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Quassia (U. S. P.)—Quassia.

Fig. 205. Picraena excelsa. Preparations: Infusion of Quassia - Extract of Quassia - Fluid Extract of Quassia - Tincture of Quassia

The wood of Picraena excelsa (Swartz), Lindley"—(U. S. P.) (Picrasma excelsa, Planchon).
Nat. Ord.—Simarubeae.
COMMON NAMES: Quassia wood, Bitter wood, Bitter ash, etc.
ILLUSTRATION: Bentley and Trimen, Med. Plants, 57.

Botanical Source.—This is the Quassia excelsa of Linnaeus, and the Simaruba excelsa of De Candolle, and is known by the various names of Lofty quassia, Bitter wood, Bitter ash, etc. This is a tree, growing from 50 to 100 feet high, with an erect stem, 3 feet or more in diameter at the base, gradually becoming smaller as it ascends. The bark is grayish and smooth. Leaves alternate and unequally pinnate; leaflets opposite, short-petioled, oblong, acuminate, unequal at the base, blunt at the apex, and veiny-glabrous. Flowers small, pale or yellowish-green, polygamous; racemes toward the end of the branchlets, axillary, very compound, panicled, sub-corymbose, dichotomously branched, spreading, and many-flowered. Peduncles compressed, downy, and rufescent. Sepals 5, minute. Petals 5, longer than the sepals. Filaments of the male flowers much longer than the petals; in the fertile of the same length. In the male, merely the rudiments of the pistil; in the fertile, ovaries 3; style longer than the stamens, triquetrous, and trifid. Anthers roundish. Stigmas simple and spreading. Fruit, 3 drupes, one only being perfected, size of a pea, black, shining, fixed on a hemispherical receptacle; nut solitary and globose, with the shell fragile (L.).

History and Description.—Picraena excelsa is common on the plains and lower mountains of Jamaica and other-neighboring islands. It flowers in October and November, and in the two succeeding months matures its fruit. The wood of this tree furnishes the quassia of commerce, being substituted for the true Surinam quassia (Quassia amara). Though the Pharmacopoeia retains the genus name, Picraena, the latter has now been united to the genus Simaruba (Lloyd, West. Drug., Jan., 1897, p. 7). It is imported in logs and sticks, varying from 2 inches to 1 foot in diameter, and from 1 to 6 or 8 feet in length, occasionally larger than a man's body, and split into quarters, and frequently retaining a friable and feebly attached cortex, which has similar medicinal powers with the wood. These are undoubtedly obtained from portions of the tree itself, instead of from its root. The wood is white, but changes to yellow under the action of the air. The bark is thin, dark-brown, or thick, grayish-brown, wrinkled, and traversed by reticulating lines. The wood is often turned into cups and sold as quassia or bitter cups, for when water is poured into them, it partakes of the bitterness of the wood. The U. S. P. describes it as occurring "in billets of various sizes, dense, tough, of medium hardness, porous, with a minute pith, and narrow, medullary rays; inodorous, and intensely bitter. In the shops it is usually met with in the form of chips or raspings of a yellowish-white color"—(U.S. P.). Quassia was introduced into medicine by Dr. John Lindsay, of Jamaica, in 1791.

It was used on that island as a domestic remedy for fluxes and fevers, and yields its medicinal virtues to water and alcohol.

Chemical Composition.—The chief constituent of quassia is the bitter quassiin or quassin. It was first obtained by Winckler, in 1835, from the wood of Quassia amara. Subsequently, it was studied by Wiggers (1837) who gave a detailed method for its preparation (see this Dispensatory, preceding edition).

