Gelsemium sempervirens

Many would be cowards if they had courage enough.
[Thomas Fuller]
Gelsemium sempervirens. False Jasmine. N.O. Loganiaceae.
CLASSIFICATION Placed in the Loganiaceae family, Gelsemium is a genus of 3 species of evergreen twining shrubs with simple opposite leaves and clusters of fragrant tubular flowers that bear their parts in 5s. The Loganiaceae is a diverse family of trees, shrubs and climbers. As a source of timber, of ornamentals, and of some lethal poisons, notably strychnine, the family is important to Man. Chemistry and anatomy have provided some clues to the relationships of the Loganiaceae with other families. It is a very mixed family, probably containing several distinct groups which are no more related to each other’s than to parts of other families. 1
TRIBES The family can be classified into ten tribes, of which three are of interest for homoeopathy: Gelsemieae, Spigelieae and Strychneae. Both the Gelsemieae and the Spigelieae are sometimes regarded as separate families. The widely cultivated Buddleja davidii [Butterfly Bush] belongs to the tribe Buddlejeae, which by some taxonomists is placed in the Loganiaceae and by others in a separate family.
NAME Its name is derived from gelsomino, the Italian for jasmine, alluding to the similar fragrance of both plants. Sempervirens means evergreen. Local names include Carolina Jessamine, Poor Man’s Rope, Evening Trumpet Flower.
GELSEMIUM Gelsemium sempervirens is native to the south-eastern United States and northern Mexico, occurring in open woodlands and thickets, and along roadsides. It is widely grown as an ornamental in mild climate areas, although it can tolerate temperatures down to about -10o C if the wood has been thoroughly ripened. A related species is found in Southeast Asia. A fast growing climbing plant, Gelsemium supports itself by twining around other plants, often ascending to the tops of lofty trees. Its fragrant yellow flowers appear in late winter or early spring, making the plant one of the first signs of spring. The fragrance is “agreeable but rather narcotic and almost overpowering.”

Gelsemium sempervirens

HISTORY It is unclear whether yellow jasmine was used in Native American medicine. The plant came into regular use in the middle of the 19th century. “This plant was brought into notice, as far as we can learn, in the following manner: A planter of Mississippi, whose name we have forgotten, while labouring. under a severe attack of bilious fever, which resisted all the usual remedies, sent a servant into his garden to procure a certain medicinal root, and prepare an infusion of it for him to drink. The servant, by mistake, collected another root, and gave an infusion of it to his master, who, shortly after swallowing some of it, was seized with a complete loss of muscular power, unable to move a limb, or even raise his eyelids, although he could hear, and was cognisant of circumstances transpiring around him. His friends, greatly alarmed, collected around him, watching the result with much anxiety, and expecting every minute to see him breathe his last. After some hours, he gradually recovered himself, and was astonished to find that his fever had left him. Ascertaining from his servant what plant it was the root of which acted in this manner, he collected some of it, and employed it successfully on his own plantation, as well as among his neighbours. The success of this article finally reached the ear of some physician, who prepared from it a nostrum called the ‘Electrical Febrifuge’, which was disguised with the essence of wintergreen. This plant was the Yellow jessamine, and a knowledge of its remarkable effects was not communicated to the profession until a later period.”2 During the civil war, when popular medicines were not obtainable in the South, Gelsemium was used as a substitute for opium. “The expressed juice was found to produce insensibility to pain, and yet without stupor. Overdoses, however, produced unconsciousness and death.”
TOXICITY Many members of the Loganiaceae are extremely poisonous, causing death by convulsions. Poisonous properties are largely due to indole alkaloids such as those found in Strychnos, Gelsemium and Mostuea. Due to its very rapid effects, the species Gelsemium elegans is used in China as a criminal poison. Glycosides in the form of pseudo-indicans are also present, as loganin in Strychnos, and the related substance aucubin in Buddleja. The alkaloids in Gelsemium have the following activities: convulsant, hypotensive, cardiodepressant, and, chiefly, CNS depressant. All parts of G. sempervirens are toxic, including the flower and nectar. The plant can cause skin allergies and it is possible that the plant toxins can be absorbed through the skin, especially if there are cuts. The primary toxic compounds are gelsemine and gelseminine, which act as motor nerve depressants. Symptoms of toxicity in humans include difficulty in use of voluntary muscles, muscle rigidity and weakness, dizziness, loss of speech, dry mouth, visual disturbances, trembling of extremities, profuse sweating, respiratory depression, and convulsions. Cattle, sheep, goats, horses and swine have been poisoned by feeding on the plants. Symptoms in animals include muscular weakness; convulsive movements of head, front legs and sometimes hind legs; slow respiration; decreased temperature; excessive perspiration; death due to respiratory failure.
