scientific name: Bursera simaruba
other common names: Jobo, almacigo, desnudo
growing areas: Native to the Amazon area, Belize," elsewhere in Central America, and parts of tropical South America; also reported to be native to Florida
physical description: It is a tree that can grow to about 60 feet. The bark is distinctive, peeling off in thin strips. Botanist Michael Balick of the New York Botanical Garden, an expert on plants in Belize, said the tree has a fragrant yellow-green flower and a fruit that is round and tinged with red.
traditional uses: Botanists report that it is used in Belize as a treatment for dermatitis and irritations from poi-sonwood sap, mainly by immersion of the skin in a cool tea made from the bark of the tree. Balick reported that the same bark bath has been used to treat discomfort from insect bites, sunburn, measles, and other skin problems. Venezuelans are reported to use it externally as an ointment to treat rheumatism. Used internally in traditional medicine in South America, it is believed to be helpful in fighting colds, urinary tract infections, and the flu.
In Costa Rica, the plant is used as a traditional treatment for gastric cancer, with anecdotal reports that it relieves discomfort from that illness. It is one of a number of medicinal plants in that country undergoing screening to determine if it contains substances that might be useful in fighting stomach cancer.
In her study of medicinal plants of Belize, Jane Mal-lory says that the resin of Bursera simaruba is painted on boats to protect the wood from worms and insects. The wood is also used for everything from matchsticks to the construction of crates.
availability and dosage: Available as a powdered leaf. Dosages vary.
contraindications: None noted.
special precautions: Consult your physician before beginning any use of an ethnobotanical substance for medicinal purposes. An extract of the bark of the tree is reported to be effective at killing snails.
medical research: Since gumbo-limbo is considered to have anti-inflammatory qualities, researchers in Venezuela tested the effects of an extract of gumbo-limbo tree bark on laboratory rats with induced swelling of the hindpaw and an arthritic knee joint. The extract caused a significant reduction in the paw swelling as well as inflammation of the arthritic knees in the test animals. The researchers speculated that the results were attributable to a suppression of the animals' immunological response in general but cautioned that further experiments were,needed.