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Jamaica Dogwood
Plant Description
Parts Used
Medicinal Uses/Indications
Available Forms
How to Take It
Possible Interactions
Supporting Research

Jamaica dogwood (Piscidia erythrina/Piscidia piscipula) is best known as a traditional remedy for treating neuralgia (burning or stabbing pain along the course of a nerve), migraine, insomnia, and nervous tension. As early as 1844, Western scientists discovered that Jamaica dogwood had narcotic, analgesic, and sweat-promoting properties. Recent scientific studies have helped substantiate early findings, demonstrating that bark extracts of this plant produce sedative and narcotic effects in animals.

In addition to its medicinal uses, Jamaica dogwood has been a valuable source of charcoal and wood for building boats, and has been used in fish poisons.

Plant Description

Jamaica dogwood is indigenous to Central America, Florida, and the West Indies, and can now also be found in Texas, Mexico, and the northern part of South America. The plant's characteristic pods bear four projecting longitudinal wings. The bark is yellow or grayish brown on the outer surface, and lighter colored or white on the inner surface. The Jamaica dogwood's distinctly acrid and bitter taste causes a burning sensation in the mouth, and the bark gives off an unpleasant odor.

Parts Used

The dried root bark and stem bark are used medicinally to treat a variety of ailments.

Medicinal Uses/Indications

Jamaica dogwood is used to treat the following conditions:

  • Neuralgia
  • Nervous debility
  • Insomnia
  • Migraine
  • Dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation)
  • Violent toothache
  • Whooping cough

It is also used for these qualities: analgesic, cardiotonic (helps the heart muscle work better), diuretic (promotes excretion of salts and water from the kidney), hypnotic, antispasmodic, and for dilating the pupil of the eye.

Available Forms

The Jamaica dogwood root bark is sold in pieces about one to two inches in length and 1/8 inch in thickness. There is considerable variation in the chemical constituents of Jamaica dogwood from different geographic regions, so it is important to make sure that it contains a maximum quantity of all active ingredients, including jamaicin and lisetin. Jamaica dogwood is also available in liquid extract and tincture forms.

How to Take It

The following are recommended doses:

  • Dried root bark: 1 to 4 g (or equivalent in decoction) three times daily
  • Fluid extract: (1:1 in 30% alcohol) 1 to 2 ml three times daily; or 2 to 8 ml per day (1:1, 60% ethanol)
  • Tincture (1:5 in 45% ethanol): 5 to 30 drops (1 to 2 ml) three times a day


Although Jamaica dogwood is an effective herbal remedy, it has potentially adverse side effects, such as gastric distress and nausea, as well as depression. Only trained and qualified health care providers who understand the pharmacology, toxicology, and proper herbal preparation of this plant should administer it. Under no circumstances should this plant be used during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Possible Interactions

No noteworthy interactions (positive or negative) between Jamaica dogwood and conventional medications are known to have been reported in the literature to date.

Supporting Research

Arvigo R, Balick M. Rainforest Remedies:One Hundred Healing Herbs of Belize. Twin Lakes, Wis: Lotus Press; 1993:97.

Aurousseau M, et al. Certain pharmacodynamic properties of Piscidia erythrina.Ann Pharm Fr. 23:251-257.

British Herbal Pharmacopoeia. 4th ed. Great Britain: Biddles Ltd, Guildford and King's Lynn; 1996:139-141.

Caceres A, Lopez BR, Giron MA, Logemann H. Plants used in Guatemala for the treatment of dermatophytic infections. 1. Screening for antimycotic activity of 44 plant extracts. J Ethnopharmacol. 1991;51(5):263-276.

Costello CH, Butler CL. An investigation of Piscidia erythrina (Jamaica dogwood). J Am Pharm Assoc. 1948;37:89-96.

Della Loggia, R, Tubaro A, Redaelli C. Evaluation of the activity on the mouse CNS of several plant extracts and a combination of them. J Ethnopharmacol. 1991;31:263-276.

Dorland's Illustrated Medical Dictionary. 25th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: WB. Saunders; 1974.

Duke JA. Phytochemical Database, USDA–ARS–NGRL, Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, Md. Available at

Grieve M. A Modern Herbal. Vol. I.New York, NY: Dover; 1971:261-262.

Mabberley DJ. The Plant-Book: A Portable Dictionary of the Higher Plants. England: Cambridge University Press; 1987: 457.

Newall C, Anderson L; Phillipson J. Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health-care Professionals. London, England: Pharmaceutical Press; 1996: 174-175.

Pilcher JD, et al. The action of the so-called female remedies on the excised uterus of the guinea-pig. Arch Int Med. 1916;18:557-583.

Pilcher JD, Mauer RT. The action of female remedies on the intact uteri of animals. Surg Gynecol Obstet. 1918;97-99.

Copyright © 2000 Integrative Medicine Communications

The publisher does not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of the information or the consequences arising from the application, use, or misuse of any of the information contained herein, including any injury and/or damage to any person or property as a matter of product liability, negligence, or otherwise. No warranty, expressed or implied, is made in regard to the contents of this material. No claims or endorsements are made for any drugs or compounds currently marketed or in investigative use. This material is not intended as a guide to self-medication. The reader is advised to discuss the information provided here with a doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or other authorized healthcare practitioner and to check product information (including package inserts) regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed herein.
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