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What are the Uses and Health Benefits of Jamaican Quassia (Picrasma Excelsa)?

Jamaican Quassia, Picrasma excelsa

What is Jamaican Quassia?

Jamaican quassia extract is a natural bitter agent which is used as a food additive in Japan. The main constituents of the extracts are quassin and neoquassin.

  • Quassia is the name given to various tropical trees. The bitter extract is found in the bark of these trees.
  • It is a tree native to Jamaica and its neighboring islands.
  • It is a small evergreen shrub or rarely a small tree that grows about 3-8 m tall. This plant grows in tropical forests or near water bodies.
  • The bark of this herb is smooth, thin and dark brown transversed by reticulating lines.
  • It is native to the West Indies and South America. There are two varieties of Quassia tree that are used for medicinal purposes. The West Indian type can reach heights of 30.5 meters while the South American variety is smaller and reaches up to a height of 5.5 meters.
  • These trees are not eaten by insects because of the presence of intensely bitter resin in the bark of the tree.

Plant Description

  • Botanical Name: Quassia amara
  • Family: Simaroubaceae
  • Clade: Angiosperms
  • Order: Sapindales
  • Genus: Quassia
  • Common Names: Amargo, bitter-wood, bitter-ash.
  • Colour: Black
  • Taste: Very bitter

The extract containing complex terpenoid compounds are known as quassinoids. The extract is used medicinally as a bitter tonic. The bark of this tree also contains quassin, a substance which is 50 times more bitter than quinine. It is the bitterest naturally occurring chemical which is known to exist. Because of the presence of these highly bitter phytochemicals, it acts as a natural insecticide.

What are the Medicinal uses of Jamaican Quassia?

  • The bark of Jamaican quassia contains several active constituents including quassinoid, bitter principles, alkaloids, coumarin and Vitamin B1.
  • It is a quite bitter, non-astringent and odorless herb that lowers fever, stimulates the appetite and improves digestion.

What are the Health Benefits of Jamaican Quassia?

Digestive Health

Bitter herbs tend to be generally good for the digestive system as bitter herbs are known to produce juices in the stomach which helps the digestive system to function properly.

The strongly bitter principle of the bark supports and strengthens the weak digestive system by increasing the bile flow.

Thus, this plant helps the persons with low appetite and also helps in relieving diarrhoea and dysentery.

Its decoction can be prepared to treat digestive problems.


Quassia helps in reducing fever caused due to the bite of malarial parasite. It prevents malaria infections due to its insect repellent properties.

It is used externally against lice, threadworms, and other parasites.

The decoction of the bark of this tree can be applied to the areas of the body to prevent bug bites.

Anti-leukaemic Actions

In some studies, it has been found that quassimarin which is another extract has properties to fight against leukemia.

It is an effective parasiticide and shows anti-leukemic actions as well. Some of the quassionoids have been shown to have cyto-toxic and anti-leukaemic actions.


It is a good remedy to get rid of nematode worms. The herb has been used since centuries as an effective vermifuge (an agent that kills and expels worms in the intestines).

It is applied externally as a lotion to get rid of parasites such as lice.

The herb is also used in an enema to get rid of the threadworms and other parasites.

General Debility

It is a useful herb in the treatment of general debility after suffering from an acute disease as well as it acts as a tonic to tone up the rundown system.

Urinary Problems

Jamaican quassia is also used in urinary problems in children such as bed wetting.


The infusion of bitter quassia wood is applied externally to treat rheumatism. Due to its analgesic properties, it relieves pain associated with rheumatism.


The wood of quassia plant is used as a tonic for stomach problems. Take a cup made of quassia wood and fill it with water. Leave this water overnight. It becomes a good bitter tonic for the stomach and provides relief in dysentery and infections.


Take wood of Quassia and soak it in water overnight. Use this water in the morning.

What are the Other Uses of Jamaican Quassia?

  • It is also used to flavor food, beverages, laxatives and lozenges.
  • The bark and wood of this plant is used as an insecticide.
  • Decoction of its wood is used as a lotion for washing persistent venereal ulcers.
  • The decoction of the bark of Jamaican quassia is used to treat cold as well.
  • The tea prepared from the leaves of this plant is used for bathing by measles patients.
  • It is also used as a mouthwash after extraction of the tooth.
  • The stem and bark of Jamaican quassia are used in various remedies for treating diseases related to spleen, liver, digestive system, and urinary tract.
  • All parts of the plant especially the bark and young stems are used as an insecticide.


  • Quassia may increase the risk of bleeding when taken alongwith drugs that cause or increase the risk of bleeding.
  • It may interact with antacid medications and has been known to cause gastro-intestinal adverse effects.
  • This herb should not be taken in large amounts as it may act as an irritant and causes vomiting.
  • Use of quassia during pregnancy is avoided as it may cause uterine colic.
  • Prolonged overuse may lead to weakened vision.

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