scientific name: Cinchona officinalis
other common names: Cinchona, fever tree, cinchona bark
growing areas: Native to South America, primarily in the area of the Peruvian Amazon basin; also cultivated in other areas of the region and in Java and India
physical description: Cinchona is an evergreen that can reach a height of over 75 feet. It has a deep reddish bark and produces yellow-and-white flowers. There are about forty related tree species.
traditional uses: For many centuries, cinchona has been used by the indigenous peoples of Peru, including the Incas, for malaria, digestive problems, and fever. It is known to stimulate secretion of saliva and digestive juices. Western contact with cinchona arose during the Spanish conquest of the Americas. Some legends hold that a sick Spanish soldier drank from a pool of water into which a cinchona tree had fallen, while another story holds that the wife of the viceroy of Peru was cured by the bark and reported to Europe about the marvels of cinchona. Whatever the truth may be, cinchona became widely accepted in the West as a cure for malaria, which had been a problem in European cities at one time. In 1820, French chemists Joseph Caventou and Joseph Pel-letier identified and isolated the alkaloid quinine from cinchona bark. The need for quinine, an agent effective against the mosquito-transmitted protozoan that causes malaria, required a substantial export trade from South America, which led to a monopoly. Finally the monopoly was broken when cinchona seeds were cultivated in Dutch Java, which came to dominate the world trade in cinchona.
During World War II American officials were almost without any source of quinine because of Japanese conquests in the Far East. U.S. officials then turned to the forests of South America to get cinchona bark so that quinine could be extracted. After the war, new antimalarial drugs began to be manufactured and the demand for cinchona dropped off, although it remained useful in treating heart arrhythmias and had a long-standing use as a flavoring agent. However, the appearance of malaria parasites resistant to the new drugs has renewed interest in quinine as a treatment.
availability and dosage: It is available in the United States as an herb powder made from bark. Commission E recommends 1 to 3 grams of the dried bark; 0.6 to 3 grams of cinchona liquid extract (4 to 5 percent total alkaloids); 0.15 to 0.6 grams of cinchona extract (15 to 20 percent total alkaloids). Herbalists recommend that a half cup of the bark decoction can be taken one to three times daily.
contraindications: Herbalists warn that cinchona is not to be taken by pregnant or breast-feeding women. Persons with allergies to cinchona alkaloids are also cautioned about its use. Commission E states that it may increase the effect of anticoagulants.
special precautions: Consult your physician before beginning any use of an ethnobotanical substance for medicinal purposes.
Herbalists caution that it should be used only under medical supervision. Cinchona is reputed to be toxic when used excessively and can lead to nausea, deafness, and other physical problems. Contact dermatitis and asthma are sometimes reported to have stricken workers in factories where cinchona bark was ground.
medical research: The scientific literature is filled with information about the efficacy of cinchona in the treatment of malaria and arrhythmia. A survey of medicinal plants also shows that cinchona is used as an antiepilep-tic treatment.