Medical Herbs Catalogue



Botanical Name: Buxus sempervirens (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Buxaceae
Synonym: Dudgeon.
Parts Used: Wood and leaves.
Habitat: Chiefly in limestone districts in western and southern Europe, westward to the Himalayas and Japan, northward to central and western France and in Britain, in some parts of southern and central England.

Description: Box in its familiar dwarfed state is merely a shrub, but when left to grow naturally it will become a small tree 12 to 15 feet in height, rarely exceeding 20 feet, with a trunk about 6 inches in diameter covered with a rugged, greyish bark, that of the branches being yellowish. It belongs to the family Buxacece, a very small family of only six genera and about thirty species, closely related to the Spurge family - Euphorbiaceae. Only this evergreen species has been utilized in medicine.

Its twigs are densely leafy and the leaves are about 1/2 inch in length, ovate, entire, smooth, thick, coriaceous and dark green. They have a peculiar, rather disagreeable odour and a bitter and somewhat astringent taste. The flowers are in heads, a terminal female flower, surrounded by a number of male flowers. The fruit dehisces explosively the inner layer of the pericarp separating from the outer and shooting out the seed by folding into a U-shape.

Constituents: The leaves have been found to contain besides a small amount of tannin and unimportant constituents, a butyraceous volatile oil and three alkaloids: (i) Buxine, the important constituent, chiefly responsible for the bitter taste and now regarded as identical with the Berberine of Nectander bark, (ii) Parabuxine, (iii) Parabuxonidine, which turns turmeric paper deep red. The bark contains chlorophyll, wax, resin, argotized tallow, gum, lignin, sulphates of potassium and lime, carbonates of lime and magnesia, phosphates of lime, iron and silica.

Medicinal Action and Uses: The wood in its native countries is considered diaphoretic, being given in decoction as an alterative for rheumatism and secondary syphilis. Used as a substitute for guaiacum in the treatment of venereal disease when sudorifics are considered to be the correct specifics.

It has been found narcotic and sedative in full doses; emetico-cathartic and convulsant in overdose. The tincture was formerly used as a bitter tonic and antiperiodic and had the reputation of curing leprosy.

A volatile oil distilled from the wood has been prescribed in cases of epilepsy. The oil has been employed for piles and also for toothache.

The leaves, which have a nauseous taste, have sudorific, alterative and cathartic properties being given in powder, in which form they are also an excellent vermifuge.

Various extracts and perfumes were formerly made from the leaves and bark. A decoction was recommended by some writers as an application to promote the growth of the hair. The leaves and sawdust boiled in Iye were used to dye hair an auburn colour.

Dried and powdered, the leaves are still given to horses for the purpose of improving their coats. The powder is regarded by carters as highly poisonous, to be given with great care. In Devonshire, farriers still employ the old-fashioned remedy of powdered Box leaves for bot-worm in horses.

In former days, Box was the active ingredient in a once-famous remedy for the bite of a mad dog.

Animals in this country will not touch Box, and though camels are said to readily eat the leaves, they are poisoned by them.

The timber, though small, is valuable on account of its hardness and heaviness, being the hardest and heaviest of all European woods. It is of a delicate yellow colour, dense in structure with a fine uniform grain, which gives it unique value for the wood-engraver, the most important use to which it is put being for printing blocks and engraving plates. An edge of this wood stands better than tin or lead, rivalling brass in its wearing power. A large amount is used in the manufacture of measuring rules, various mathematical instruments, flutes and other musical instruments and the wooden parts of tools, for which a perfectly rigid and non-expansive material is required, as well as for toilet boxes, pillrounders and similar articles. The Boxwood used by cabinet-makers and turners in France is chiefly the root. Gerard tells us: 'The root is likewise yellow and harder than the timber, but of greater beauty and more fit for dagger haftes, boxes and suchlike. Turners and cuttlers do call this wood Dudgeon, wherewith they make Dudgeonhafted daggers.'

In France, Boxwood has been used as a substitute for hops and the branches and leaves of Box have been recommended as by far the best manure for the vine, as it is said no plant by its decomposition affords a greater quantity of vegetable manure.

Dosage: As a purgative: dose of the powdered leaves, 1 drachm.

As vermifuge: 10 to 20 grains of the powdered leaves.

As sudorific: 1 to 2 oz. of the wood, in decoction.

Other Species: DWARF BOX (Buxus suffructaca) possesses similar medicinal properties.

The American Boxwood used in herbal medicine as a substitute for Peruvian Bark, being a good tonic, astringent and stimulant, is not this Box but a kind of Dogwood, native to America, Cornus florida.

Adulterant: Box bark which is also bitter and free from tannin, is sometimes substituted for Pomegranate Bark, which is employed as a worm-dispeller.

Box leaves have sometimes been substituted for Bearberry leaves (Uva-Ursi), from which they are distinguished by their notched apex.

Box leaves are also sometimes used as adulteration of senna, but are easily detected by their shape and thickness.

The custom of clipping Dwarf Box in topiary gardening is said to have originated with the Romans, a friend of Julius Caesar having invented it.