James Rayfield Byron


My father was a carpenter
when I was made and born.
But the house was struck by lightening
and there is no record of my birth.


Mom and dad brother and sis
all are taking part in this.
But they don't know I'm way ahead.
I'll still be nuts when they are dead.


Thorazine's a chlorpromazine
Stelazine's a mess
Rauwolfia's the mother of all.
She's a witch I guess.

Mr. Byron advocated not washing with soap because it dried the skin.
I met him in Delaware in 1972 when he was an old man. I know nothing
of him or his history.

Rauvolfia or Rau·wol·fi·a (rou-wlf-, rô-) (Rauwolfia serpentina
Any of various tropical trees and shrubs of the genus Rauvolfia,
especially R. serpentina, of southeast Asia, the root of which is
the source of tranquilizing alkaloid drugs such as reserpine.

APOCYNACEAE, Dogbane Family

Rauvolfia (Rauwolfia serpentina) is a small woody perennial from Indian and the East Indies.
Roots of this plant yield the alkaloid reserpine. This was the first major tranquilizer, especially
for the treatment of paranoia and schizophrenia, as well as a substance that lowers blood
pressure and controls hypertension. Interestingly, rauvolfia was long used in India for treating
mental illness and snake bites, known to medicine men and peasants as the "insanity herb,"
snakeroot, and chandra (= moon; moon disease or lunacy). The alkaloid is effective for
snake bites and scorpion stings.

Although this plant was well known in India, westerners paid no attention to it until an
Indian physician wrote an article on rauvolfia in 1943. Because of the drug's noted sedative
effects, it was used to treat over a million Indians in the 1940s for high blood pressure.
After a U.S. physician named Wilkins demonstrated the positive effects of reserpine (1952),
the plant made front page news. This drug rapidly replaced electric shock and lobotomy as
treatments for certain types of mental illness. Moreover, knowledge about the chemistry
of this natural plant stimulated the synthesis of other similar alkaloids that are now used
as major tranquilizers.

Many current prescriptions include reserpine or reserpine derivatives, the source of which is
India, where more than 90% of the natural rauvolfia is still cultivated.