Picraena Excelsa. Quassia, Bitter-Wood, Bitter-Ash.
Description: Natural Order, Simarubaceae. This is the Quassia excelsa of Linnaeus, though the genuine plant is the Quassia amara. The species amara is a large shrub, or low tree, inhabiting Surinam; while the excelsa is a lofty tree with a very large trunk, and is found in Jamaica and other portions of the West Indies. The latter is now the article almost exclusively found in market. "Leaves alternate, unequally pinnate; leaflets opposite, oblong, acuminate. Flowers polygamous; sepals five, minute; petals five, pale; stamens five. Racemes axillary toward the ends of the brandies, very compound, panicled, many-flowered. Fruit of three black, shining drupes the size of a pea, only one of which comes to perfection." (Lindley.)
Sections from the branches are generally the parts used. They frequently come to market in pieces from three to five feet long, and from two to ten inches in diameter; covered by a smooth and ash-gray bark. As dispensed, it is either rasped or chipped. The wood is whitish or yellowish white, without smell, but of the most intense and permanent bitter taste. Water, diluted alcohol, and alcohol, extract its virtues; and weak alkaline solutions act on it well. Its active constituent is supposed to reside in a neutral principle called quassin.
Properties and Uses: The wood and bark are both medicinal, though the former is most used. It is an intense bitter, less relaxing than stimulating, expending its influence mainly upon the digestive organs, but scarcely affecting the circulation. As an appetizer and improver of digestion, it is scarcely surpassed; and is useful in most forms of chronic dyspepsia, and in convalescence from various acute maladies. A negro of Surinam, named Quassi, is credited with having brought it into notice by the success with which he used it in malignant intermittents; but it is of no value as an antiperiodic. Some persons use it by chewing twenty or more grains after a meal, but few persons can endure its intense bitterness in this form. The more common method of employment is by making an infusion with two drachms of the rasped wood, macerated for twelve hours in a pint of cold water; of which preparation two fluid ounces may be given three or four times a day. Recently, small cups of this wood have been introduced; and these are filled with water at one meal hour, and this mild infusion drank at the next meal. A tincture is made by digesting an ounce of the quassia chips for fourteen days in a pint of diluted alcohol, and filtering; and this is either added to milder tonic infusions, or used in doses of one or two fluid drachms. The Edinburgh Pharmacopoeia gives the following formula for a compound tincture:
Cardamon seeds and cochineal, bruised, each, half an ounce; cinnamon and quassia, each, six drachms; raisins, seven ounces; diluted alcohol, two pints. Digest for seven days, strain, express the residue strongly, and filter. Dose, one to two fluid drachms.
This article is actively poisonous to flies, though this is not proof that it is anywise poisonous to man. (§67.) A strong decoction, thoroughly sweetened with molasses or sugar, and spread in dishes, effectually destroys flies that eat of it.
The Physiomedical Dispensatory, 1869, was written by William Cook, M.D.
It was scanned by Paul Bergner at http://medherb.com