- Family Simaroubaceae
- Quassia amara (Amargo, Bitter Wood, Bitter Ash, Bitter Bark, Jamaica/Surinam/Japanese Quassia (Bark), Cuasia or Hombre Grande [Spanish])
- Picrasma excelsa syn. Picraenia excelsa (Quassia, Ash, Bitter Ash, Bitterwood)
- It is contraindicated during pregnancy.
- It should not be used by menstruating women as it may cause uterine colic.
- Excessive doses may cause irritation of the digestive tract and vomiting.
Native to the Caribbean, Jamaica, and northern Venezuela, amargo can be found growing from southern Mexico to Brazil. It is a deciduous tree that can reach 100 feet, but usually it is a smaller size of about twenty feet. This shrubby tree produces smooth, gray bark, compound leaves, small red flowers, and pea-sized black fruits. It can be found growing in forests near water, but it is also cultivated for its medicinal use. The bark is harvested throughout the year.
Quassia bark was first introduced into Europe from Suriname in 1756 and named after Quassia, a native healer, who told Europeans of its therapeutic value.
Although a tincture of the wood chips is prepared for use today as a digestive aid, native Jamaicans long ago devised another method to accomplish the same purpose. They carved cups and bowls from the wood, which imparted the bitter flavour of Quassia to any food that was poured into them. Thus, their foodstuffs became impregnated with the bitter principles, making digestion of the foods easier since only a small amount is required.
- anthelmintic (for ascarid, pinworms, and threadworms)
- digestive stimulant
- indole alkaloids
- bitter substances (quassinoids and canthinones)
- a coumarin (scopoletin)
- vitamin B1
- Some of the quassinoids have cytotoxic action, that is, they have a destructive effect on leukemia cells.
- Other quassinoids stimulate secretions of the gastric juices which increases the appetite and aids digestion. They may also have a choleretic effect, that is, stimulating bile production by the liver.
- Research has indicated that the substance quassin is responsible for an antifertility effect. Extracts from the stem wood appeared to shrink the testes of test animals, as well as significantly reducing both sperm count and testosterone levels in the blood.
- Decoctions are used internally to treat digestive complaints and externally, as an insect repellent.
Quassia is used in various countries for more or less the same thing, that is, to stimulate the appetite and promote digestion.
Homeopathic remedies are used for gallbladder complaints, as a bitter tonic, a purgarive and anthelmintic; but mainly, it supports and strengthens weakened digestive systems by increasing bile flow and the secretion of salivary juices and stomach acids. It is commonly used to stimulate a weakened appetitie, especially in the treatment of anorexia.
The herb’s bitterness has also led to its being used as a treatment for malaria and other fevers.
Quassia chips are yellowish bits of wood commonly found in herbal supply stores in many parts of Latin America. They have two purposes. One is as an anthelmintic and frequently used for pinworms. The other is a stimulant to the digestion as they contain potent bitter principles.
In Mexico and Brazil, amargo is made into a decoction to be used for dyspepsia, as well as loss of appetite. Mexicans also use the bark to treat intestinal parasites.
In Costa Rica and Suriname, it is used for fevers, malaria, and dysentery.
In Brazil, it is used to treat gonorrhea, for lice and worm infestations, and as an antiseptic for wound treatments.
In Costa Rica and Brazil, it is used for diarrhea, dysentery, and intestinal gas. It is said that the indigenous carry around wood shavings of the bark to be used in decoctions whenever needed.
In Guyana, it is used for snake bites, liver disease, edema, and menstrual complaints.
In the Caribbean, it is given for dysentery. The bark has also been used in enemas to expel threadworms and other parasites.
The bark has been widely used as a febrifuge (fever reducer) and insecticide.
The plant is so bitter – moreso than quinine – that extracts of it are used commercially in the production of bitters and other flavourings.
In Central America, the wood is used to construct clothing storage boxes to keep away moths.
A most unusual use is to treat alcoholism. By mixing an extract with sulfuric acid and other substances to produce a tonic, it is said to destroy the appetite for alcohol. This use is not recommended, however, because of the sulfuric acid.