Cascara, Amarga

Medical Herbs Catalogue


Cascara, Amarga

Botanical Name: Picramnia antidesma (S. W.)
Family: N.O. Simarubacaea

Synonyms: Mountain Damson Bark. Simaruba Honduras Bark.
Parts Used: Bark, root-bark.
Habitat: Jamaica and South Guiana.

Description: A native of the West Indies and yields the drug known as Simaruba bark. The tree grows to a considerable height and thickness and has alternate spreading branches; the bark on the old trees is black and furrowed, on the younger trees smooth grey, in places spotted with big patches of yellow, the wood is hard, white and without any special taste; it has numerous leaves alternately on the branches, each leaf has several pinnae, nearly elliptical, upper side smooth deep green, under side whitish, short foot-stalks, flowers male and female on different trees, colour yellow in long panicles. The bark is rough scaly and poor; inside when fresh is a good yellow colour, but when dry paler; it has very little smell and taste and though very bitter is not disagreeable. Macerated in water or rectified spirits it gives a yellow tincture; makes a better and stronger infusion in cold water than in boiling water; the decoction is transparent yellow when hot, but when cooled, is turbid and brownish red in colour. The bark was brought from Guiana in 1713 as a remedy for dysentery. In France in 1718 to 1825 an epidemic flux was cured by the bark and this established its medicinal use in Europe.

Constituents: A bitter tonic credited with specific alternative properties. It belongs to an undetermined species of picrammia and contains a bitter sweet amorphous alkaloid.

Medicinal Action and Uses: Purgative, tonic, diaphoretic. A very valuable bitter tonic, useful in diarrhoea, dysentery, and in some forms of indigestion; in large doses it is said to act as an emetic. It restores tone to the intestines, allays spasmodic motions, promotes a healthy secretion. Big doses cause vomiting and nausea - should not be used in dysentery attended with fever. In dysentery with weak indigestion it is often preferred to chamonilee.

Dosage: The infusion taken in wineglassful doses every four to six hours.

Other Species:
Simaruba versicolor, a Brazilian species,has similar properties; the fruits and barks are also used as anthelmintics, and an infusion of the bark is used for snake-bite. The plant is so bitter that insects will not attack it - on which account the powdered bark has been used to kill vermin.

S. alauca, a native of Cuba, gives a glutinous juice which has been found useful in some forms of skin disease.