USES.—The infusion of roasted and ground coffee seeds constitutes a beverage of Arabic origin, but now common all over the world. In the Philippines, where a few years ago the coffee plant was only cultivated in gardens, the harvest has assumed such proportions that it now constitutes one of the greatest sources of agricultural wealth. Its use is becoming more general every day and the discovery of its alkaloid “caffeine” the therapeutical use of which is also steadily increasing, has given new importance to the seed on account of its increasing demand in the drug trade. When newly harvested its taste is not very agreeable, for it needs considerable time—2 or 3 years—in which to dry completely, before it acquires the aromatic properties and the savor of which it is susceptible.
General Morin relates an incident of having drunk a delicious infusion of coffee made from authentic Moka that had been kept for fifty years, of course under ideal conditions of preservation.
In civilized countries coffee is an article of prime necessity as a food; here we shall consider it therapeutically under two heads, as a tonic-stimulant and as an antiseptic. As caffeine is the principle that acts upon the heart we shall consider the cardiac properties of coffee under the head of that alkaloid, so important that it may best be studied separately.
There are two preparations of coffee, the decoction used by the Arabs and the infusion, used in Europe and adopted in the Philippines. The decoction forms a tonic and aromatic drink devoid of any excitant properties, but the infusion is highly excitant and should not be taken in such large amounts as the decoction, for its action may be powerful enough to cause headache, nausea, trembling of the extremities and disorders of vision and hearing. These phenomena however are not dangerous and rapidly subside as soon as the urine eliminates the substances that cause them.
Infusion of coffee stimulates especially the cerebral functions and the circulation; as to its digestive properties, opinion is divided but it is more probable that it lacks them and that coffee taken after meals owes its reputation as a digestive aid to two distinct factors—the temperature and the sugar. Without doubt it exerts an anaphrodisiac action, on account of which the illustrious Linnæus called it the “drink of eunuchs.” This action seems incompatible with the fact that the Arabs, who are so much given to the abuse of the pleasures forbidden to eunuchs are most addicted to the use and abuse of coffee. The explanation rests in the form in which they consume their coffee, namely the decoction, which is free from the sedative principle of the seed, that undoubtedly resides in the aromatic ingredient “cafeol.” Coffee is contraindicated in hysterical and nervous persons, in children and in those who suffer with insomnia or palpitation. It counteracts sleep and coma, being very useful in poisoning by opium or its alkaloids. Its stimulant action is as rapid as that of alcohol. On several occasions it has yielded me marked results when given by stomach or by enema in cases of nervous and cardiac depression.
Indeed it is a remedy that I cannot recommend too highly and each day leaves me more convinced of its therapeutic activity and certainty.
Attention has only lately been directed to the antiseptic property of coffee though we have long been availing ourselves of that property without knowing it; this is true of many other medicinal agents, indeed of all that the modern studies of bacteriology have presented to us as antifermentives and microbicides.
Roasted coffee in powder form gives good results if dusted over ulcers and gangrenous sores, rapidly improving their appearance and destroying the foetid odor. It corrects the unhygienic properties of non-potable water and therefore enters into the army and navy ration of nearly all the nations of Europe. In epidemics of disease every physician should advise its use in mild infusion as a regular beverage.
Dr. Luderitz, experimenting in the Hygienic Institute of Berlin, reported that no bacteria could resist the action of coffee in infusion. He attributed this action not only to the tannin, which is present in high percentage, but principally to the empyreumatic substances formed by the roasting. The caffeine takes no part in this action. Dr. Luderitz exposed the coffee to the open air for six days and found it free from bacteria at the end of that time. Whatever may be the explanation of its activity the fact remains that coffee is highly antiseptic, and this should be kept in mind by physicians not only because it is everywhere easily obtained and an infusion easily prepared, but because it in addition possesses the great advantage of being nontoxic.
The chemical analysis of the seed is as follows: Cellulose 34.000 Water 12.000 Fatty matters 10 to 13.000 Glucose, dextrin, undetermined acid 15.500 Legumin, caffeine 10.000 Chlorogenate of caffeine and 3.500 to potassa 5.000 Albuminoids 3.000 Caffeine, free .800 Essential oil, solid .001 Essential oil, liquid .002 Mineral substances 6.697 Caffeine, the only one of the ingredients that interests us, was discovered by Hunge in 1821 and recognized as an alkaloid by Herzog. It also exists in tea, formerly known as “theine” which is now known to be identical with caffeine; both are expressed by the formula C8H10N2O2+H2O. It crystallizes in fine, silky needles, is colorless, odorless and slightly bitter.
It is considered a substitute for digitalis, especially valuable as a diuretic and where cerebral anemia exists. Germain See values it as a preventive medicine, acting principally upon the heart and thus preventing fatigue; with this end in view he advises its use before long marches, violent exercise and all conditions where the heart will be called upon to do a greatly increased amount of work.
Dose 0.25 gram to 1 or 2 grams a day given by stomach or hypodermic injection.
Caffeine is also useful in headache, neuralgia, and asthma and as a general tonic.
For the latter action it is best given in pill form, 0.02–0.04 gram a day, with the extract of cinchona or other bitter tonic.
“Etoxy-caffeine,” which is caffeine in which an atom of H has been replaced by the C2H5O, exists as white, needle-like crystals, slightly soluble in water; it is narcotic and sedative to the cerebro-spinal system. In doses of 0.24 gram it is useful in headache.
BOTANICAL DESCRIPTION.—“A small tree that reaches a height of 8–9°. It grows readily in the province of Batangas without cultivation,” Blanco.
A small tree or shrub with leaves opposite, smooth, glossy, rich green, oval, edges fluted. Flowers fragrant, white, growing in small clusters in the axils of the leaves. Calyx 4–5-toothed. Corolla short-tubed with 4–5 spreading lobes of about the same length. Berry red, containing two plano-convex seeds enveloped in arils.
The plant is widely cultivated in gardens. It finds ideal conditions for growth in some of the hilly and mountainous regions of Luzon, notably in Benguet and Batangas.
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