Picrasma excelsa

Herbs gallery - Quassia

Common names

  • Bitter Ash
  • Bitter Bark
  • Bitter Quassia
  • Bitter Wood
  • Quassia
  • Quassia Bark
  • Quassia Wood

The quassia is a lofty deciduous tree that usually grows up to 100 feet or 30 meters and has a even gray bark and bears multiple leaves from the branches. The flowers of quassia are yellow in color, while its fruits are black in color and shaped like peas.

What is interesting is the fact that no insect or pest ever bothers the tall and elegant quassia trees. The reason behind such a queer fact is that the entire tree, particularly the white colored timber, is infused with a tremendously astringent resin. The key chemical component of the resin is an amalgam known as quassin, which is said to be an effectual insecticide. Apart from being a potent insecticide, quassin is valuable to the humans both medicinally and otherwise.

The quassia is an ash like tree that is indigenous to Jamaica and many other islands of the West Indies. The tree which normally grows to 100 feet bears compound or composite leaves that are like pinnates or resembling a feather. Furthermore, the compound leaves bear numerous piercing leaflets. On the other hand, the tree bears eye-catching bunches of flowers that are yellow colored. Since ages, the West Indians used the timber of quassia to make quassia cups that were filled with water and left to remain untouched for considerable period of time. They drank the resin colored water to treat ailments such as stomach upset, loss of appetite as well as fever. The West Indians also prepared more potent mixtures by adding finely chopped chips of the quassia wood and steeping them in water. These potent mixtures were normally used in enemas (liquids inserted through the rectum into the bowels) to eliminate parasitic threadworms. Such strong mixtures were also used as vital ingredients of lotions to avoid lice on the body.

The quassin extracted from the tree has been found to be 50 times bitterer than quinine and has been used as an ingredient in various medications similar to quinine with the same intention. Herbal medical practitioners use medications prepared from quassin to help to enhance secretion of enzymes in the stomach, liver, kidneys, gallbladder as well as the intestines. The medicines prepared with quassin possess both laxative as well as appetizing functions. The quassia resin yields another extract or derivative known as quassimarin. According to several researchers studying the medicinal properties of the quassia tree, quassimarin is potentially beneficial to combat leukemia or blood cancer.

In addition to the above mentioned uses of quassin, the extract from the quassia tree is also accepted as a bitter constituent of tonic wines, aperitifs (alcoholic beverages taken before a meal), and liqueurs (sweetened alcoholic beverages usually drunk after meal), marmalades (clear thick jam prepared with citrus fruits), candies, baked items and sometimes even iced up dairy desserts (after meal sweat dish prepared with milk) and gelatin (semi-solid protein) puddings. The wood of the quassia tree is also useful for brewing beer and ale. Fine wood flakes of the quassia tree are often used as a substitute of hops (dried flowers of the hop plant) to brew these drinks.

Pesticides prepared with quassin are regarded to be among the safest, most effective as well as useful. When sprayed in the garden, the insecticides prepared from quassin not only eliminate all harmful pests and insects in the garden, but also protect beneficial insects such as bees and ladybird beetles. Interestingly, while the resin on the quassia tree firmly repels all kinds of insects and pests, the flowers of the tree draws honey bees. This has been a cause of dilemma for the beekeepers, as the honey obtained from the quassia nectar too is bitter and unfit for use.

The quassia wood is also highly valued by farmers engaged in organic cultivation. Like the West Indians, they also purchase loads of quassia wood flakes, soak them in water and extract quassin. This mixture is then sprayed on crops to eliminate pests and insects such as mealy bugs, thrips, aphids, sawflies, leafhoppers and also slugs from the agricultural fields. Often the liquid is also sprayed on fruit trees to protect the fruits from the greedy birds.

Parts used



The quassia has multiple therapeutic uses. Medicines prepared from the extracts of this tremendously astringent tree not only help to keep the digestive system stable, but also reinforces a scrawny digestive system. Among other things, quassia enhances the secretion of bile, salivary enzymes, production of stomach acids and perks up the digestive progression en bloc. In fact, quassia is normally used to invigorate a weak appetite, particularly while curing anorexia or constant loss of appetite. The bitterness of the herb has rendered it useful for treating malaria as well as other fevers or unusually high body temperatures. In the West Indies, physicians even recommend the use of quassia for treating dysentery. On the other hand, enema (liquid inserted through the rectum into the bowels) prepared from the bark of the quassia tree has been effectually used to throw out threadworms and other parasites from the body. In addition, decoction prepared with the quassia bark may be effectively used to repel insects and pests.

