|Quassia amara from Koehler's Medicinal-Plants (1887)|
Quassia amara, also known as amargo, bitter-ash, bitter-wood, or hombre grande (spanish for big man) is a species in the genus Quassia, with some botanists treating it as the sole species in the genus. The genus was named by Carl Linnaeus who named it after the first botanist to describe it: the Surinamese freedman Graman Quassi. Q. amara is used as insecticide, in traditional medicine and as additive in the food industry.
Morphology and origin
It is a shrub or rarely a small tree, growing to 3 m tall (rarely 8 m). The leaves are compound and alternate, 15–25 cm long, and pinnate with 3-5 leaflets, the leaf rachis being winged. The flowers are produced in a panicle 15–25 cm long, each flower 2.5-3.5 cm long, bright red on the outside, and white inside. The fruit is a small drupe 1-1.5 cm long.
Quassia amara is native to Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama, Brazil, Peru, Venezuela, Suriname, Colombia, Argentina, French Guiana and Guyana. Q. amara is widely planted outside its native range.
Other identified components of bitterwood are: beta-carbolines, beta-sitostenone, beta-sitosterol, dehydroquassins, gallic acid, gentisic acid, hydroxyquassins, isoparain, isoparaines, isoquassins, malic acid, methylcanthins, methoxycanthins, methoxycantins, nigakilactone A, nor-neoquassin, parain, paraines, quassialactol, quassimarin, quassinol, quassol and simalikalactone D.
Extracts of Quassia wood or bark act as a natural insecticide. For organic farming this is of particular interest. A good protection was shown against different insect pests (e.g. aphids, Colorado potato beetle, Anthonomus pomorum, Rhagoletis cerasi, Caterpillars of Tortricidae). Quassin extract works as a contact insecticide. Adverse effects on beneficial organisms were not found.
Potential effects on human health
Like any poorly studied alternative chemical applied to food crops, Quassia extract may have unknown health consequences. A study on rats in 1997 found that Quassia extract significantly reduced their fertility, reducing testes size, sperm quality and serum testosterone.
Around 200 grams (7.1 oz) of Quassia wood chips are put together with 2 litres (0.44 imp gal; 0.53 US gal) of water. It is allowed to stand for 24 hours and then it is cooked for 30 min. It is then diluted with 10 to 20 litres (2.2 to 4.4 imp gal; 2.6 to 5.3 US gal) of water and used as a spray The use of approximately 3–4.5 kilograms (6.6–9.9 lb) wood extract per hectare seems to be optimal to minimize the damage of Hoplocampa testudinea on apple trees.
The component Simalikalactone D was identified as an antimalarial. The preparation of a tea out of young leaves is used traditionally in French Guiana. Experiments showed a high inhibition of Plasmodium yoelii yoelii and Plasmodium falciparum.
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- Raji, Y; Bolarinwa AF (1997). "Antifertility activity of Quassia amara in male rats - in vivo study". Life Sciences. 61: 1067–74. doi:10.1016/S0024-3205(97)00615-2. PMID 9307052.
- Psota, V.; J. Ourednickova; V. Falta (2010). "Control of Hoplocampa testudinea using the extract from Quassia amara in organic apple growing" (PDF). Horticultural Science. 37.
- S. Bertani; E. Houël; D. Stien; L. Chevolot; V. Jullian; G. Garavito; G. Bourdy E. Deharo (2006). "Simalikalactone D is responsible for the antimalarial properties of an amazonian traditional remedy made with Quassia amara L. (Simaroubaceae)". Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 108: 155–157. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2006.04.017. PMID 16730421. Retrieved 4 November 2012.
- Ferrari, A; Diehl, C. "Evaluation of the efficacy and tolerance of a topical gel with 4% quassia extract in the treatment of rosacea". J Clin Pharmacol. 52: 84–8. doi:10.1177/0091270010391533. PMID 21343346.
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- Claire, Daniel. "Agroecological Growth Patterns of Cultivated Bitterwood (Quassia amara) on the Northwestern Caribbean Slope of Costa Rica" (PDF). Retrieved 4 November 2012.