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Cowhage

Botanical: Mucuna pruriens (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Leguminosae

---Synonyms---Dolichos pruriens. Stizolobium pruriens. Mucuna prurita. Setae Siliquae Hirsutae. Cowage. Cowitch. Couhage. Kiwach.
(French) Cadjuet. Pois velus. Pois à gratter. Liane à gratter. Pois pouilleux. Ceil de bourrique.
(German) Kratzbohnen. Kuhkratze.
---Parts Used---The hairs of the pod, seeds.
---Habitat---Tropical regions, especially East and West Indies.


---Description---The name of the genus, Mucuna, is that of a Brazilian species mentioned by Marggraf in 1648, and pruriens refers to the itching caused on the skin by the hairs. The popular name, variously spelt, is from the Hindustani.

Travellers in the tropics know the plants well on account of their annoying seed-pods, covered with stinging hairs which are easily shaken off, and cause great irritation. They are found in Asia, America, Africa, and the Fiji Islands.

M. pruriens is a leguminous climbing plant, with long, slender branches, alternate, lanceolate leaves on hairy petioles, 6 to 12 inches long, with large, white flowers, growing in clusters of two or three, with a bluish-purple, butterfly-shaped corolla.

The pods or legumes, hairy, thick, and leathery, averaging 4 inches long, are shaped like violin sound-holes, and contain four to six seeds. They are of a rich dark brown colour, thickly covered with stiff hairs, about 1/1O inch long, which are the official part. In commerce they are found in a loose mass mixed with pieces of the pericarp.

When young and tender, the legumes are cooked and eaten in India.

---Constituents---The hairs are usually filled with air, but sometimes contain granular matter, with tannic acid and resin. No tincture or decoction is effective.

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---Medicinal Action and Uses---A mechanical anthelmintic. The hairs, mixed with syrup, molasses, or honey, pierce the bodies of intestinal worms, which writhe themselves free from the walls, so that a brisk cathartic will bring them away. It is usually a safe remedy, but enteritis has sometimes followed its use. It has little effect upon tape-worm, but is good for Ascaris lumbricoides and in slightly less degree for the smaller Oxyuris vermicularis.

In the form of an ointment, Mucuna has been used as a local stimulant in paralysis and other affections, acting like Croton oil. A decoction of the root or legumes is said to have been used in dropsy as a diuretic and for catarrh, and in some parts of India an infusion is used in cholera.

It is a good medium for the application of such substances as muriate of morphia. In the proportion of 7 to 8 grains of cowhage to an ounce of lard, it should be rubbed in for from 10 to 20 minutes. It brings out flat, white pimples, which soon disappear. Oil relieves the heat and irritation caused on the skin.

The seeds are said to be aphrodisiac.

---Dosage---For an adult, a tablespoonful, and for a child a teaspoonful, for three consecutive mornings, after which a brisk cathartic should be given.

---Other Species---
M. urens, [The pulverized bean of M. urens (Horse-ye) macerated in alcohol, is used in homoeopathy for haemorrhoids.--EDITOR] or Dolichos urens (M. prurita),the seeds of which, called Horse-eye beans, round and brownish, are used as a substitute for Calabar beans. Some authorities regard this East Indian variety as a distinct species, being larger than M. pruriens.

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Bear in mind "A Modern Herbal" was written with the conventional wisdom of the early 1900's. This should be taken into account as some of the information may now be considered inaccurate, or not in accordance with modern medicine.

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