The cinchona tree is true natural wealth for Andean South American countries. It is believed that the Incas had known about these extraordinary febrifuge properties for a long time but kept the secret so that the Spanish conquistadors would become weakened by malarial fever.
The counts of Chinchon, who were rulers of Peru, brought to Spain a vast pack of cinchona bark in the 17th century. Because of its wonderful results in decreasing fever and as a stimulating substance, its use quickly spread all over Europe as powder, extract, and decoction. In 1920, the French pharmacists Pelletier and Caventou managed to isolate the active components of the cinchona bark, which are two alkaloids known as quinine and cinchonine, and some others.
Currently, millions of people take advantage of the cinchona tree and its derivatives, both for individual prophylaxis (prevention) and for treating malaria.
Cinchona Tree Scientific Facts
- Scientific name: Cinchona officinalis L.
- Other names: Peruvian bark, cinchona.
- French: Quinquina.
- Spanish: Quino.
- Environment: It grows wild in mountain regions of Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and northern Colombia, between 1500 and 2000 m of altitude. The province of Loja, Ecuador, is where the best cinchona trees grow. At present, it is also cultivated in the West Indies. In Indonesia (Java), in Australia, and tropical regions of Africa.
- Description: Shrub or tree of the Rubiaceae family, growing up to 30 m high. The cinchona bark is reddish or ochre, and large green opposite leaves form the top. It has white or pink flowers.
- Parts of the plant used medicinally: The bark of the trunk and branches, especially, and that of the root, ground up.
Healing Properties and Warning
Cinchona tree bark contains more than 20 alkaloids, among which there are two pairs of isomers: quinine-quinidine and cinchonine-cinchonidine. These alkaloids give the plant febrifuge, antimalarial, and stimulating properties and a bitter taste. Cinchona bark contains catechic tannin, making it strongly astringent and essences, bitter components, and starch. The most critical applications of the bark are the following:
- Malaria: This is likely to be the disease affecting the most extensive number of people worldwide. It manifests itself as high fever and profuse sweating, sleepiness, headaches, nausea, and anemia. The causative agents are various protozoa of the plasmodium genus, which attack the red blood cells after being injected by the anopheles mosquito bite. The cinchona bark alkaloids are beneficial to treat acute phases of the malaria attack. They decrease fever, alleviate headache and nausea, and eliminate the general discomfort this disease causes. Cinchona bark has been used with these aims since the times of the Incas. Since the mid 20th century, pharmaceutical research has developed synthetic antimalarial medicines, such as chloroquine and primaquine, preventing the disease. However, the quinine obtained from cinchona bark is still successfully used, especially in rural areas of South America and Asia.
- Febrile condition: Cinchona bark decreases the fever caused by many other infectious diseases besides malaria. Its beneficial effects are enhanced because it promotes the elimination of blood toxins, both through the skin and through the urine (depurative properties). Its use is recommended for influenza, viral infections, and any chronic infections.
- Lack of appetite: All cinchona bark, mainly obtained from the red cinchona tree, has a marked appetizer and invigorator effect. Moreover, they are digestive and successfully fight intestinal fermentation.
- Cicatrizant: In external applications, quinine is an excellent antiseptic and promotes healing. It is used for stomatitis (mucosa inflammation), mouth sores, pyorrhea, and pharyngitis. It is also applied as compresses on any wounds.
- Hair invigorator: When applied as compresses, it renders good results in certain types of hair loss.
WARNING! Never exceed the recommended dose in internal use since it can provoke nausea and vomiting.
Other Cinchona Tree Species
There are several species of trees of the genus Cinchona of the Rubiaceae family. Some 18 to 23 species are known; however, the most used and cultivated are the following ones:
- Cinchona officinalis L., which is the most commonly employed species, and the first to be used. It is pretty standard in Ecuador.
- Cinchona succirubra Pavon, known as red cinchona, is cultivated because it has a strong invigorator effect on the digestive functions, superior to other cinchona species. It grows wild in the area of Quito (Ecuador) and also in Peru.
- Cinchona calisaya Weed. Also called yellow cinchona, it grows wild in Bolivia and Peru.
- All cinchona species, with the exception made of the red cinchona, have the same properties. The variation between one and another is due to their different quinine concentrations (their active component).
How to use Cinchona
- Cold extract: Steep 20-30 g of cinchona tree bark in one liter of water for one hour. Drink a cup before every meal.
- Infusion with half teaspoonful of ground cinchona tree bark per cup of water. Drink one cup before every meal, never exceeding four cups daily.
- Compresses with a decoction of 30-40 g of bark per liter of water. Boil for 10 minutes. With the resulting liquid, soak compresses and apply them on the scalp for 10 minutes, three times per day.
- Gargles and mouth rinse with the decoction mentioned above.
George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. “Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants.” George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. Ed. Francesc X. Gelabert. vols. 2 San Fernando de Henares: Editorial Safeliz, 2000. 752, 753. Print.