016. Guaiacum officinale. Officinal Guaiacum.
Synonyma. Guaiacum. Pharm. Lond. & Edin. Miller's Dict.
Guaiacum, foliis fere impetiolatis, bijugatis, obovatis & leniter radiatis; pinnis & ramulis dichotomis. Browne's Jamaica, 225.
Lignum Vitae, or Guaiacum. Hughes's Barbadoes, 142.
Guaiacum Americanum primum, fructu aceris, sive legitimum. Breyn. Prodr. i. 31.
Pruno vel Euonymo affinis arbor, folio alato, buxeo, subrotundo, flore pentapetalo caeruleo racemoso, fructu aceris cordato, cujus cortex luteus corrugatus, semen unicum majusculum nigricans nullo officulo tectum operit. Shanes Jam. vol. 2, 133. & Cat. P. Jam. 186.
Guaiacum flore caseruleo, fructu subrotundo. Plum. Nov. Gen. 39.
Guaiacum, magna matrice. Bauh. Pin. 448.
Lignum sanctum, Lignum Indicum, et Palus sanctus, Quorundam.
Class Decandria. Order Monogynia. L. Gen. Plant. 518.
Ess. Gen. Ch. Cal. 5-fidus inaequalis. Petala 5, calyci inserta. Caps. angulata 3 s 5-locularis.
Spec. Char. G. foliolis bijugis obtusis.
The Guaiacum tree grows to the height of forty feet, and to the circumference of four or five, sending forth several large dividing and subdividing knotted branches: the bark of the trunk is of a dark grey colour, variegated with greenish or purplish specks, but of the branches it is uniformly ash-coloured, striated, and marked with fissures; "the roots are very thick in proportion to the size of the tree, and run a great way into the ground, in a perpendicular direction:" the leaves are pinnated, consisting of two, three, and sometimes four pair of pinnae, with very short footstalks, smooth, shining, veined, of an inversely oval shape, and dark green colour: the flowers grow in clusters, or umbels, upon long peduncles, which spring from the divisions of the smaller branches: the calyx is of five leaves; these are concave, oblong, obtuse, patent, unequal, and deciduous; the petals are five, elliptical, concave, spreading, and of a rich blue colour; the stamina are erect, villous, taper from the base, and are crowned with yellowish hooked anthers; the germen is oval, angular, and in its capsular state assumes the figure we have separately described; the style is short and tapering; the stigma is simple, and pointed; the seeds are solitary, hard, and of an oblong shape.
Linnaeus makes three species of the Guaiacum, viz. the officinale, sanctum, and afrum; the specific difference between the two former he fixes wholly on the number of the pinnae of the leaves, defining the first foliolis bijugis, and the second foliolis multijugis; but the leaves, according to the plant we have figured, commonly consist of three, and sometimes four pair of pinnae", [There can be no doubt of our plant being the true officinale, we had it with several others from Mr. Aiton, whose extensive botanical knowledge is above our praise, and only to be equalled by that liberality of mind with which he communicates it. The testimony of Sir Hans Sloane is in opposition to Linnaeus, for he observes that the leaves have sometimes four pair of pinnae.] so that this specific description is by no means distinctly characteristic. In a medical sense, the sanctum has been generally considered synonymously with the officinale, and from the investigation we have given this subject, we believe it founded in botanical truth. [Monardus divides the wood into three sorts, and C. Bauhin adopts two of these by the distinctions of Guaiacum magna matrice, and the Guaiacum propemodum sine matrice: these circumstances, however, depend upon the age, size, &c. of the tree. The icons of these species, given by Blackwell and Regnault, cannot, we presume, be considered as decisive.]
