This is a modern Latin word of uncertain origin, which perhaps derives from a dialectal variation of the Tartar turman, meaning a horse medicine. It identifies a mixture of alkaloids such as atropine and hyoscyamine that were at one time used as a narcotic drug. The Greeks knew of its hallucinogenic and disinhibiting effects.
The cures that were attempted for Dillon’s heroes of ill-health are gloriously cranky and counter-productive. Proust lay in bed in a fog of foul smoke, burning “medicinal powders”, and tried “tobacco, tartar emetic, ipecacuanha, coffee, chloroform, stramonium or belladonna cigarettes, cannabis, ether and lobelia”.
Daily Mail, 28 Aug. 2009.
Stramonium was extracted from the leaves and flowering tops of the thornapple (Datura stramonium), a narcotic plant better known in the US as devil weed or jimsonweed because it poisoned colonists at the early settlement of Jamestown in Virginia (jimson being a corruption of Jamestown).
The drug was in the British Pharmacopaeia for centuries as a drug with narcotic and hypnotic effects and had an honourable place there in the treatment of asthma right up to the end of the Second World War; it is still used in homeopathic medicine. It has also been used by various peoples as an hallucinogen.