Gelsemium is a genus of flowering plants belonging to family Gelsemiaceae. The genus contains three species of shrubs to straggling or twining climbers. Two species are native to North America, and one to China and Southeast Asia.
Carolus Linnaeus first classified G. sempervirens as Bignonia sempervirens in 1753; Antoine Laurent de Jussieu renamed the genus in 1789. Gelsemium is a Latinized form of the Italian word for jasmine, gelsomino. G. elegans is also nicknamed "heartbreak grass".
As late as 1906, a drug called gelsemium, made from the rhizome and rootlets of Gelsemium sempervirens, was used in the treatment of facial and other neuralgias. It also proved valuable in some cases of malarial fever, and was occasionally used as a cardiac depressant and in spasmodic affections, but was inferior for this purpose to other remedies.
- G. elegans. Heartbreak grass. Twining climber, native to India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, northern Myanmar, Taiwan, northern Thailand, Vietnam, and the Chinese provinces of Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, Hainan, Hunan, Jiangxi, Yunnan, and Zhejiang. Found in scrubby forests and thickets from 200-2000 meters elevation.
- G. rankinii. Rankin's Jessamine, Swamp Jessamine, Rankin's Trumpetflower. Native to southeastern United States.
- G. sempervirens. Yellow Jessamine, Carolina Jessamine, Evening Trumpetflower. Native to southeastern United States from Virginia to Texas and south through Mexico to Guatemala. It is commonly grown as a garden flower worldwide.
Self-experimentation on the poisonous properties
Arthur Conan Doyle, the writer of the famous Sherlock Holmes series, once administered himself a small amount of gelsemium and kept increasing the amount everyday until he could no longer stand the ill effects it gives. In a letter wrote by him to the British Medical Journal on 20 September 1879, he described that he had persistent diarrhea, severe frontal headache and great depression and henceforth stopped his self-experimentation at 200 minims.
- Lewis, Leo (2012-01-04). "A purrfect murder? Tycoon killed by poisoned cat stew". The Times. Retrieved 2012-01-04. "...the fatal dose of Gelsemium elegans, a highly poisonous plant known as 'heartbreak grass'"
- China tycoon "ate poisoned cat-meat stew", BBC
- "Gelsemium". New International Encyclopedia. 1906.
- Gibson, J.M., and R. L. Green, eds. 1986: University of Iowa Press. Letters to the Press: Arthur Conan Doyle.