Carapichea ipecacuanha

Carapichea ipecacuanha

Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Gentianales
Family: Rubiaceae
Genus: Carapichea
Species: C. ipecacuanha
Binomial name
Carapichea ipecacuanha
(Brot.) L.Andersson

Callicocca ipecacuanha
Cephaelis ipecacuanha
Evea ipecacuanha
Psychotria ipecacuanha
Uragoga ipecacuanha

Carapichea ipecacuanha is a species of flowering plant in the Rubiaceae family. It is native to Brazil and its common name, ipecacuanha (Portuguese pronunciation: [ipe̞kɐkuˈɐ̃ɲɐ]), is derived from the Tupi ipega'kwãi, or "duck penis".[1] The plant has been discussed under a variety of synonyms over the years by various botanists. The roots were used to make syrup of ipecac, a powerful emetic.

The part of ipecacuanha used in medicine is the root, which is simple or divided into a few branches, flexuous, and is composed of rings of various size, somewhat fleshy when fresh, and appearing as if closely strung on a central woody cord. The different kinds known in commerce (gray, red, brown) are all produced by the same plant, the differences arising from the age of the plant, the mode of drying, etc. Various other plants are used as substitutes for it.

Ipecacuanha contains the pseudo-tannin ipecacuanhic acid or cephaëlic acid.[2]

Ipecacuanha contains the alkaloids emetine (methylcephaeline) and cephaeline.


Ipecacuanha was known to Europe by the mid 17th century. Nicholas Culpeper, an English botanist, herbalist, and physician, compared Ipecacuanha to the herb Orach in his book, Complete Herbal & English Physician, published in 1653. One of the first recorded shipments of Ipecacuanha to Europe was in 1672, by a traveler named Legros. Legros imported some quantity of the root to Paris from South America. In 1680, a Parisian merchant named Garnier possessed some 68 kilograms (150 pounds) of the substance and informed the physician Jean Claude Adrien Helvetius[3] (1685–1755) of its power in the treatment of dysentery. Helvetius was granted sole right to vend the remedy by Louis XIV, but sold the secret to the French government, who made the formula public in 1688.

Ipecacuanha has a long history of use as an emetic, for emptying the stomach in cases of poisoning. It has also been used as a nauseant, expectorant, and diaphoretic, and was prescribed for conditions such as bronchitis. The most common and familiar preparation is syrup of ipecac, which was commonly recommended as an emergency treatment for accidental poisoning until the final years of the 20th century.[4] Ipecacuanha was also traditionally used to induce sweating. A common preparation for this purpose was Dover's powder.

In the 19th Century, women prisoners at the Cascades Female Factory, Tasmania, were routinely given "a grain or so of ipecacuanha" as a precaution, especially "upon ladies with gross health and fiery temperaments" (Daniels 129).

Similar plants

Ipecacuanha is a slow-growing plant, which reduces its commercial appeal as a crop plant. It is seldom cultivated in South America but it has been cultivated in India and elsewhere.

The following plants have been used as substitutes for ipecacuanha.

  • Euphorbia ipecacuanhae, wild ipecacuanha from North America
  • Sarcostemma glaucum, a Venezuelan plant of the Apocynaceae family
  • Tylophora asthmatica, in India
  • Gillenia stipulata, American ipecac
  • Richardsonia pilosa, Richardsonia rosea, Psychotria emetica and various species of Ionidium have been used too

Appearances in popular culture

  • Ipecacuanha was the name of the ship that initially rescued the character Edward Prendick in the novel The Island of Doctor Moreau written by H. G. Wells. The ship he had been on, the Lady Vain, collided with rocks, and he was left to float in a dinghy until he was rescued eight days later.
  • Lord Peter Wimsey's sister takes ipecacuanha to appear sick in the Dorothy Sayers mystery novel Clouds of Witness, 1926.
  • Guybrush Threepwood used Ipecacuanha syrup (made by combining a flower from the Ipecacuanha with maple syrup) in order to escape from the giant snake that swallowed him in Monkey Island 3: The Curse of Monkey Island video game.
  • Ipecac syrup appears as a weapon pick-up in the "Wrath of the Lamb" expansion of the video game "The Binding of Isaac". It makes the player character appear ill, and fires arcing explosive shots that have a poisoning effect, which in the game's context represents the act of vomiting.
  • is an independent music label which aims to "purge you of the drek that's been rotting in your tummies".
  • The rake Lovelace takes ipecacuanha to feign illness and trick the titular character into caring for him in the novel, Clarissa, or, the History of a Young Lady, an epistolary novel by Samuel Richardson, published in 1748
  • Ipecac syrup appears as a weapon pick-up in the game Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse. The player throws a jar of Ipecac syrup at enemies inducing vomiting and, in turn, stunning them.
  • In an episode of Family Guy, the characters drink ipecac extract during a vomiting contest in order to win the last piece of pie. In a latter episode, time is reversed and Brian and Stewie experience this again, in reverse.
  • Mrs Beeton recommends all households have ipecacuanha available in the housewifery section of her book, Every Day Cookery, p. 556 (as 'ipecacuanha wine').


Daniels, Kay. Convict Women. Allen & Unwin, 1998, p. 129.

External links

  • CA04 Therapeutic classification