Botanical Name: Simaruba amara
Species: S. amara
Synonyms: Dysentery Bark. Mountain Damson. Bitter Damson. Slave Wood. Stave Wood. Sumaruppa. Maruba. Quassia Simaruba.
Part Used: Dried root-bark.
Habitat: Simarouba amara grows in S. America – Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyanas; C. America – Panama to Guatemala; Caribbean – Trinidad – Leeward Islands.
An understorey tree in moist thickets or wet forests at elevations up to 850 metres. Rain and savannah forests. Found in both dense, primary forest and also in the more open and secondary growth areas.
The name given by the founder of the genus was Carib Simarouba, but later writers adopted the present spelling.
The tree is 60 feet or more in height, with many long, crooked branches covered with smooth, greyish bark, leaves 9 to 12 inches long, and flowers growing in small clusters, with rather thick, dull-white petals. The bark is usually found in pieces several feet long, the roots being long, horizontal, and creeping. Very often the outer bark has been removed, when it shows a pale yellowish or pinkish-brown surface. It is odourless, difficult to powder, and intensely bitter. It is usually imported from Jamaica, in bales.
Constituents: Simaruba root-bark contains a bitter principle identical with quassin, a resinous matter, a volatile oil having the odour of benzoin, malic acid, gallic acid in very small proportion, an ammoniacal salt, calcium malate and oxalate, some mineral salts, ferric oxide, silica, ulmin, and lignin.
It readily imparts its virtues at ordinary temperatures to water and alcohol. The infusion is as bitter as the decoction, whichbecomes turbid as it cools.
Medicinal Uses: A bitter tonic. It was first sent from Guiana to France in 1713 as a remedy for dysentery. In the years 1718 and 1725 an epidemic flux prevailed in France, which resisted all the usual medicines. Simaruba was tried with great success, and established its medical character in Europe. It restores the lost tone of the intestines, promotes the secretions, and disposes the patient to sleep. It is only successful in the latter stage of dysentery, when the stomach is not affected. In large doses it produces sickness and vomiting. On account of its difficult pulverization, it is seldom given in substance, the infusion being preferred, but like many bitter tonics, it is now seldom used. From its use, it has been called ‘dysentery bark.’