Quassia that is normally available in the shops is in the form of chips or raspings (like fine bread crumbs). These products do not possess any fragrance, but are extremely bitter to taste. And this particular characteristic of quassia distinguishes the herb from the adulterated substances sold in the market as quassia. Infusion prepared with these quassia chips and raspings with a persalt of iron imparts a bluish-black color. However, this produces no result in the infusion as the blue colored quassia flakes do not enclose any tannin acid.

The quassia wood has multiple benefits. It is an unadulterated stimulant that is associated with the stomach. At the same time, it is an effective vermicide (a drug that kills worms) and mildly narcotic (a substance that soothes or induces sleep). In flies and some higher animals, quassia performs as narcotic venom. At the same time, quassia is a precious medication for recuperation, especially after an acute ailment and also in debility or feebleness, and atonic dyspepsia or unstressed acid indigestion or an anti-spasmodic fever.

Since quassia does not enclose any tannic acid, the herb is often prescribed with substances containing iron salt. Prescribing quassia with iron salts also makes it a perfumed, but bitter medicine for stomach disorders, much akin to the functions of calumba. What is significant about quassia is the fact that when it is administered in small doses, the herb helps in improving appetite, but when used in larger dosages, it proves to be an irritant and leads to vomiting. The quassia possibly reduces disintegration in the stomach and thereby avoids development of tart during digestion.

A decoction of quassia or the extraction of the active constituents of the herb by boiling the wood is often used by the herbal medicine practitioners as an injection to do away with ascarides. On the other hand, to prepare an enema for throwing out ascarides from the body, blend three parts of quassia to one part of another herb called the mandrake root. When the mixture is ready, add one fluid ounce of asafoetida or diluted carbolic acid to each ounce of the quassia and mandrake root for treating children up to 3 years and two fluid ounces are injected into the rectum twice every day. Cups made out of quassia wood and filled with water may be administered as a useful and potent tonic after it has been left undisturbed for a few hours.

An infusion prepared by soaking the quassia wood in cold water for approximately 12 hours may be taken thrice daily with ginger tea. This is beneficial for weak people owing to absence of appetite or lack of food and is effectual in treating the damaged digestive tract. In addition, quassia mixed with sulfuric acid is effective in curing alcoholism. This mixture is said to destroy the appetite for alcohols. In addition to these, quassia has several other remedial benefits and it may also be applied externally to treat certain physical disorders.

The quassia as well as medications or lotions prepared with it may be applied externally to get rid of lice on the body.

Habitat and cultivation

Quassia is indigenous to the tropical regions of America and the Caribbean islands. The quassia tree normally prefers to grow in the forests and closer to water bodies. Basically, the tree is cultivated commercially for its therapeutic benefits and the bark of the tree, which is of most value, may be harvested all through the year.


Quassia contains quassinoid bitter principles (including quassin), alkaloids, a coumarin (scopoletin), and vitamin B1. Some of the quassinoids have cytotoxic (cell-killing) and antileukemic actions.

Usual dosage

The bark of the quassia tree may be used internally as well as externally to treat different ailments. While it may be ingested as a cold infusion and tincture, externally the medication may be used as an enema.

Cold Infusion: To prepare an infusion with the wood of the quassia tree, add approximately half to one teaspoonful of the tree's bark in one cup of cold water and leave it to soak for a night. For best results, the infusion should be drunk thrice every day.
Enema: A cold infusion prepared with one part of the quassia wood to 20 parts of water may be used as an enema and applied through the rectum into the bowels for effective results.
Tincture: Half or one ml of the tincture prepared with the bark of quassia tree may be ingested thrice every day.

Collection and harvesting

After the quassia tree is felled, crumbs of the wood or raspings are gathered and stored for future use. The dehydrated crumbs of the quassia wood are used as medications for different disorders and applied as cold infusion, enema and tincture.


The quassia is very effective in treating acid ingestion. In such conditions, for effective results the wood from the quassia tree may be used along with other herbs such as meadowsweet, marshmallow root as well as hops.


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