CASE REPORTS “The gelsemium root became widely disseminated through its use to give a kick to watered-down bootleg alcohol. But long before the development of civilised vices, the prairie Indians of the southern areas of North America brought the judgement of God upon themselves with a drink prepared from gelsemium roots. Spirits laced with this poisonous plant have a very pleasant, but short-lived initial effect. The drinker is possessed by a total freedom from desire, and euphoric happiness. But catastrophic symptoms ending in collapse very soon follow. The drinker is overcome by a sudden, terrible weakness. He begins to tremble; his movements become jerky; his heart fails; and he is seized with a deadly anxiety that sobers him up completely. In smaller doses the toxin causes dizziness and disordered vision, excruciating headache and paralysis of the eyelids. There is intense subjective sensory disturbance: the victim mistakes heat for cold and vice versa. He may also feel that his skin is covered in fur. Wormley gives an astonishing account of a mass poisoning with fake gin distilled from gelsemium roots: ‘The first signs of poisoning were evident about a quarter of an hour after the liquor had been drunk. They consisted of severe giddiness, disorders of vision. People complained that they saw everything covered in black spots and terribly distorted. Their pupils were strikingly dilated. Double vision and blind areas in the field of vision were also in evidence. But there was no time for investigation. Almost all those who had partaken of the spirits experienced a sudden loss of strength. Muscular weakness and trembling of the arms and legs set in. The victims felt they must lie down, or fall over where they stood. Inability to keep on their feet was quickly followed by loss of the power of speech. The patients had great difficulty in breathing. They inhaled air, but were unable to complete a full respiration. Their skin became damp and covered with cold sweat. Those who sweated vigorously began to suffer from convulsions. Their teeth were bared and grated together. The lower lip dropped, making the teeth look abnormally long. The spinal column was bent violently back. The body, which had previously been doubled up as though with intense stomach cramps, sprang into this unnatural, retracted position like a bow whose string had been cut. The rattling, wheezy breathing stopped and was replaced by respiratory spasms. Violent attacks of suffocation followed. The eyes with their uncannily enlarged pupils seemed to start from their sockets. The victim’s limbs were wrenched by a sudden last twitch and he collapsed with a cry, as though struck by apoplexy’.”3
PROVINGS •• [1] Many self-experimentations with increasing doses of tincture: Stone [1852], Henry [1852], Bigelow [1852], Payne [1859], Amos [1860], Morgan [1864].
•• [2] Douglass – “fragmentary provings on some seventy persons, and on myself,” 1858; method: mostly with tincture, in doses of 1 to 5 drops, a few took 3rd dil.
•• [3] Hale – “provings on several persons” and symptoms from various observers; method: not stated. “In 1860, I became interested in the brief notices of Gelseminum [sic] which I found in eclectic medical journals, especially the cases of poisoning which were of unusual and unique character. I therefore began, with Dr. J.S. Douglass, of Milwaukee, a series of experiments, physiological, pathogenetic and clinical. The more I investigated its properties, the more I became convinced that it would prove a valuable addition to our Materia Medica. In 1862, I had collected enough data to enable me to write a monograph of 56 pages, octavo.”4
•• [4] Ringer – method: huge doses of tincture; “I gave it to 6 persons on 17 occasions, in doses sufficient to produce decided toxic effects.”

[1] Heywood, Flowering Plants of the World. [2] King’s American Dispensatory. [3] Schenk, The Book of Poisons. [4] Hale, New Remedies.
BRAIN – SPINAL CORD [OCCIPUT; base of brain; neck]. MOTOR NERVES [MUSCLES; knees; EYES [LIDS; VISION]. MUCOUS MEMBRANES [nose; gall ducts]. * Right side. Left side.
Worse: EMOTIONS; FEAR, FRIGHT. Surprise. Excitement; bad news. Shock. Ordeals. Weather [SPRING; foggy; HUMID; sultry; cold damp; before thunderstorm]. Heat. Periodically. Dentition. Tobacco. Gaslight. Sun. Heat. Summer. Thinking of ailments. When about to perform an unusual act in life. When spoken to of his loss.
Better: Profuse urination. Perspiration. Shaking. Alcoholic drinks. Mental effort. Bending forward. Closing eyes. Open air.
