Guaiacum Officinale. Guaiacum, Lignum Vitae.

Botanical name: 

Description: Natural Order, Zygophyllaceae. A large tree, native to the West Indian islands and Central America, reaching a height of thirty or forty feet; with a somewhat crooked stem, and a dark, furrowed bark. Leaves in two pairs; leaflets broad-oval, obtuse, evergreen, two to three inches long. Flowers on long peduncles, six to ten in the axils of the upper leaves; calyx five- parted; petals five, pale blue, oblong; stamens ten; style single, short. Fruit a capsule, slightly stalked, five-angled, five-celled, by abortion sometimes but two or three-celled, a single pendulous seed in each cell. Wood very hard and heavy, fibers crossing each other diagonally, strongly resinous; outer wood pale yellow, center wood greenish brown; used in the arts for a few purposes.

This wood is imported chiefly from Jamaica and St. Domingo, either in logs, or in turnings called chips. The dark center wood is most largely resinous, though the lighter portions are also well charged with resin. The chips or shavings of both are usually found mixed in the chips, and age will gradually give a greenish tint to the yellow portions. It is valued in medicine for its resin, which may be obtained directly from the tree by making incisions into the outer wood; or by boiling the chips in water whoso boiling point is raised by the addition of salt, when the resin comes to the surface and may be skimmed off. It is said the natives obtain the best qualities by cutting off sections of the stem three feet long, boring an auger hole lengthwise through the center, and catching the resin that falls through this hole as the wood burns.

Guaiacum resin, usually called gum guaiacum, comes to market in masses, is of a dark-brown or greenish-brown color, has a shining fracture, and is nearly translucent at the edges. Thin laminae are light green and almost transparent. It smells moderately balsamic; and though of little taste, it leaves a burning sensation in the throat. It softens under a moderate heat, and is then quite fragrant.

Properties and Uses: This resin is an active stimulant, quite local in action, exciting to the stomach and slowly so to the remote circulation, and elevating all the secretory organs by increasing their sensibility and capillary flow. Such qualities at once interdict its use in any case of irritated stomach or bowels, acute forms of dyspepsia, and febrile or inflammatory conditions. Nor is it an agent that should be resorted to for sensitive or plethoric persons, nor for those inclined to pulmonary or uterine hemorrhage. It is best fitted for phlegmatic and leuco-phlegmatic patients, and for maladies where the stomach is depressed and the general activity of the system much reduced. It is most applicable for arousing the secernents in secondary syphilis, mercurial cachexy, and venereal rheumatism; for which purposes it may be added in suitable portions to relaxing alterants. When added to warm diluents, the patient being at the same time surrounded with warmth, it acts toward the surface and arouses capillary circulation and diaphoresis; and sometimes is used in this way for chronic rheumatism and some cutaneous affections, when the skin is cold and flabby, and in very indolent (especially tertiary venereal) ulcers. Diluted and given cold, it acts on the kidneys and uterus; and has been used in chronic menstrual obstructions with atony.

The chips possess the same properties as the resin; but act more mildly, and can be employed to better advantage in warm or cold infusion, and in the preparation of sirups. Large doses of either produce dryness and heat in the throat and stomach, loss of appetite, nausea, and pain in the bowels.

Dose of the resin, powdered, from three to eight grains three times a day. It is seldom used thus, but rather as a tincture, or in emulsion. A half ounce of the chips boiled in a quart of water till a pint remains, may be given in doses of one to two fluid ounces every six or four hours. The resin can not be used in sirups; and its tincture will leave the resin floating as a gummy mass, if added to water or sirup. The chips may be treated, in moderate quantities, with other ingredients, without this result. They are usually compounded with sarsaparilla, rumex, aralia nudicaulis, and similar alterants–from four to six ounces of the chips usually being sufficient in a gallon of sirup.

Pharmaceutical Preparations: I. Emulsion. Guaiac resin, in powder, half an ounce; sugar, half an ounce; gum arable powder, two drachms. Form into an emulsion by first triturating these articles thoroughly, and then gradually adding a pint of cinnamon water. Dose, half to a whole fluid ounce.

II. Tincture. Six ounces of coarse guaiac resin may be mixed with an equal bulk of dry sand, and then tinctured with two pints of absolute alcohol in the usual way; or the resin and sand may be laid loosely into a percolator, and then treated with the alcohol till two pints pass. This is the officinal tincture, of which the dose is a fluid drachm thrice daily, in milk or water. It is scarcely used. A tincture is made with spirits of ammonia, but is not an advisable preparation.

The Physiomedical Dispensatory, 1869, was written by William Cook, M.D.
It was scanned by Paul Bergner at