This tree is a native of the Weft India islands, and the warmer parts of America, and appears from the MS. of Sir Hans Sloane, in the British Museum, to have been first cultivated in this country by the Duchess of Beaufort in 1699. [Vide Aiton's Hort. Kew.] The wood, gum, bark, fruit, and even the flowers of this tree, have been found to possess medicinal qualities. [Long's History of Jamaica, vol. 3. p, 725.] The wood is brought here principally from Jamaica in large pieces of four or five cwt. each, and, from its hardness and beauty, is in great demand for various articles of turnery ware.—
It is extremely compact, and so heavy as to sink in water: the outer part is of a pale yellowish colour, the heart of a dark blackish brown, with a greater or less admixture of green. It scarcely discovers any smell, unless heated, or while rasping, in which circumstances it yields a light aromatic one: chewed, it impresses a slight acrimony, biting the palate and fauces. Its pungency resides in a resinous matter, which is totally extracted by digestion in rectified spirit, and partially by boiling water. The quantity of solid extract, obtained by rectified spirit, amounts to about one-fourth of the weight of the wood; with water, scarcely one-sixth is obtained. [Lewis's M. M. 330.] The gum, or rather gummy resin, is obtained by wounding the bark in different parts of the body of the tree, or by what has been called jagging. It exudes copiously from the wounds, though gradually; and when a quantity is found accumulated upon the several wounded trees, hardened by exposure to the sun, it is gathered and packed in small kegs for exportation. This resin is of a friable texture, of a deep greenish colour, and sometimes of a reddish hue; it has a pungent acrid taste, but little or no smell, unless heated. It contains more resin than the watery extract made from the wood; and more gummy matter than the spirituous extract. [Des Marchais, Voyage en Guinee & Cayenne, tom. 3. p. 246. "The Gum, or rather the resin of this plant, transudes frequently of its own accord, and may be seen concreted on many parts of it at all seasons of the year; but it is generally found in greater abundance where the bark has been cut or wounded." Browne's Jam. 226.] —
The Guaiacum tree also yields a spontaneous exudation from the bark, which is called the native gum, and is brought to us in small irregular pieces, [It is sometimes sophisticated by the negroes with the gum of the Manchineal tree, (a species of the Hippomane) but this is easily detected by dissolving a little in spirit of wine or rum. The true gum imparts a whitish or milky tinge; but the Manchineal gives a greenish cast. Long, l. c. 724. Mönch advises a few drops of Spirit, nitri dulc. to be added to the spirituous solution, and then to be diluted with water, by which the gum is precipitated in a blue powder; but the adulteration will appear floating in white striae, &c. Vide Crell's Chem. Journ. P. 2. p. 78.] of a bright semipellucid appearance, and differs from the former in being much purer. [Long, l. c.] The Bark contains less resinous matter than the wood, and is consequently a less powerful medicine, though in a recent state it is strongly cathartic. The Fruit, (says a late author) "is purgative; and, for medicinal use, far excels the bark. A decoction of it has been known to cure the venereal disease, and even the yaws in its advanced stage, without the use of mercury."The Flowers, or blossoms, are laxative, and in Jamaica are commonly given to children in the form of syrup, which in appearance much resembles that of violets. It is only the wood and resin of Guaiacum which are now in general medical use in Europe; and as the efficacy of the former is supposed to be derived merely from the quantity of resinous matter which it contains, they may be considered indiscriminately as the same medicine. Guaiacum was first introduced in the Materia Medica soon after the discovery of America, [Initium celebritatis dedit felix curatio, quam in insula St. Dominici Hispanus quidam superioris ordinis, qui morbum ab India muliere contraxerat, jam doloribus diris detentus, suadente famulo suo Indo, ex hoc ligno in semet experiebatur. Ejus exemplo praecunte, plures alii Hispani eodem modo contaminati ad idem auxilium fausto successu confugerunt. Quod quum post reditum Hispali ab hisce evulgaretur, hinc per totam Hispaniam, & inde per totum reliquum orbem, quem lues occupaverat, fama remedii increbuit. Monardes Simpl. Med. p. 341. Vide Murray's Ap. Med. vol. 3. 409. And according to Delgado, Guaiacum was used in Spain so early as 1508. (del modo de adoperare el Legno santo. Venet. 1529).] and previous to the proper use of mercury in the lues venerea, it was the principal remedy employed for the cure of that disease, and its great success brought it into such repute, that it is said to have been sold for seven gold crowns a pound; [Vide Friend's Hist. vol. 2. p. 365. And Massa de Morb. gal. 71. says, Ligni libra una scutatis aureis undecim veniret.] but notwithstanding the very numerous testimonies in its favour [Vide Böhm Diss. varias siphilidis therapiae.], it often failed in curing the patient, and was at length entirely superseded by mercury; and though it be dill occasionally employed in syphilis, yet it is rather with a view to correct other vitia in the habit, than for its effects as an antivenereal. [Perhaps the opinions and facts adduced by Boerhaave, Astruc, Plenk, De Haen, Hutten, and lately by Mr. Hunter, may be considered in some measure as exceptions.—The last of these authors remarks, that the Guaiacum was first used in Europe as a remedy for the Syphilis in 1517; but from the authority we have cited above, it appears to have been employed nine years sooner.]
