||Jamaica Dogwood (English)|
erythrina/Piscidia piscipula (Botanical)
Piscidiae radicis cortex (Pharmacopeial)
Piscidia erythrina is indigenous to Central America, Florida, and the
West Indies, and is now found in Texas, Mexico, and the northern part of South
America. Piscidia erythrina and Piscidia piscipula are generally
considered synonyms for the same species. Piscidia erythrina provides a
valuable source of charcoal and wood for building boats. The roots, pounded
leaves, and branches of this plant have traditionally been employed in fish
poisons (piscicides). Jamaica dogwood, or the dried root bark, is used
medicinally to treat a variety of ailments.
In Belize, a decoction made from the bark of the Jamaica dogwood tree is
taken internally for dysentery, diarrhea, and dysmennorhea (painful
menstruation). Bark decoctions are known to have astringent action. Belizeans
use them as a mouthwash for bleeding gums, and as an external wash
for wounds, rashes, and other skin problems.
However, Jamaica dogwood is best known as a traditional remedy for treating
neuralgia, menstrual pain, migraine, insomnia, and nervous tension. As early as
1844, Western scientists discovered that Jamaica dogwood had narcotic,
analgesic, and sudorific (sweat-promoting) properties. Recent pharmacological
studies have shown unequivocally that bark extracts of this plant produce
sedative and narcotic effects in animals. Scientific findings such as these have
helped to substantiate many of the traditional uses of this species.
Although Jamaica dogwood is an effective herbal remedy, it is also known to
have potentially adverse side effects. Experts stress that Jamaica dogwood
should be cautiously administered only by trained and qualified health care
practitioners who understand the pharmacology, toxicology, and proper herbal
preparation of this plant.
Jamaica dogwood has a foliage similar to that of Lonchocarpus. Its
characteristic pods bear four projecting longitudinal wings. The bark is yellow
or grayish brown on the outer surface, and either lighter colored or white on
the inner surface. If the bark becomes damp, the inner surface turns to a
peculiar shade of blue. The inner texture of the bark is quite fibrous. Its
distinctly acrid and bitter taste causes a burning sensation in the mouth. The
bark also gives off a noticeably unpleasant odor similar to that of broken
Part Used/Pharmaceutical Designation
- Root bark (dried)
- Stem bark
- Acids: piscidic acid (p-hydroxybenzyltartaric) plus its mono and
diethyl esters, fukiic acid and its 3'-O-methyl derivative; malic acid, succinic
acid, tartaric acid.
- Isoflavonoids of varied structure: include ichthynone, jamaicin,
piscerythrone, piscidone; milletone, isomilletone, dehydromilletone, rotenone,
sumatrol (a rotenoid), lisetin (coumaronochrome)
- Glycosides: piscidin (crystallizable substance that is reportedly a
mixture of two compounds), saponin glycoside (unidentified)
- Other constituents: alkaloid (unidentified, present in stem), resin,
volatile oil (0.01%), beta-sitosterol, tannin
The bark is sold commercially in quilled pieces about one to two inches in
length and 1/8 inch in thickness. However, there is considerable variation in
the chemical constituents of Jamaica dogwood from different geographical
regions. For example, chemical analysis of root bark material from Mexico
revealed the presence of certain active principles (1% piscidone, 0.8%
piscerythrone, 0.8% erythbigenin, 0.6% ichthynone, and 0.5% rotenone), but a
total lack of jamaicin and only a minute quantity of lisetin. Jamaicin and
lisetin are chief active principles in the bark from trees grown in Jamaica.
This suggests that there may be chemical races (chemotaxonomic subspecies) of
Jamaica dogwood. The geographical origin of bark material from Piscidia
erythrina should thus be authenticated to ensure that it contains a maximal
quantity of all active constituents, including jamaicin and lisetin.
