Quassia. U. S. (Br.)
Quassia. Quass. [Bitter Wood]
"The wood of Picrasma excelsa (Swartz) Planchon, known in commerce as Jamaica Quassia, or of Quassia amara Linné, known in commerce as Surinam Quassia (Fam. Simarubaceae)." U. S. "Quassia Wood is the wood of the trunk and branches of Picraena excelsa, Lindl.. Br.
Quassiae Lignum, Br.; Jamaica Quassia, Quassia Wood; Bitter Wood; Bitter Ash; Quassie Amere ou Bois amer de Surinam, Fr. Cod.; Bois de Quassie, Quassie de la Jamaique, Fr.; Lignum Quassia, P. G.; Quassiaholz, Fliegenholz, G.; Quassia, Quassia della Giammaica, It.
"In logs of varying length, or in chips or raspings; yellowish white, tough and dense, but easily split. In longitudinal section, elongated cells containing single crystals of calcium oxalate; in transverse section, medullary rays mostly two or three cells wide. No odor; taste intensely bitter." Br.
The genus Picrasma is represented by eight species, which are found in the warmer regions of the Old and New World. They all possess a bitter wood and bark.
Picrasma excelsa (Swartz) Planchon (Picraena excelsa Lindley), as its name implies, is a lofty tree, sometimes attaining the height of not less than one hundred feet, with a straight, smooth tapering trunk, which is often three feet in diameter near its base, and is covered with a smooth, gray bark. The leaves are pinnate, the leaflets being petiolate and oblong pointed and arranged in opposite pairs, with a single leaflet at the end. The flowers are small, of a yellowish-green color, and disposed in panicles. They are polygamous and pentandrous. The fruit is a small black drupe. This species inhabits Jamaica and the Caribbean Islands, where it is called bitter ash. Most of the commercial quassia is obtained from this tree.
Quassia amara, or bitter quassia, is a small branching tree or shrub, with alternate leaves, consisting of two pairs of opposite pinnae, with an odd one at the end. The leaflets are elliptical, pointed, sessile, smooth, of a deep green color on their upper surface, and paler on the under. The common footstalk is articulated and winged. The flowers, which are hermaphrodite and decandrous, are bright red, and terminate the branches in long racemes. The fruit is a two-celled capsule containing globular seeds. Quassia amara is a native of Surinam, and is found in Brazil, Guiana, Colombia, Panama, and the West Indies, as also in some tropical countries of the Old World. Its root, bark, and wood were formerly official. They are excessively bitter, as in fact are all parts of the plant. For the botanical description and history of Quassia amara, see J. U. Lloyd, West. Drug., 1897, 7; also Gilling (P. J., 1908, lxiii, p. 30).
Properties.—Quassia is at first whitish, but becomes yellow by exposure, and sometimes has blackish spots or markings, due to the presence of the mycelium of a fungus. The two' varieties are thus officially described:
"Jamaica Quassia.—Usually in chips, raspings or shavings, occasionally in small cubes or billets; yellowish-white or bright yellow, with a few light gray pieces somewhat coarsely grained; fracture tough, fibrous; odor slight; taste bitter. Under the microscope, sections of Jamaica Quassia show large tracheae either single or in groups of 2 to 5, the walls being marked by numerous, small, bordered pores, and the contents being often of a yellowish color; medullary rays mostly 1 to 5 cells wide and from 10 to 20 rows deep; calcium oxalate, in crystal fibers near the medullary rays, in 4- to 6-sided prisms, from 0.006 to 0.03 mm. in length; wood fibers with thin walls and oblique pores; starch grams few, spherical or ellipsoidal, from 0.01 to 0.015 mm. in diameter.
"Surinam Quassia.—The crude drug and microscopic sections closely resemble the Jamaica variety; tracheae usually single or in pairs, sometimes in groups of 3 or 4; medullary rays in narrower and larger groups than in the Jamaica variety, from 1 to 4 cells wide and from 10 to 30 rows deep; calcium oxalate crystals few or entirely absent, thus distinguishing the variety from Jamaica Quassia." U. S.
Quassia imparts its active properties, with its bitterness and yellow color, to water and alcohol. Its virtues depend upon a peculiar bitter crystallizable principle, denominated quassin, which was first discovered by Wiggers, who assigned it the formula C10H12O3. Quassin is white, opaque, unalterable in the air, inodorous, and of an intense bitterness, which in the solutions of this principle is almost insupportable. The bitterness is pure, and resembles that of the wood. When heated, quassin melts like a resin. It is but slightly soluble in water, 100 parts, at 54° C. (129.2° F.) dissolving only 0.45 part, and that slowly. By the addition of salts, especially of those with which it is associated in quassia, its solubility is strikingly increased. It is also but slightly soluble in ether, but is very soluble in alcohol, more so in that liquid hot than cold, and the more so the purer it is. Quassin is perfectly neutral, though both alkalies and acids increase its solubility in water. It is precipitated by tannic acid from its aqueous solution, which is not disturbed by iodine, chlorine, corrosive sublimate, the salts of iron, sugar of lead, or even lead subacetate.
