The Ignatius Bean Icon

February 6, 2022

In the environs of Basey, the Ignatius bean grows in remarkable abundance, as it also does in the south of Sámar and in some other of the Bisayan islands. It is not present in Luzon. But it is very likely that I have introduced it there unwittingly.

Its sphere of propagation is very limited. My attempts to transplant it to the Botanical Garden of Buitenzorg were fruitless.

Some large plants intended for that purpose, which during my absence arrived for me at Darága, were incorporated by one of my patrons into his own garden ; and some, which were collected by himself and brought to Manila, were afterwards lost.

Every effort to get these seeds (kernels), which are used over the whole of Eastern Asia as medicine, to germinate miscarried. They having been boiled before transmission, ostensibly for their preservation, but most probably to secure the monopoly of them.

According to Flückinger,* the gourd-shaped berry of the climbing shrub (Ignatia amara, L. Strychnos Ignatii, Berg. Ignatiana Philippinica, Lour.) contains twenty-four irregular eggshaped seeds of the size of an inch which, however, are not so poisonous as the Ignatius beans, which taste like crack-nuts. In these seeds strychnine was found by Pelletier and Caventou in 1818, as it subsequently was in crack-nuts. The former contained twice as much of it as the latter, viz. 1} per cent. ; but, as they are four times as dear, it is only produced from the latter.

In many households in the Philippines the dangerous drug is to be found as a highly prized remedy, under the name of Pepita de Catbalónga. Gemelli Careri mentions it, and quotes thirteen different uses of it. Dr. Rosenthal (“Synopsis Plantarum

• Compendium of the “ Pharmacopoeia of the Vegetable Kingdom,” p. 698.

Diaphor." p. 363) says:—“In India it has been employed as a remedy against cholera under the name of Papecta.” Papecta is probably a clerical error. In K. Lall Dey’s “Indigenous Drugs of India,” it is called Papeeta, which is pronounced Pepita in English ; and Pepita is the Spanish word for the kernel of a fruit. It is also held in high estimation as an antidote for the bite of serpents.

Father Blanco (“Flora of the Philippines,” 61), states that he has more than once proved its efficacy in this respect in his own person ; but he cautions against its employment internally, as it had been fatal in very many cases. It should not be taken into the mouth, for should the spittle be swallowed, and vomiting not ensue, death would be inevitable. The pastor of Tabaco, however, almost always carried a pepita in his mouth.

From 1842, he began occasionally to take an Ignatius bean into his mouth as a protection against cholera, and so gradually accustomed himself to it. When I met him in 1860 he was quite well. He ascribed his health and vigour expressly to that habit.

He said that in cases of cholera, the decoction was added in small doses into tea. But it was most efficacious when mixed with brandy and applied as a liniment.

Huc also (“Thibet,” i. 252) commends the expressed juice of the kouo-kouo (Faba Ign. amar.), both for internal and external use, and remarks that it plays a great part in Chinese medicine, no apothecary’s shop being without it.

Formerly, the poisonous drug was considered a charm, as it is still by many.

Father Camel* states that the Catbalogan or Bisayan-bean is called Igasur or Mananaog (the victorious) by the natives. It was generally worn as an amulet round the neck to protect against poison, contagion, magic, and philtres. It was so potent that the Devil in propria personâ could not harm the wearer. Especially efficacious is it against a poison communicated by breathing upon one, for not only does it protect the wearer, but it kills the individual who wishes to poison him. Camel further mentions a series of miracles which superstition ascribed to the Ignatius bean.

  • “ Philos. Trans." 1699, No. 249, pp. 44, 87.