A. Christensen (Archiv der Pharm., 1882, p. 481) obtained pure quassiin by precipitating an aqueous infusion, concentrated by evaporation, with tannic acid, decomposing the precipitate with lead carbonate, and extracting with alcohol. The yield from Picraena excelsa, in one instance, was 0.06 per cent. Quassiin thus obtained, crystallizes in thin, rectangular scales, of an intensely bitter taste, permanent in the air, and forming neutral solutions with water. It melts at 205° C. (401° F.), and is soluble in 735 parts of water, at 15° C. (59° F.), when saturated at a higher temperature. It is more soluble in boiling water, easily soluble in boiling alcohol, and in warm alkalies, also in chloroform, in 30 parts of 84 per cent alcohol at 15° C. (59° F.), soluble, with difficulty, in ether and petroleum ether. It is not a glucosid. Pure solutions of quassiin are not fluorescent. Fried. Massute (Archiv der Pharm., 1890, pp. 147-171) pronounces the quassiins of different observers, including those obtained by himself, to constitute an homologous series, the bitter principles of Quassia amara (quassiin) and of Picrasma excelsa (picrasmin) probably belonging to different groups. Both are mixtures of several quassiins (see also formulae in Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1890, p. 338). The precipitates obtained in solutions of quassiin, with alkaloidal reagents, are due to the presence of a crystallizable base discovered in the wood of Quassia amara. This substance is insoluble in chloroform and ether, soluble, with difficulty, in water and cold alcohol, readily soluble in acidulated alcohol, with ultramarine-blue fluorescence. It seems to occur also in the bark of Picraena excelsa in comparatively large quantity. Oliveri and Denaro (1885) established quassiin (C32H44O10) to be a derivative of the hydrocarbon anthracene (C14H10). Merck (Jahresb. der Pharm., 1895, p. 457) obtained crystallizable, tasteless quassol in the manufacture of quassiin.

Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Quassia is tonic, febrifuge, and anthelmintic. The stomach is deranged by its long-continued use. A strong infusion, by enema, produced serious narcotic symptoms and collapse in a child of 4 years. It is used sometimes in remittent and intermittent fevers; likewise in dyspepsia, debility during convalescence from exhausting diseases, and for worms. It preserves animal matters from decay, which is a property possessed more or less by all simple bitters. The decoction, administered by way of injection, will remove ascarides. An infusion may be made by macerating for 12 hours 3 drachms of the rasped or ground quassia in a pint of cold water; the cold water does not dissolve the extractive matter. Of this a wineglass half full may be taken 3 times a day, either alone, or with some ginger tea, and will be found useful for feeble, emaciated persons, with impaired digestive organs. Or an extract, made by evaporating the decoction to a pilular consistence, may be given in doses of 1 grain, 3 or 4 times a day, and which will be found less offensive to the stomach than the infusion or decoction. Quassia, in connection with sulphuric acid, enters largely into the composition of an anti-bacchanalian elixir, for the cure of drunkenness.

Dr. W. Ferguson gave to Dr. John King the following formula for the preparation of this elixir, which he has used with much advantage: Take of tincture of calumba, compound tincture of gentian, tincture of cascarilla, each, 1 fluid ounce; infusion of quassia, 1 pint; elixir of vitriol, 2 fluid drachms and 40 Minims. Mix. The dose is a tablespoonful every 1 or 2 hours, or it may be taken every 4 or 6 hours, in doses of 2 1/2 fluid ounces. Frequent bathing of the head in cold water is a valuable auxiliary. It acts as a tonic; in some cases its first action is that of emesis. Its use must be persisted in for some time, that the stomach may retain tone and vigor. It frequently destroys the appetite for alcoholic drinks.

On flies and other insects, quassia acts as a powerful narcotic poison, and the alcoholic extract when introduced into the cellular tissue kills small animals. Mr. Brande, in his work on chemistry, recommends a strong decoction of quassia, well sweetened with brown sugar or molasses, as an effectual poison for flies, and far preferable to the poisonous articles generally used to destroy them. It is certainly worth the trial. A very excellent injection for ascarides (thread-worms), is a strong infusion of 3 parts of quassia, and 1 of mandrake root, to every ounce of which a fluid drachm of tincture of asafoetida may be added. For a child 2 years old, 2 fluid ounces may be injected into the rectum twice a day. Diluted carbolic acid may be substituted for the asafoetida, if desired. Dose of the powder, 30 grains; of the infusion, from 1 to 3 fluid ounces; of the tincture, 1 or 2 fluid drachms; of the extract, from 2 to 10 grains; and of quassiin, 1/2 to 1 grain.

