Strychnos nux-vomica and Strychnos ignatii

Again, I can’t find any suitably-licensed photographs, so today’s BPotD features more illustrations from the public domain work, Köhler’s Medizinal Pflanzen (via Wikimedia Commons, image 1 | image 2). For photographs of Strychnos nux-vomica, please visit the Wikimedia Commons page: Strychnos nux-vomica.

Continuing with the “biodiversity and sports” series:

Most modern performance-enhancing drugs used in sports are either derived from animals or manufactured synthetically. However, some of the first performance-enhancing drugs were derived from plants, including an alkaloid present in large quantities in the two species featured today. Both Strychnos nux-vomica and Strychnos ignatii contain high quantities of strychnine (or, “rat poison”).

Strychnos nux-vomica, or the strychnine tree, and Strychnos ignatii, or Ignatius-bean, are both native to tropical Asia, though the latter species also extends into warm temperate China. Individual trees of Strychnos nux-vomica grow to 25m (to 82ft.); Strychnos ignatii, on the other hand, is a liana, or woody vine. It climbs surrounding trees, reaching a maximum height of around 20m (65 ft.). Both species, though, were (are?) used in the production of traditional medicines.

Strychnine was first isolated as a chemical compound from the fruit of Strychnos ignatii in the early 19th century, though it wasn’t until the mid-20th century that its chemical structure was determined. Strychnos nux-vomica is the most common source of this alkaloid. It is a stimulant; in lethal doses, it kills through muscular convulsions leading to either asphyxiation or exhaustion. Smaller doses of this muscle stimulant, however, can enhance athletic ability, and it is one of the first performance-enhancing drugs used in the modern Olympic games. In the 1904 Olympics, US marathon runner Thomas J. Hicks was injected with ~1mg of strychnine in solution–twice–and given brandy in order to complete the race and receive a gold medal. Read more:

Strychnos nux-vomica
Strychnos ignatii

12 responses to “Strychnos nux-vomica and Strychnos ignatii”

  1. Don Fenton

    Wonderful post! Thank you. Very funny today to compare the science-based morality involved with the use of performance-enhancing drugs [will it work, how can we use this in the wider world] with our “cheats”, anti-science, “what damage does it do” attitudes!

  2. Bonnie

    Very interesting! I read a lot of mysteries, and strychnine is a popular murder weapon. It seems odd that you can’t get a real photo of it.

  3. MsWinterfinch

    “For photographs of Strychnos nux-vomica, please visit the Wikimedia Commons page: Strychnos nux-vomica.”

  4. Old Ari

    medieval writers misunderstood Aristotle, and reported, ” A person dies laughing”, after taking strychnine.

  5. Marilyn

    These plants are also used in homeopathic medicine to produce ‘nux vomica’ which is a remedy for overindulgance or hangover, and is also called ‘Colubrina’ and is available now even in Drug Stores that realize that healthfood stores were making too much money selling homeopathic remedies! ‘Ignatia’ is another homeopathic remedy that is used for nervousness, depression and bereavement, to insomnia, moodiness, head-aches and more, it never ceases to amaze me how often Ignatia, is referred to as “Homeopathic Prozac”. Homeopathy uses the ‘principle of opposites’ to put minute amounts of a remedy into its medicines. eg Ipecac makes us vomit, but homeopathic Ipecac relieves nausea. These three remedies gave me great relief from the morning sickness of pregnancy.

  6. Mary Ann, in Toronto

    Very interesting reading!

  7. bill

    Great posts! Would it be possible to put the common name right up top with the botanical names?

  8. elizabeth a airhart

    tis saturday 1:30 pm florida usa
    i am watching wood and sports right before my eyes
    cypress mountain your time talk about weather
    i have really enjoyed the games your wonderful mountains and fine people takeng part in the games
    thank you google can give you the common name

  9. Robert Frost

    Strychnine is also a mild hallucinogen often substituted for LSD by ‘unscrupulous’ drug dealers. Kind of like the chinese substitution of protien in baby formulas and milk with melamine. This article helps makes sense of my high school shenanigans.

  10. beverley bowhay

    thanx for the link to Kohler’s medizinal-pflanzen found in MBG’s library of rare books…

  11. elizabeth a airhart

    i agree with beverley

  12. kcflowers

    This series on “biodiversity and sports” has been very clever, teaching us wonderful trivia from cricket bats to strychnine uses. Thanks Daniel.
    Marilyn: loved the homeopathic discussion.

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