Medicinal plants

Quassia (bitter wood) - effect and application

Quassia (bitter wood) - effect and application

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The Brazilian quassia tree (also known as "bitter wood" in German) is the basis of an extract known as "quassia". Wood, bark and leaves are used as a remedy for indigestion, to prevent infections and to keep insects away.

Profile of the Brazilian quassia tree

  • Scientific name: Quassia amara L.
  • Common names: Flywood, flywood tree, quassia wood, quassia wood tree, quassie, simaruba tree
  • family: Bitter ash family (Simaroubaceae)
  • Parts of plants used: Wood, bark, leaves
  • Occurrence: Tropical America
  • Ingredients: Quassin, Neoquassin, 18-Hydroxyquassin, bitter substances, Simalikalacton D, tannic acid and malic acid
  • Application areas:
    • fever
    • Loss of appetite
    • Indigestion
    • stomach problems
    • Colon and biliary disorders
    • Insect control


Quassia contains quassinoids. These bitter substances found in bitter ash plants are complexly structured triterpenes. They are divided into C-18, C-19, C-20 according to their basic structure. C-22 and C-25. Quassinoids include Quassimarin, Quassol, Quassin, Neoquassin, Isoquassin, 18-Hydroxyquassin and Quasinol. Some of them show bioactive effects, especially against insects.

The substances in Quassia amara include quassin, neoquassin, 18-hydroxyquassin, a total of 0.05-0.2 percent bitter substances of the Seco-Triterpene type, three b-carboline alkaloids, simalicalactone D, tannic acid and malic acid.


Quassia extracts are often simply called "Quassin" and are also offered commercially. Commercial "Quassin" is a mixture of different quassinoids such as Quassin, Neoquassin etc. This crystalline organic chemical combination of triterpene lactones is bitter and occurs in the bark of bitter woods such as Quassia amara or Picrasma excelsa.

Quassin is used in foods because it is very bitter - fifty times as bitter as quinine. The bitter substance can be found under the name "Quassin" as a denaturant in alcohol, in combination with sodium salicylate and tert-butanol or with brucine sulfate. Quassin also flavored alcoholic beverages, in the case of spirits it is called "Amarum".

Quassia effects

It is believed that Quassia works against bladder stones, fever and flatulence. Bitterwood is said to stimulate and strengthen the organism, and also has an anesthetic effect, promote digestion and end anorexia. New studies suggest an effect against type 2 diabetes.

A study by the Universidad Nacional de Córdoba in Argentina showed clear effects against rosacea (also called "copper rose"), a skin disease that affects the face and begins in middle age. A scientifically proven effect against the malaria pathogen is also very important.

It has been shown to have deterrent and toxic effects against various insects, parasites and bacteria. These include Entamoeba histolytica (causative agent of amoebic dysentery) as well as head lice, coli bacteria or Streptococcus faecalis. Quassia is not only used as a phytopharmaceutical, but also on a large scale as an insecticide.

Study situation on toxic effects

Pregnant and lactating women should not consume Quassin, because when administered parenterally, the substances lower the heart rate, lead to muscle tremors and paralysis. There are too few studies on the toxicity of Quassin, and the few that are available are of insufficient informative value.

There is no valid data on chronic toxicity, effects on metabolism, carcinogenic toxicity or genetic modifications. In 1997, at least in animal experiments, Raji and Bolarinwa demonstrated that Quassin had a negative effect on the fertility of rats. However, the information about a repeat experiment was insufficient.

What was unusual about the effects was firstly that Quassin was strongly antifertile regardless of the dose and secondly that all fertility parameters were fully restored eight weeks after the end of treatment.

In summary, it can be said that Quassin's toxic effects are very likely, but more extensive studies are needed to determine them.

No quassia wood during pregnancy and lactation

Danger: Quassia wood has a contracting effect on organs with smooth muscles and must therefore not be taken during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Quassia for head lice

Quassia vinegar has been proven to treat head lice infestation. Quassia curbs the synthesis of chitin and thus the development of the lice exoskeleton. Vinegar prevents the nits from attaching to the hair roots.


In a study by the University of Ibadan (Nigeria) and the University of Veterinary Medicine Hanover, six extracts of Quassia amara and Quassia undulata were examined for their effectiveness against malaria. A methanol extract with Quassia amara had the strongest effect.

Another research project showed a newly discovered quassinoid from the leaves of Quassia amara, which contained the growth of the malaria tropica pathogen Plasmodium falciparum.

Quassia extract against bacteria and fungi

For a study published in the "African Journal of Medicine and Medical Sciences", eight extracts from Quassia undulata and Quassia amara were examined in vitro for their antibacterial and antifungal properties.

All showed significant effects against coli bacteria, Streptococcus faecalis, staphylococci and the fungus Aspergillus niger, which in most cases was even stronger than the comparable standard medicinal products. Methanol extract from Quassia amara had the strongest effect.

Quassia gel for rosacea

In a study by the Universidad Nacional de Córdoba (Argentina), a gel with quassia extract was found to be very effective in treating rosacea. For the study, a group of 30 patients with different degrees of rosacea (I-IV) were treated topically with gel containing four percent Quassia amara extract over a period of six weeks. The remedy worked against pustules, papules and redness and turned out to be very safe and tolerable.


In Germany, amoeba dysentery and dysentery are no longer a problem. Worldwide, however, this diarrheal disease caused by the amoeba Entamoeba histolytica still causes up to 100,000 deaths each year. In vitro studies showed that an extract from Quassia amara effectively combats the pathogen.

Quassia in homeopathy

Quassia Similiaplex is a homeopathic remedy with bitter wood as a raw material, based on the magical signature theory of pre-modern times, to treat similar (similia) with similar. This should stimulate the organism's self-healing powers as stimulus regulation therapy. So far, however, no valid study has demonstrated the effectiveness of homeopathic remedies that go beyond the placebo effect.

Folk medicine

Latin America's indigenous folk medicine uses bitter wood to combat malnutrition as a result of loss of appetite, nematodes, psychological weakness after fever and inflammatory diseases of the bile.

South Americans rub Quassia extract on the scalp to fight head lice. A bitter wood tea is used to calm the stomach. In French Guiana, tea from the leaves is a traditional remedy for malaria.

A brew from Quassia for diabetes is used in Mexico. Bitter wood extract is also said to prevent chewing fingernails by spreading the liquid on children's nails and stopping chewing them because of their bitter taste.

Quassia came to Europe as a medicine in the 18th century. It served as a remedy for fever, stomach and liver problems. As a bitter agent, it should also generally strengthen the body and cheer up the mood - according to the associative way of thinking that bitter things help against bitterness. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


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