The general virtues of Guaiacum are stated by Bergius to be mundificans, sudorifera, diuretica, subcalefaciens, stomachica, and its use to be in syphilis, arthritis, [Though upon the authority of Mead, Pringle, and others, Guaiacum has been much employed in rheumatisms, yet it was of little estimation in the gout till Mr. Emerigon of Martinico, published his letters about thirteen years ago, (Specifique contre la goutte, &c.)] morbi cutis, odontalgia; font color="#c0c0c0">[Mat. Med. 346.] and to these we may add chronic rheumatism, scrophula, and some scirrhous diseases.—
To Dr. Cullen Guaiacum seems analogous to the nature of the balsams and turpentines, he therefore supposes it like these to be very diffusible in the system, and thereby to have a considerable power in stimulating the extreme vessels every where; and in this way he accounts for its power in chronic rheumatism, and from its passing off by the pores of the skin, he considers it a probable remedy in some cutaneous disorders. [Mat. Med. vol. 2. 197.]
This opinion corresponds with Murray's, who says,—Et hisce partibus resinosis quidem Guaiacum per minimos corporis nostri canales efficaciter penetrat, impacta resolvit & discutit, balsamicam virtutem exercet et sudorem potenter pellit, item evacuationes per alvum vel lotium, vel aliquando saliva; profluvium, ciet. [Murray's Ap. Med. vol. 3. 408.] According to Lewis, where the excretory glands are obstructed, the vessels lax and flaccid, and the habit replete with serous humours, it has good effects: but in thin emaciated habits, and an acrimonious state of the fluids, it often does harm. [l. c. 331.] —
We have frequently conjoined it with mercury and soap, and in some cases with bark or steel, and found it eminently useful as an alterative. In the pharmacopoeias it is directed in the form of tincture and elixir; the latter is ordered by the Edinburgh college to be prepared in two ways, viz. with rectified spirit, and the vinous spirit of sal ammoniac. [Dr. Cullen observes, that "several physicians have apprehended mischief from the life of the Guaiacum in a spirituous tincture, and I am certain that it sometimes happens. It is therefore that in imitation of the very respectable Berger of Copenhagen I avoid the spirituous tincture of Guaiacum, and employ almost only the diffusion of it in water. In preparing this, having first with an equal part of hard sugar reduced the Guaiacum to a fine powder, I apply some portion of the yolk of egg, or of a mucilage of gum arabic, and rubbing these together very carefully, I form an emulsion with water, or watery liquors, as may be thought proper. This preparation I give over night in such a quantity as may open the belly once next day, which will happen to different persons from doses containing 15 to 30 grains of the Guaiacum." M. M. 199. Berger's formula is the following: Rx. G. guaiaci ℥s G. arabici ʒij. Bene trita solv. in aquae hyssopi vel alius distill ℥ix. Add. sacchari ℥ss m. d. s. solutio, cujus duo cochlearia majora mane & vesperi capiantur, superbibito libra una decocti hordei vel avenae. Vet. Acad. Handl. vol. 1. p. 74. Theden recommends the Guaiacum made into pills with soap of almonds, which is still more convenient (neue Bemerk. u Erfahr, a. d. Wundarzneyk. und Arz. P. 2. 204.)] Of these compounds the dose may be from two scruples to two drams: the powder is generally given from 6 grains to 20, or even more, for a dose, either by itself, or in a fluid form, by means of mucilage or the yolk of egg. The Decoctum lignorum, (Pharm. Ed.) of which Guaiacum is the chief ingredient, is commonly taken in the quantity of a pint a day.
Medical Botany, 1790-1794, was written by William Woodville, M. D., and illustrated by James Sowerby.