill. Combined with a sedative, such as opium, it may be given in chronic bronchitis. It must not be given in acute bronchitis, which it only aggravates; nor in phthisis, which is invariably accompanied by a hypersensitive state of the alimentary tract. For similar reasons squill should not be given in any form of Bright's disease. The textbook prohibition against its use in acute Bright's disease should certainly be extended to chronic nephritis in all its forms. The use of this irritating drug, while still extensive, is yearly diminishing. It does not accomplish anything that may not otherwise be achieved at less cost to the secreting surfaces of the patient. An allied species, Urginea indica, is used in India in the same manner as the European species. The true squills are represented in Great Britain by two species, Scilla autumnalis and S. verna. The former has a racemose inflorescence and leaves appearing in autumn after the flowers; the latter has the flowers arranged in a corymbose manner, leaves appearing in spring, and is confined to the sea-coast. Several species are cultivated in gardens, S. bifolia and S. sibirica being remarkable for their beautiful blue flowers, which are produced in early spring; Chinese squill is S. cltinensis, a half-hardy species; Roman squill is a popular name for species of Bellevalia, a genus now generally included in Hyacinthus; striped squill is Puschkinia scilloides, a liliaceous plant resembling the squill in habit.
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