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Nux Vomica Tree

The nux vomica tree (Strychnos nux-vomica) is a species in the tropical family Loganiaceae. The range of the nux vomica in cultivation extends from Sri Lanka, India, southern China, southeast Asia, and northern Australia.

The nux vomica grows as tall as 49.2 ft (15 m). The nux vomica has roundish, opposite leaves and attractive white flowers. The roughly spherical fruits of the nux vomica are large hard-rinded berries that contain three to eight round, flattened, grayish seeds. These seeds are covered with silky hairs, are known as strychnine nuts, and are hard and extremely bitter in taste. The seeds of the nux vomica contain several alkaloids that are useful for some purposes, particularly strychnine, and to a lesser extent brucine.

The alkaloids are extracted from ground strychnine nuts by boiling with alcohol and acetic acid. Lactose is then added to the extract, and the result is known as strychnine extract.

In very small doses, strychnine has been used as a tonic and stimulant and to treat some nervous and digestive disorders. However, strychnine is a virulent poison and must be used with great care. Symptoms of acute strychnine poisoning include painful cramps, convulsion, and eventually paralysis, often leading to death by incapacitation of the respiratory system.

Strychnine is sometimes used as a rodenticide to control rats, mice, and other rodent pests of agriculture and human residences. In this use, strychnine could be considered to be a natural, organic pesticide. However, strychnine is still an extremely toxic chemical which can cause significant non-target damages during its routine use. This could occur, for example, if poisoned rodents are scavenged by raptorial birds or mammalian predators which are then secondarily poisoned. As such, the use of strychnine as a pesticide or as a medicine for humans must be carefully managed and controlled.

Bill Freedman

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