Arrow Poisons

Publication Year: 
1991

Indigenous peoples on several continents have discovered how to make potent arrow poisons from plants. In the Zambesi River region of Africa, arrows tipped with poison from kombé [Strophanthus kombe] could down animals as large as a hippo; the cardiac glycoside G-strophanthin derived from the plant is now used as a remedy for congestive heart failure. Tubocurarine, an alkaloid derived from the South American plan Chondrodendron tomentosum, is placed on the tips of blow darts; it is used medicinally as a muscle relaxant during surgery. Strychnine, an alkaloid obtained from the seeds of Strychnos nux-vomica, found in India and Sri Lanka, is seldom employed in medicne but is used in neuroanatomical research. The monk's hood genus, Aconitum produces the alkaloid aconitine. Aconitum species were used in China and Europe as arrow poisons.

South American arrow poisons also yield therapeutically useful drugs, particularly cyrare, used by tribes that hunt in the tropical rain forests. From extensive pharmalogical studies of curare, Norman Bisset at King's College has found that curare carried in calabashes is typically made from species of Strychmons [Loganiaceae], whereas curare carried in bamboo tubes is made from Chrondrodendron [Menispermaceae] or Curarea [Menispermaceae]. Unlike the African Strophanthus poison, curare does not affect the heart but instead is a muscle relaxant that kills by paralyzing the muscles required to breathe. Tubocurarine, so named because it was isolated from curare carried in bamboo tubes, and toxiferine, isolated from curare carried in calabashes, have both become crucial anaesthetic drugs for use in surgery; some surgeries, particularly open-heart surgery, would be impossible without these compounds or synthetically modified derivatives.

- Image & text from: pp, 116 - 118 Plants, People, and Culture The Science of Ethnobotony Balick, Michael J. & Cox, Paul Alan.

chemical, compounds, diagram, poison, indigenous, arrow
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