The wood of the lignum vitae tree, yellowish and very hard, caught the attention of the first Spanish people traveling to America. From the 16th century onwards, the lignum vitae tree was brought to Europe, known as the “wood of life” (lignum vitae). Up to the late 19th century, it was considered able to heal tuberculosis and even syphilis. We currently know its actual properties.
Healing Properties and Indications
The wood of the lignum vitae tree exudes a resin whose most important active component is guaiacol. This resin also contains saponins, gum, and an essential oil, which give the plant the following properties:
- Balsamic and expectorant, recommended in the case of any respiratory afflictions.
- Diuretic, sudorific, and depurative: It is used for rheumatism, arthritis, and gout since it acts by eliminating uric acid and other waste substances from the blood. It is also recommended for people suffering from hypertension and arteriosclerosis because of its depurative properties. In Central America, the lignum vitae is still used against syphilis, though its effectiveness has not been proven.
Lignum Vitae Tree Scientific Facts
- Other names: Guaiacum, guayacan, guaiac, pockwood.
- French: Gaiac.
- Spanish: Guayaco, guayacan.
- Environment: Native to Central America, it grows mainly in southern Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, and the West Indies.
- Description: Evergreen tree of the Zigofilaceae family, growing up to 10 m high, with dark, heavy, resinous wood; compound leaves with 4 to 28 folioles and small bluish flowers.
- Parts of the plant used medicinally: The ground-up wood and the resin.
How to use Lignum Vitae
- Decoction with 50 g of ground-up wood per liter of water. Boil for ten minutes. Drink from three to five cups daily.
- Pharmaceutical preparations based on its resin and its active ingredient, guaiacol.
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. 1 San Fernando de Henares: Editorial Safeliz, 2000. 311. Print.