Ipecacuanha (Psychotria ipecacuanha) of family Rubiaceae is a flowering plant, the root of which is most commonly used to make syrup of ipecac, a powerful emetic. Its name comes from the Tupi i-pe-kaa-guéne, translated as 'road-side sick-making plant'. It is native to Brazil. The plant had been assigned different names by various botanists; several scientific names including Cephaelis acuminata, Cephaelis ipecacuanha, Psychotria ipecacuanha, and Uragoga ipecacuanha were used.
Ipecacuanha was first introduced to Europe in 1672, by a traveler named Legros. Legros imported some quantity of the root to Paris from South America. In 1680, a Parisian merchant named Garnier possessed some 68 kilograms (150 pounds) of the substance and informed a physician named Helvetius of its power in the treatment of dysentery. Helvetius was granted sole right to vend the remedy by Louis XIV, but sold the secret to the French government, who made the formula public in 1688.
The part of ipecacuanha used in medicine is the root, which is simple or divided into a few branches, flexuous, about as thick as a goose quill, and is composed of rings of various size, somewhat fleshy when fresh, and appearing as if closely strung on a central woody cord. The different kinds known in commerce (gray, red, brown) are all produced by the same plant, the differences arising from the age of the plant, the mode of drying, etc. Various other plants are used as substitutes for it.
Ipecacuanha has a long history of use as an emetic, for emptying the stomach in cases of poisoning. It has also been used as a nauseant, expectorant, and diaphoretic, and was prescribed for conditions such as bronchitis. The most common and familiar preparation is syrup of ipecac, which was commonly recommended as an emergency treatment for accidental poisoning until the final years of the 20th century. Ipecacuanha was also traditionally used to induce sweating. A common preparation for this purpose was Dover's powder.
Botanical naming practices vary and change a great deal, thus the following is a generalized listing of plants which have at some point in time been employed as substitutes for ipecacuanha. Some of the names of the species may be obsolete.
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