Introduction of Quassia:Picrasma excelsa or Quassia amara.

Popular Herbs. ✵The article gives records of the herb Quassia, its English name, Latin name, common names, property and flavor, its botanical source two plant species, ①.Picrasma excelsa(Sw.)Planch., ②.Quassia amara L., with a detailed introduction to the botanical features of these two plant species, the growth characteristics, and ecological environment of these two plant species, the features of the herb Quassia, its pharmacological actions, medicinal efficacy, and administration guide.


 English Name: Quassia.
 Latin Name: Picrasma excelsa(Sw.)Planch., and Quassia amara L.
 Common Names: Bitterwood, Jamaican quassia, picrasma, Bitter Ash, Amargo Bark, etc.
 Property and flavor: tastes very bitter.

 Brief introduction: The West Indian quassia tree has a pale yellow, intensely bitter-tasting wood part, it is granulated to prepare a medicinal remedy, the wood of the Surinam quassia, Quassia amara L, a smaller tree that grows in Colombia, Argentina, Guyana, and Panama, are also used.

 Botanical source: Common herbal classics defined the herb Quassia as the wood of the species (1).Picrasma excelsa(Sw.)Planch., or (2).Quassia amara L. The first is a plant species of the Picraena genus, the Simaroubaceae family(quassia family). The second is a plant species of the Quassia genus, the Simaroubaceae family(quassia family). The wood and inner bark, also leaves, are used medicinally. These commonly used species are introduced:

(1).Picrasma excelsa(Sw.)Planch.

 Botanical description: Picrasma excelsa is a dioecious evergreen tree, it often grows up to 15~25 meters high. Leaves are alternate, 15~35 cm long, odd pinnate, 9~13 leaflets, leaflets are 5 to 13 cm long, 20 to 45 cm wide, blunt acuminate, and glossy. The trunk has gray grooved bark.

 The flowers grow in leaf-axillary, richly blossomed cymose panicles. The flower structure is in fours or fives. There are 5 pubescent sepals, 0.6~0.9 mm long, 5 yellow-green petals, in male flowers approximately 2 mm long, in androgynous flowers 3 mm long, 10 stamens, and 5 carpels surrounded by a disc. The fruit is a single-seeded, orbicular to oval, blue-black drupe.

 Ecological environment: Picrasma excelsa or commonly known as Jamaican Quassia can be found in Northern South America to Central America and the Caribbean, it is native to the Caribbean and northern Venezuela. It grows in tropical forests and near water, in hill pastures, in relict woodland, and along the sides of roads at an elevation from 90 to 825 meters.

 Growth characteristics: The plant prefers light sandy and medium loamy soils and prefers well-drained soil, mildly acid, neutral and mildly alkaline soils. It cannot grow in the shade and prefers moist soil.

(2).Quassia amara L.

 Botanical description: Quassia amara in South America is a tree that grows up to about 3 meters high, or higher to about 5.5 meters. The bark is smooth and thin, dark brown or thick greyish brown, transversed by reticulating lines. The alternate leaves are odd-pinnate, compound, 15~25 cm long, pointed at the apex narrowed toward the base, and pinnate with 3~5 leaflets, the leaf rachis being winged. The leaflets are opposite, oblong, acuminate, and uneven at the base.

 The flowers are small and pale yellowish green. The sepals are round to ovate, fused at the base and imbricate. There are 5 petals, 10 stamens, and 5 carpels. The style is fused from bottom to top. The fruit is a pea-sized drupe, which ripens from December to January. They are black, glossy, solitary, clavate, and have thin skin.

 Ecological environment: The plant grows in Jamaica, it is found growing in tropical forests or near bodies of water. It is found mainly in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama, Brasil, Peru, Venezuela, Suriname, Colombia, Argentina, French Guiana, and Guyana. It is cultivated throughout Northern South America as an ornamental tree.

 Growth characteristics: Quassia cannot tolerate frost, but is partially drought tolerant. It prefers fertile, moist but well-drained soil in a partially shaded position. The trees are almost never eaten by insects because of the intensely bitter resin in their bark. Its propagation can be through seeds and cuttings.

 Characters of herbs: Bitterwood is the dried trunk wood of Picrasma excelsa, collected in the wild.

 Pharmacological actions: ①.bitters and stimulate appetite; ②.combat lice; ③.eliminate parasites; ④.anti-cancer; ⑤.antibacterial and antifungal actions;etc.

 Quassia contains the bitter substance quassinoids, quassinoids are fifty times more bitter than the widely recognized bitter, quinine. It stimulates the appetite and settles the stomach by promoting salivation and the excretion of stomach juices.

 Quassia tincture scalp lotion was used to combat head lice and got good efficacy.

 Quassia preparation was used in fighting parasitic infections, results are conflicting, but success in treating thread-worms with an enema made with quassia.

 Quassin was reported positive test-tube activity in cancers affecting the throat and nasal passages, with significant antitumor actions in mice experiment.

 Quassia alkaloids component beta-carbolines show antibacterial and antifungal actions in test-tube studies, it also increases the squeezing force of the heart muscle.

 Medicinal efficacy: Quassia was used by West Indian natives for indigestion, stomach upset, or poor appetite. It was imported to Europe in the 18th century and used for a similar purpose, in prepared stomach-soothing and bile-stimulating formulas. Contemporary herbalists recommend its extract quassin for stimulating liver, gallbladder, kidney, and other internal "juices". It was once used as an oral formulation for intestinal worms. The topical formulations such as lotions were used to combat body lice, and the bitter wood was used in apéritifs, liqueurs, and tonic wines, as a flavoring in foods and beverages. It was used by gardeners as an effective insect repellent and pesticide. In folk medicines, quassia is used for dyspepsia in Mexico and Brazil, loss of appetite, stimulation of gastric juice and saliva production, in Costa Rica and Surinam it is used for fever, in Brazil it is used for malaria, dysentery, gonorrhea, lice and worm infections, diarrhea, wound treatment, in Guyana, it is used for snake bites, for liver disease, edema, and menstrual complaints.

 Administration of Quassia (Bitterwood): 
Reference: Administration Guide of Quassia (Bitterwood)
Herbal classic books: Dosage: A decoction is made of a scant 1/4 teaspoon, about 0.5 gram powdered wood per cup of water, and is drunk about 30 minutes before meals. The tincture is taken in doses of 2.5 to 5 ml, or 2 to 4 ml, the concentrated wood tea is recommended in doses of 2.5 to 5 ml. Oral formulations are drunk cold. Herb is advised 0.3 to 0.6 grams single dose, 3 times daily. For lice treatment, apply tincture twice-weekly to the scalp. The herb should be protected from light and moisture for storage.
 Contraindications, Precautions and Adverse Reactions:The FDA placed quassia on its list of foods "Generally Regarded As Safe"(GRAS), as overdosage of the herb may cause stomach irritation (Gastric mucous membrane irritation) and followed by vomiting, avoid high-than-recommended doses of quassia. High doses may also complicate heart or blood-thinning treatments. Do not take quassia during pregnancy or while nursing, as it has the risk of vomiting. Internal use has occasionally led to dizziness and headache, uterine pain. It is said that prolonged use can lead to weakened vision and total blindness, so prolonged use should be avoided.

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