- Picraena excelsa L.
- Quassia family
Parts Usually Used
Description of Plant(s) and Culture
The quassia tree grows from 50 to 100 feet high; it has smooth, gray
bark and alternate, odd-pinnate leaves with oblong, pointed leaflets.
Its small flowers are yellowish or greenish, its fruit is a small
rupe about the size of a pea.
A native of tropical America and the West Indies. A small tree native
of Surinam and Guiana being introduced to the West Indies.
Anthelmintic, febrifuge, stomachic, bitter tonic
Legends, Myths and Stories
Quassia is a common component of insecticides.
A pure bitter with no sensible odor, Quassia cups were once very
popular, and obtainable in drug stores. They were a sort of wooden
cup or goblet, make of Quassia wood, for the purpose of drinking out
of, to obtain the properties of the wood, which is so bitter, and
yields its properties so readily to water, that if water is allowed
to remain a few minutes in the cup, it will become quite bitter. What
is most singular, this bitter principle seems almost inexhaustible.
Quassia chips are used to discourage thumb sucking among children.
The decoction is applied to the thumb or finger usually sucked. Renew
applications according to persistence of the child. Unlike Capsicum,
which is sometimes used in preparations to discourage thumb sucking,
tea of quassia chips will not burn the eyes when the child happens
to come in such contact.
Quassia chips, an intense bitter, is used in aperitifs and sometimes
as a substitute for hops in making beer. In Europe it is used in tonic
The generic name Quassia is derived from a man named Quassi of Surinam,
who employed the wood with uncommon success as a secret remedy in
the malignant endemic fevers which frequently prevails in Surinam.
He sold the secret to Daniel Rolander, a Swede, who in 1756 took specimens
of the wood to Stockholm, and shortly afterwards it became highly
extolled throughout Europe, and it has been prescribed by numerous
eminent doctors as an excellent stomachic tonic. The whole plant;
root, wood, and bark, is intensely bitter.
Quassia is used in hair lotions. An old-fashioned plant spray to
drive off plant lice was made with a strong decoction of Quassia mixed
with liquid soap. A strong infusion sweetened and placed in a saucer
is used to kill flies. This is harmless to house pets.
Steep 1 pint of quassia chips for 1 hour or more in a gallon of hot
water. Add to this 1 pint of softened strong laundry soap and another
gallon of water. Beat until you have strong suds. Add 1 tsp. of kerosene
and demulsify thoroughly. Then add another two gallons of water and
apply with a good brass syringe through a fine nozzle. This is a sure
To repel gnats, put a handful of Quassia chips into a bowl of cold
water, leaving for 12 hours or longer. Bottle, and for use, sponge
the exposed skin with the liquid. The bitter taste is a preventive.
An infusion of the wood has been used for fever,
rheumatism, and dyspepsia.
Taken internally, it kills roundworms,
and as an enema it kills pinworms. The tea is said to destroy appetite
for alcohol. Water left standing overnight in a cup made from quassia
wood becomes a weak infusion suitable as a bitter tonic for the stomach.
An infusion serves as a scalp rinse to counteract dandruff.
Formulas or Dosages
Infusion: steep 1 tsp. quassia wood in 1 cup boiling water.
Take 1 cup per day. Also, an infusion may be made by 1 oz. of wood
chips or shavings in 1 qt. cold water; let stand for 12 hours; the
dose is about 1/2 tsp. 3 times a day. A little ginger, cloves, lemon
peel or warm aromatic may be added to render the infusion more palatable.
Tincture: a dose is from 2 to 5 drops.
Tincture or powder