Main symptoms
M APPREHENSION, anticipation and timidity.
Dread of ordeals, examinations, new situations, unusual acts.
[Such situations lie heavy on the patient and ‘paralyse’ him.]
M Lack of WILL POWER, mental and physical.
• “Lack of muscular coordination, muscles refuse to obey the will.” [Kent]
• “WEAKNESS is mental, emotional and physical. … In more serious, chronic cases the Gelsemium patient is rarely able to lead an active life or even to hold down a job.” [Morrison]
Cannot cope, gives up and hangs around.
Fear of falling.
• “The main feeling in Gelsemium is: ‘I have to keep my control when going through ordeals. I have to be able to withstand very difficult, trying situations, I have to be able to withstand shock and bad news without losing my control.’ So they keep courage when facing ordeals, and are not shaken up even by frightening situations. This courageous Gelsemium is exactly the opposite of the picture we read in the books, of the coward who is unable to face any unexpected event.” [Sankaran]
• “One aspect of Gelsemium is that of a coward who is disgusted by his own cowardice and cannot tolerate it. At some stage, he plucks up courage and sets out to conquer his fear by exercising all the self-control he can muster, and by constantly pulling himself to the tests on life’s challenges. In his way, he becomes a person of considerable calibre, but always with underlying nervous pathology.”1
• “The fear of losing self control shows the pressure they put on themselves not to fail in the situation that is coming before them. The need for control in their lives is very important and is the positive expression seen in Gelsemium patients. They will make everything around go the way they want it to. Hence, they talk about being organised, everything going just right. The reason for this is their body is unable to maintain the pace. They have a threshold they can work to, beyond that their body starts to fall apart, weaken and collapse.”2
M Desire to be QUIET; aversion to being DISTURBED.
M Sense of duality.
• “I had been treating a case of phthisis, in which I gave Gelsemium, 3 drops of tincture every 3 hours during first part of night, to procure rest for the patient, who was a mild, nervous woman of 32. After a week of this, she asked me if there was anything else that could be substituted for the Gelsemium. I asked her if it did not agree. She replied, Oh yes! But it made her feel as though some one else was sick, and not herself; she worried about some other person having her sickness. I asked her if it produced this effect every time she took it; and she said it did.” [Hughes]
G Ailments and vertigo, weakness, trembling, visual disturbances, drowsiness and/or polyuria.
• “Giddiness was another prominent and early symptom. Some felt it over the whole head; but by far the larger number said it was limited to the brows. Standing or walking made it much worse. When well marked, the patients staggered, and were afraid even to stand, must less walk. So giddy was one patient that he nearly fell off the form on which he was sitting. Some described their heads as going round and round. They felt and seemed drunk, though without any incoherence or mental excitement.”3
G Acute ailments with slow onset.
And Great weakness and trembling.
G Never well since the flu [= weakness, drowsiness, trembling].
G DULL, drowsy and dizzy.
• “When decidedly under drug’s influence, patient is pale, with a heavy sleepy look. Some say their eyes feel sleepy; others yawn frequently, and say they can hardly keep awake, and when left to themselves fall asleep.”4
G Speechless from fright; paralysis from fright.
G HEAVINESS, esp. of lower limbs and of upper eyelids.
G NO THIRST [during heat].
G < Sultry, OPPRESSIVE weather. [warm wet weather, summer heat, before thunderstorm] G > Profuse URINATION [clear, watery urine].
[dulness, heavy head, headache, pain in occiput, pain in eyes, dim vision, etc.]
G TREMBLING; wants to be held.
Trembling from weakness; trembling from fright.
G Faintness at sight of blood.
• “At 10 a.m. I went to the Penn Hospital, where I saw a number of severe wounds. I am not usually affected very much by the sight of wounds, but today that, or something else, caused some very unpleasant sensations, which were as follows: -I became very weak, and my friend remarked that I was very pale; there was also slight nausea and trembling of lower extremities; these continued some 10 minutes, but disappeared on going into the open air.” [Hughes]
P Headaches.
And Diplopia or visual disturbances.
P Headache, beginning in occiput or neck, extending over head.
With bursting, pulsating pain in forehead and eyeballs.
