Ignatius beans is known by various names, such as St. Ignatius, Ignatia, Ignatia Amara, Lu Song Guo, Saint Ignatius-beans, Strychnos ignatii and Strychnos tieute. This plant is a climbing shrub or a small tree that often grows up to a height of above 60 feet. The shrub belongs to genus Strychnos and bears flowers that have a greenish white hue and are swathed with tiny silky bristles. The fruits of the Ignatius bean shrub are about five inches in width and enclose a yellow pulp and each fruit contains as many as 20 hard seeds that are oval in shape.
This large woody shrub was discovered by the French chemists Joseph-Bienaimé Caventou and Pierre-Joseph Pelletier in 1818 in the Philippines. The shrub was later introduced in Cochin China and is extremely valued in this region for its remedial properties. The shrub derives its name from the Jesuits who were attracted by this plant. The commercially grown variety of beans are approximately one inch long, have an oval shape and a muffled blackish brown hue. These seeds are not only extremely tough, but also have horns and are covered with silver color fine bristles lying flat against the cover. The endosperm of the plant is semi-transparent containing an asymmetrical cavity with an oblong embryo. The endosperm does not have any smell and is very bitter to taste. Each fruit of Ignatius bean encloses anything between 12 to 20 seeds that are surrounded by a yellowish pulp. These seeds need to be separated from the pulp after harvesting.
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People in the Philippines customarily used the Ignatius seeds in preparing good luck charms and wore them to fortify themselves from different ailments. As discussed above, the Jesuits carried the plant from the Philippines to Europe in the 17th century. It is generally believed that they named the plant ignatia or St. Ignatius bean in remembrance of the founder of the Jesuit order, Saint Ignatius of Loyola. Interestingly, the fruits of the Ignatius bean are also known as monkey apples, as they are a favorite with the monkeys who eat them often.
In Malaysia and Java, people extracted the seeds of the Ignatius fruits and utilized them as dart poison for their blowguns and also as an arrow poison or curare.
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Since long, people have been regularly using the Ignatius beans as inexpensive strychnine alternative for Strychnos nux vomica, as these beans possessed analogous actions as well as composition of alkaloids. Earlier, the Ignatius beans were frequently prescribed by herbal medical practitioners to treat cholera, but now the extracts of the plant are recommended for healing fever and severe emotional and cerebral problems, such as depression, hysteria and insomnia. Ignatius beans are mainly used by homeopathic medical practitioners who use this herb in very small measures or doses owing to its intense toxicity. It may be noted here that any inappropriate dosage of medications prepared with Ignatius beans or ingestion of even a small portion of it, for instance as tiny as a fraction of an ounce, may cause muscle cramps as well as excruciating seizures that may even lead to death by suffocation or by impairing normal breathing.
Nux Vomica possesses tonic and stimulant properties, and it is most often used as a substitute for Ignatius beans extracts. Medical writers of the past have always acclaimed the use of Ignatius beans as an effective medication to treat cholera. In addition, medications prepared with extracts of the Ignatius beans are also beneficial for specific types of heart problems. Ignatius bean encloses the poisons strychnine and brucine that affect the transmission of nerve impulses to muscle. Hence, extra caution needs to be exercised while using these medications, as they are not only extremely active, but also very potent poison.
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Ignatius beans possess tonic and stimulant properties and works by invigorating the vascular and nervous systems.
Since strychnine is the most vigorous element of this medication, the physiological exploits of the medicines prepared with Ignatius bean extracts are akin to Nux Vomica.
Medications prepared with Ignatius beans or ignatia amara are prescribed to treat a variety of disorders and ailments, including hysteria, colicky uterine pains, sexual dysfunction or low libido, dragging pelvis pains, burning in the soles of feet, amenorrhea, dysmenorrhea as well as persistent coldness of legs and feet in women during the change of life. In addition, ignatia amara is also recommended to treat cholera, twitching of the eyelids, consequences of fright, depressing foreboding or insomnia, and the consequences of common nervous debility. Sometimes, the medication is also used to treat nervous weakness.
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While ignatia amara is recommended to treat the same conditions as Nux Vomica, it has been found that this medication suits females better. Although ignatia amara is not as potent as Nux Vomica, similar caution should be exercised while using this medication as in the case of Nux Vomica. It need to be borne in mind that if the twitching of the eyelids continues even after taking this medication or causes the same symptom when the drug is taken to treat other conditions, its usage should be stopped, as this is one of the physiological consequences of using this drug. The same method should be adopted while using Nux Vomica, as the physiological actions of both the drugs are similar. In addition, using ignatia amara results in direct action on the spine and to a lesser extent on the cerebrum. This drug is very beneficial for women enduring hysteria accompanied with common nervous debility and depression produced by prolonged uterine disorders. Ignatia amara is considered to be a useful medication for treating nervous dyspepsia and optimal results may be achieved in this case when the drug is used in small doses.
Ignatius beans are found all over the Southeast Asian region, and are very common in the Philippines and Vietnam.
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As discussed earlier, Ignatius beans possess the same properties as Nux Vomica. However, Ignatius beans enclose more amounts of strychnine and brucine - the main volatile extracts that are poisonous in nature. In addition, Ignatius beans contain some amount of resin, gum, a fixed oil, coloring substance and bassorin. They, however, do not contain any amount of starch or albumen.
The suitable dose of Ignatius bean depends on numerous aspects, such as the patient's age, health, and several other conditions. Although there is not enough scientific information to find out an appropriate range of doses for Ignatius bean, one may take 5 to 20 minims of the tincture prepared with ignatia amara. The Alkaline Tincture of Ignatia (syn. Goute Ameres de Beaume) can be taken in the recommended dosage of 5 to 20 minims.
As the Ignatius beans enclose two poisonous elements - strychnine and brucine, they are often considered unsafe for use, especially if it is not done under the supervision of a qualified and competent medical practitioner. Medications prepared with Ignatius bean extracts cause a number of side effects, including anxiety, restlessness, enhanced reflexes, dizziness, drowsiness, delicate sense perception, excruciating seizures of the entire body, augmented muscle tension, breathing problems, renal failure as well as death.
In addition, prolonged used of Ignatius bean may result in liver damage, occasionally fatal. Anyone already suffering from damaged liver and taking this drug is in greater risk for toxicity. If this drug is given to pregnant women, it may harm the unborn baby, while nursing mothers should avoid taking this drug as it may pass on to breast milk and harm the infant.