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Simaroubaceae Simarouba amara Aublet

Simaroubaceae Simarouba amara
| | W.D. Hawthorne

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Species information

The wood of this species is very light weight, thus it is used for building cabinet drawers and for making shingles to be used as a covering for house roof. The fruit has the colour and taste of black currents and is eaten by children, hikers, and hunters. Birds such as redneck pigeon and Doves are often found feeding on trees during the bearing season. The leaves and bark of Simarouba have a long history of use as a natural medicine in the tropics. Simarouba was first imported into France from Guyana in 1713 as a remedy for dysentery. When France suffered a dysentery epidemic from 1718 to 1725, simarouba bark was one of the few effective treatments. French explorers "discovered" this effective remedy when they found that the indigenous Indian tribes in the Guyana rainforest used simarouba bark as an effective treatment for malaria and dysentery-much as they still do today. Other indigenous tribes throughout the South American rainforest use simarouba bark for fevers, malaria, and dysentery, as a hemostat to stop bleeding, and as a tonic. Simarouba also has a long history in herbal medicine in many other countries. In Cuba, where it is called gavilan, an infusion of the leaves or bark is considered as astringent, digestive, anthelmintic, and emmenagogue. It is taken internally for diarrhea, dysentery, malaria, and colitis; it is used externally for wounds and sores. In Belize the tree is called negrito or dysentery bark. There the bark and, occasionally, the roots are boiled in water to yield a powerful astringent and tonic used to wash skin sores and to treat dysentery, diarrhea, stomach and bowel disorders, hemorrhages, and internal bleeding. In Brazil it is employed much the same way against fever, malaria, diarrhea, dysentery, intestinal parasites, indigestion, and anemia. In high dosages it is reported to be emetic, diuretic, and soporific. In Brazilian herbal medicine, simarouba bark tea has long been the most highly recommended (and most effective) natural remedy against chronic and acute dysentery. After a 200-year documented history of use for dysentery, its use for amoebic dysentery was finally validated by conventional doctors in 1918. A military hospital in England demonstrated that the bark tea was an effective treatment for amoebic dysentery in humans. The Merck Institute reported that simarouba was 91.8% effective against intestinal amoebiasis in humans in a 1944 study and, in 1962, other researchers found that the seeds of simarouba showed active anti-amoebic activities in humans. In the 1990s scientists again documented simarouba's ability to kill the most common dysentery-causing organism, Entamoeba histolytica, as well as two pathogenic diarrhea-causing bacteria, Salmonella and Shigella. The main active group of phytochemicals in simarouba are called quassinoids, which belong to the triterpene chemical family. Quassinoids are found in many plants and are well known to scientists. The antiprotozoal and antimalarial properties of these chemicals have been documented for many years. Several of the quassinoids found in simarouba, such as ailanthinone, glaucarubinone, and holacanthone, are considered the plant's main therapeutic constituents and are the ones documented to be antiprotozal/anti-amoebic, antimalarial, and even toxic to cancer and leukemia cells. The Indians in the Amazon have also treated malaria with simarouba bark for centuries. Scientists first looked at simarouba's antimalarial properties in 1947, when they determined a water extract of the bark (as well as the root) demonstrated strong activity against the malaria-causing organism Plasmodium gallinaceum in chickens. This study showed that doses of only 1 mg of bark extract per kg of body weight exhibited strong antimalarial activity. When new strains of malaria with resistance to our existing antimalarial drugs began to develop, scientists began studying simarouba once again. Studies published between 1988 and 1997 demonstrated that simarouba and/or its three potent quassinoids were effective against malaria in vitro as well as in vivo. More importantly, the research indicated that the plant and its chemicals were effective against the new drug-resistant strains in vivo and in vitro. While most people in North America will never be exposed to malaria, between 300 and 500 million cases of malaria occur each year in the world, leading to more than one million deaths annually. Having an easily-grown tree in the tropics where most malaria occurs could be an important resource for an effective natural remedy; it certainly has worked for the Indians in the Amazon for ages. Simarouba is the subject of one U.S. patent so far and, surprisingly, it's not for its antimalarial, anti-amoebic, or even anticancerous actions. Rather, water extracts of simarouba were found to increase skin keratinocyte differentiation and to improve skin hydration and moisturization. In 1997, a patent was filed on its use to produce a cosmetic or pharmaceutical skin product. The patent describes simarouba extract as having significant skin depigmentation activity (for liver spots), enhancing the protective function of the skin (which maintains better moisturization), and having a significant keratinocyte differentiation activity (which protects against scaly skin). Traditional Remedy: For diarrhea or dysentery, the traditional remedy calls for preparing a standard decoction with the bark. A teacup full (about 6 ounces) is taken 2-3 times daily. Five to ten ml of a bark tincture can be substituted if desired.

Specimen information

Collection Date

W.D. Hawthorne, S.Cable & D. Jules

Specimen Number

Along main nature trail.

Tree 20 m tall. BARK: rough, corky with irregular flakes. SLASH: soft, fibrous, outer layer corky 2 mm thick, inner layer yellow and very gritty, smell slight of vegetables, taste bitter, sapwood white.

Latitude: 12.020000 N   Longitude: 61.430000 W   Altitude: 265