• “Diplopia when inclining head towards either shoulder, but single vision when holding head erect [1 case]; objects seemed double upon raising head from stooping position or on looking sideways, but not when looking directly at them [1 case].” [Hughes]
• “The drug seems to produce two kinds of diplopia, one much more persistent than the other. As to the transient kind, we find it, on many occasions, a very passing phenomenon, lasting only a few seconds, then disappearing, then after a few minutes reappearing. In this transient form images in the median vertical line appear double, distant objects first undergoing the duplication. … One image was higher than the other, the images in this respect varying much. … With other patients the two images seem on a level. … The phenomena of the constant form follow a definite order, and take place in the upper half only of the field of vision. They occur at first when objects held at the extreme right or left of the visual field, and, as the patient comes more under the influence of the drug, with objects held nearer and nearer the middle line; and at last, usually for a short time only, objects in the median vertical plane seem double. As the effect of the drug wears off, the double vision disappears in the inverse order. The outer lateral image is the higher, and the farther the object is carried to right or left the greater is the horizontal or vertical distance between the images. When a coloured glass is placed before either eye, the outer and higher image is seen by the covered eye. When the object is carried high above the head, the two images gradually coalesce and the object looks very much thinner, ‘like a thread’.”5
• “When turning eyes, sense of sight is tardy in following movement, things appearing for several seconds to be blurred, and eye remaining unfixed in its new direction [no sensation of gauze or film]. … After breakfast, marked renewal of confusion of sight, with heavy-looking eyes. Found this symptom much less when holding a finger vertically beyond nose, also when either eye was closed.” [Hughes]
[1] Briggs, Gelsemium – The Heroic Coward; HL 1/94. [2] Avedissian, Gelsemium – The Control Freak; Hom. Journal of New South Wales, April 1997. [3-5] Ringer and Sainsbury, A Handbook of Therapeutics; cited in Hughes.
Ailments, from embarrassment [1]. Answering, in monosyllables [1], slowly [3]. Anticipation, stage fright [2]. Anxiety, from anticipation of an engagement [3], from downward motion [2], if a time is set [1]. Concentration, difficult, has a vacant feeling on attempting to concentrate [2]. Confusion, muscles refuse to obey the will when attention to turned away [1; Hell.; Lil-t.]. Delusions, body is lighter than air, in hysteria [1/1]; being double [2]; distances are enlarged [2]; he is in his grave [2]; he is intoxicated, when trying to move [1/1]; she would lose all self-control [1/1]. Averse to being disturbed [1]. Dulness, > copious flow of urine [2; Ter.]. Exhilaration, can recall things long forgotten [2/1]. Fear, of birds [1], of high places [1], of open spaces [3], of ordeals [2], of losing self-control [2], of thunderstorm [2]. Fearless [1]. Desire to be held [2]; being held > [2]. Irritability, when spoken to [1]. Desire for light [3]. Wants to be quiet [3]. Servile, submissive [1]. Singing, alternating with talking [2/1]. Weeping, cannot weep though sad [2].
Beginning in forehead, above eyebrows [1*]. Sensation as if falling from a height [2]. Copious urination > [1]. From warmth of sun [1]. Wine > [1].
Coldness, occiput as if frozen [1; Nux-v.; Sep.]. Sensation as if vertex were being lifted off in two pieces [1*]. Waving sensation, occiput [1].
Blurred, before headache [2], on turning eyes [1/1]. Dim, before headache [2], > urination [2/1]. Diplopia, during headache [2], of horizontal objects [1], during pregnancy [2], vertical [1*]. Objects fade away, then reappear [1/1]. Images too long retained [1]. Objects seem inverted [1]. Everything seems like rolling water before the eyes [1H].
Swallowing, difficult, when nervous [1; Nux-v.; Phys.].
Urging, when startled [2/1].
Pain, labour pains, foetus seems to ascend with every pain [2/1]. CHEST: Fears heart will cease to beat, unless constantly on the move [3]. Oppression, heart, thinking of it [2/1]. Palpitation, on thinking about it [2].
Sleepiness, during coryza [3], during hot weather [2].
Cold, during headache [3]. Symptoms > during perspiration [3].
Faintness, at sight of blood [1*]. Mountain sickness [1]. Paralysis, after exertion [2]. Sensation as if blood stagnated [1]. Weakness, from heat of summer [3], from heat of sun [3]. Weather, approach of a thunderstorm < [2], during thunderstorm < [2]. * Repertory additions: * = Hughes, H = Hale. Food Desire: [2]: Tonics. [1]: Alcohol. Worse: [2]: Wine. [1]: Warm drinks; warm food. Better: [3]: Stimulants. [2]: Alcohol. [1]: Coffee; wine.

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