Traditional uses: neuralgia, nervous debility, insomnia accompanying
neuralgia; migraine, dysmenorrhea, violent toothache, whooping-cough,
antispasmodic for asthma, dysmenorrhea, agent for dilating the pupil, piscicide,
anodyne (analgesic), cardiotonic, diuretic, sedative, spasm
Conditions: sedative and narcotic actions for treating neuralgia, nervous
debility, insomnia, migraine, dysmenorrhea
Clinical applications: sleep disorders (e.g., insomnia), neuralgia,
dysmenorrhea, migraine, sedative, antitussive, spasmolytic, anti-inflammatory
In several in vivo pharmacological studies, bark extracts of Jamaica dogwood
showed sedative, antitussive, antispasmodic, antipyretic, anti-inflammatory,
hypotensive, and weak cannabinoid activity. In a comparative investigation of
vegetable extracts on CNS activity in the mouse, oral dosing of Piscidia
erythrina produced pharmacological effects intermediate between the sedative
action of Valeriana officinalis and the anxiolytic (anti-anxiety)
activity of Passiflora incarnata. In another study, Piscidia
piscipula was one of several plants used in Guatemalan traditional medicine
that elicited in vitro inhibition of dermatophytoses (microbial agents causing
skin infections), including fungal pathogens.
Rotenone is an isoflavone isolated from the wood of Jamaica dogwood. It is
one of the piscicidal constituents of the bark of this plant. Although rotenone
is virtually nontoxic to warm-blooded animals, it is reportedly carcinogenic.
However, in other research, rotenone exhibited anticancer action against
lymphocytic leukemia and human epidermoid carcinoma of the nasopharynx.
Rotenone is also presumably responsible for the antispasmodic activity of
Jamaica dogwood on uterine smooth muscle. Both in vitro and in vivo findings
reveal that the antispasmodic properties of Jamaica dogwood bark extract are
either equal to or, in some cases, even greater than those of papaverine.
|Dosage Ranges and Duration of
- Dried root bark: 0.5 to 2 g (or equivalent in decoction) tid
- Fluid extract: (1:1 in 30% alcohol): 1 to 2 ml tid; 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)
Jamaica dogwood is known to have irritant and toxic effects in humans.
Overdosing with this plant can produce adverse symptoms such as numbness,
tremors, salivation, and sweating.
In one study, Jamaica dogwood extract was toxic to rats and rabbits when
given parenterally but nontoxic when administered orally. The test animals in
this study were able to tolerate oral doses greater than 90 g dried extract/kg.
An unidentified saponin isolated from the bark and administered intravenously to
mice showed a LD50 of 75 g/kg b.w.
Although Jamaica dogwood shows low toxicity in some animal species, it can
have irritant and toxic effects in humans. In some human subjects, Jamaica
dogwood reportedly produces adverse side effects of gastric distress and nausea.
In both in vitro and in vivo studies, extracts of this plant were shown to have
potential depressant activity. Jamaica dogwood should be administered only by
qualified health care practitioners, and excessive use should be avoided. Under
no circumstances should this plant be used during pregnancy and lactation.
No clinically significant interactions between Jamaica dogwood and
conventional medications are known to have been reported in the literature to
|Regulatory and Compendial
In the United Kingdom, Jamaica dogwood is listed as a licensed product in
Schedule 1, Table A of the General Sale List (GSL). The Council of Europe does
not approve of Jamaica dogwood as a natural food flavoring because of its
potential toxicity to humans. Powdered Jamaica dogwood is listed in the
British Herbal Pharmacopeia as complying with requirements for
identification and quantitative standards. The herb has not been approved by the
German Commission E.
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
Dorland's Illustrated Medical Dictionary. 25th ed. Philadelphia, Pa:
WB. Saunders; 1974.
Duke JA. Phytochemical Database,
Agricultural Research Center, Md. Available at
Grieve M. A Modern Herbal. Vol. I. New York, NY: Dover;
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:
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.
Copyright © 2000 Integrative Medicine
CommunicationsThis publication contains
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