Related Species and Drugs.Quassia amara, Linné, Bitter quassia, is a shrub, or moderately-sized branching tree, having a grayish bark. Leaves alternate, unequally pinnate; leaflets in 2 pairs, opposite, entire, smooth, elliptical, acute at each end; petiole winged, joined, with the joints obovate. Flowers large, scarlet, distant, hermaphrodite, in long, 1-sided, simple, terminal, rarely branched racemes. Pedicels bracteate at the base, jointed below the apex, and there having 2 little bracts. Calyx short, 5-parted. Corolla of 5 petals, longer than the sepals, arranged in a tubular manner. Stamens 10, longer than the petals. Ovaries 5, placed on a receptacle broader than themselves; styles 5, distinct at the base, there united into a very long one, terminating in a nearly equal, 5-furrowed stigma. Fruit drupaceous (L.). Quassia amara inhabits Surinam, Guiana, Colombia, Panama, and the West Indian Islands, flowering in November and December. A negro, residing in Surinam, named Quassi, had obtained a very great reputation in the cure of epidemic malignant fevers of that place. His remedy was kept secret, until 1756, when he was induced to make it known to Daniel Rolander and to C. G. Dahlberg (see account in Western Druggist, 1897, p. 7). The bark, wood, and root are intensely bitter, and have proved very efficient in malignant fevers. The medicinal parts of this tree seldom reach this country at present, and the wood of Picraena excelsa is now substituted for it. Its bitter principle is probably quassiin, though Massute (1890) states that there are four principles, all differing from those of Picraena excelsa, and varying in solubility and fusing points (see Picraena excelsa above for further details).

SURINAM QUASSIA BARK and JAMAICA QUASSIA BARK are both possessed of the bitterness of the woods.

Samadera indica, Gaertner, a tree belonging to the same order as the quassia, tree; it is indigenous to Ceylon, and has a very bitter bark; also the wood and the seeds are bitter. The bark is used as a febrifuge on the Malabar coast; the leaves are externally applied in erysipelas (Dymock, Warden, and Hooper, Pharmacographia Indica, Vol. I, 1890, p. 294). De Vrij, in 1872, obtained from the seeds 33 per cent of a bitter, light-yellow, non-drying fixed oil, and a bitter principle, samaderin, which is amorphous, soluble in water and alcohol, and can be removed from its aqueous solution by animal charcoal. It turns violet-red with sulphuric acid. Tonningen (1858) had obtained a scaly, bitter substance, giving the same reaction. Flückiger believes it to be identical with quassiin.

Simaba cedron, Planchon.—CEDRON SEED is the fruit of Simaba cedron, a species of Simarubeae, closely allied to the tree that produces quassia bark. This is a small tree, native of New Granada and neighboring parts of South America. It is characterized by having large pinnate leaves, consisting of numerous narrow leaflets and very large panicles of flowers. All parts of the tree are bitter. The fruit is about the size of a "swan's egg," and contains a single seed. The seeds are intensely bitter, and are esteemed by the natives as an antidote in the bites of poisonous snakes, insects, etc. The seeds appear to possess tonic and febrifuge properties, and are recommended for malarial diseases, and to improve the conditions of the digestive powers when enfeebled, and in dyspepsia. For these purposes, an infusion may be employed, or a fluid extract may be taken, in doses of from 1 to 10 minims, repeated 3 or 4 times a day. Cedrin, in bitter, silky, acicular crystals, was obtained by Lewy, in 1851, from the seeds, by removing the fat with ether and extracting the residue with alcohol. Tanret (1880) believes it identical with an emetic principle obtained by him from the seed of Simaba Valdivia, Planchon, which he named valdivin (C36H48O20+5H2O). It is crystalline, neutral, soluble in chloroform and alcohol, and sparingly soluble in cold water (1 in 600), insoluble in ether. The aqueous solution foams when shaken. The principle is decomposed by alkalies.

Simaba ferruginea, St. Hilaire, of Brazil and Central America, is similar to the preceding (see Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1880, p. 326).

Simaruba officinalis, De Candolle.—Simaruba, called in Jamaica Mountain damson, is a tree with long, horizontal, creeping roots, and a trunk about 60 feet in height, alternately branched at the summit; the old bark is grooved and blackish; the young smooth, ash-colored, spotted yellow. Leaves alternate and abruptly pinnate, with a long, naked petiole, sometimes nearly 14 inches long; leaflets alternate, 2 to 9 on each side, about 2 inches long, oval, smooth, firm, mucronate, on short footstalks, and whitish underneath. Flowers yellowish-white, some male, others female, mixed upon branched, scattered panicles, very small (Dr. Wright states that the male and female flowers, in Jamaica, are on different trees, or dioecious). Calyx small, cup-shaped, 5-parted. Petals stiff, sharp-pointed, whitish, fixed between a membranous disk and the calyx. Stamens 10, nearly equal; filaments each arising out of a small, rounded, velvety scale; anthers oblong, incumbent. Capsules 5, ovate, blackish, disjointed, placed on a fleshy disk, with a rather fleshy pericarp (L.—Wi.). Simaruba grows in Jamaica, Guiana, and other parts of South America. It is found in sandy places, flowering from October to January. The root bark is the medicinal part. The bark is rough, scaly, tuberculated, light, tough, yellowish-brown in its substance, but tinged with gray externally, odorless, not easily powdered, and intensely bitter (C.—Ed.). Water or alcohol takes up its properties. Morin found it to contain bitter quassiin, gummy matter, resin, and traces of a volatile oil, having a benzoic odor. Simaruba medicinalis, Endlicher, has a similar root bark, and is similarly employed. Simaruba is apt to excite vomiting and purging when taken in large doses. In smaller doses it is tonic, and may be used in infusion in all cases where simple bitter tonics are indicated. It may be used in all cases as a substitute for quassia. It was at first introduced to the profession as a calmative astringent in chronic dysentery and diarrhoea. However, it merely acts as a tonic, proving very useful in weakened conditions of the digestive apparatus, but injurious in dysentery when improperly administered. The infusion is the best form for exhibition; a drachm or so may be added to 1/2 pint of boiling water, and given in doses of a tablespoonful every 2 hours. Foy recommends a compound infusion, made by placing in 1 pint of boiling water, 2 drachms, each, of coarsely-bruised simaruba and wormwood; digesting for 15 or 20 minutes, then straining, and adding 1 fluid ounce of syrup of gentian. The dose is a wineglassful, 2, 3, or 4 times a day, and may be used in dyspepsia, anorexia, and in convalescence from intermittents. Simaruba is seldom used at present.

Picrasma quassioides.—A Himalayan tree, resembling ailanthus, and possessing a very bitter wood and bark, in which Dymock and Warden (Pharm. Jour. Trans., Vol. XX, 1889, p. 41) found a crystallizable principle, probably quassiin, a fluorescing, bitter, resin-like principle, and at least one other amorphous bitter substance, probably the amorphous quassiin of Adrian and Moreaux (Jahresb. der Pharm., 1883, p. 298). The wood yielded 1.7 per cent of ash. They also intimated the probable presence of an alkaloid. The bark has been suggested as a substitute for quassia.

CASCARA AMARGA.—This is the HONDURAS BARK, supposed to come from a species of Picrasma. Mr. F. A. Thompson (Therapeutic Gazette, 1884, p. 8; also see J. Moeller and A. Atkinson, in Jahresb. der Pharm., 1881-84, p. 299) found it to contain 9 per cent of a brownish-yellow, amorphous alkaloid of a sweetish, afterward bitter, taste. He gave it the name picramnine. Honduras bark has been recommended for syphilitic affections.

Byttera febrifuga, or Bitter ash, of M. Bélanger, West Indies, is now thought to be the Quassia excelsa of Linné.

Photo: Castela emoryi 1. Related entry: Castela

Chaparro amargosa (Nat. Ord.—Simarubaceae).—This is a small, thorny bush growing on thin mesquite land in southwestern Texas. The flowers are pink and the fruit, when ripe, cherry-red. All parts of the shrub have a peculiar and intensely bitter taste, and possess medicinal properties, though the tendrils are selected for use, as they contain the most active constituents. It yields its virtues fully to water on prolonged boiling (2 hours). Chaparro was introduced into medicine by Sharp & Dohme, of Baltimore, Md., upon the statement of Dr. J, W. Nixon, of Wrightsboro, Texas, and indorsed by numerous other physicians who have used it in private as well as hospital practice, that it was an efficient antidysenteric remedy, especially applicable to those intractable forms of Mexican dysentery or "camp flux." It is applicable to both acute and chronic conditions. Under the names of Bisbi and Amargosa, it has long been used by the natives in bowel disorders. A plain and aromatic fluid extract have been put upon the market by Sharpe & Dohme, the dose of which is 15 drops to 2 fluid drachms.


King's American Dispensatory, 1898, was written by Harvey Wickes Felter, M.D., and John Uri Lloyd, Phr. M., Ph. D.



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