Oliveri and Denaro (A. J. P., 1885, p. 29} obtained quassin in a thoroughly pure, crystallized state, and made a complete study of it. They give it the formula C32H44O10. It melts at 210° to 211° C. (410°-411.8° F.), and is very soluble in alcohol, chloroform, and acetic acid, but only sparingly so in ether. Its aqueous solution becomes yellow on exposure to the air, is dextrorotatory, excessively bitter, and reduces Fehling's solution. When quassin is heated to 90° C. (194° F.) for some hours with diluted sulphuric acid (4 per cent.) it yields quasside, C32H42O9, a white, amorphous, bitter substance, formed from quassin by removal of H2O; no glucose could be detected in the mother liquors. Bromine forms a derivative which seems to have the formula C32H41Br3O9. If quassin is heated with concentrated hydrochloric acid in sealed tubes for four hours at 100° C. (212° F.), methyl chloride is formed and a colorless substance deposited, which the authors call quassic acid, C28H38O6(COOH)2. This is far less soluble in alcohol than quassin, and crystallizes in silky needles, which melt at 245° C. (473° F.), and reduce Fehling's solution and ammoniacal silver nitrate in the cold. The authors consider quassin as the methyl ether of this quassic acid, as follows: C28H38O6 (COOCH3)2 = C32H44O10
The real nature of quassin is at present somewhat doubtful, it being probably that distinct substances have been confounded by chemists. Dymock and Warden believe that they have obtained quassin from the wood of Picrasma quassioides (Ham.) Benn. of India. According to the researches of Massute (A. J. P., 1890, p. 338), Quassia amara contains four principles, which are different from those of Picrasma excelsa. By shaking an alcoholic extract of quassia wood with chloroform he obtained a mixture of crystals, from which, eventually, four bitter principles, differing in melting point and solubility, were separated. One of these melting at 210° to 211° C.(410°-411.8° F.), and another melting at 239° to 242° C. (462.2°-467.6° F.), were in too small a quantity to be further examined, but the former agreed in melting point and crystalline form with the quassin of Wiggers (C32H40O10). Of the other two. one melted at 215° to 217° C. (419°-422.6° F.), and is represented by the formula C35H46O10, while the other melted at 221° to 226° C. (429.8°-438.8° F.), and is represented by C37H50O10. From the wood of Picrasma excelsa two crystalline compounds were separated by Massute, both having lower melting points than either of the compounds from Q. amara. One was in needles, melted at 204° C. (399.2° F.), and had the composition C35H46O10, while the other was in prisms, melted at 209° to 212° C. (408.2 °-413.6° F.), and had the composition C36H46O10. Both of these are homologues of a third crystalline principle, C29H34O10, melting point 212° to 216° C. (413.6°-420.8° F.), which occurs with them. When the picrasmin, C35H46O10, above referred to, melting at 204° C. (399.2° F.), is heated with hydrochloric acid, it is changed like quassin into an acid, which in this case has the formula C33H42O10 + 5H2O, and is called picrasmic acid. It appears, therefore, that each wood represents a different series of homologous compounds.
Uses.—Quassia was introduced into medicine about the middle of the 18th century by a negro of Surinam, named Quassi, who acquired considerable reputation in the treatment of the malignant fevers of that country by a secret remedy, which he was induced to disclose to Rolander, a Swede, for a valuable consideration. Specimens were taken to Stockholm by this gentleman in the year 1756, and the medicine soon became popular in Europe. The name of the negro has been perpetuated in the generic title of the plant. But the quassia of Surinam is now comparatively little used, it having been superseded by the product of Picrasma excelsa from the West Indies.
Quassia is among the most powerful of the simple bitters, useful in failure of appetite due to gastric debility, and in overdoses capable of sufficiently irritating the stomach to produce vomiting. Its active principle, quassin, has been studied by Comparden, who asserts that in moderate doses it acts as a stimulant to the salivary, hepatic, and renal secretions, and in overdoses causes burning pain in the oesophagus, with headache, nausea, vertigo, vomiting, diarrhea, and muscular cramps. It is also stated that if given in doses of six-tenths of a grain (0.04 Gm.) before meals it increases markedly the alvine discharges, and that it is especially useful in constipation from debility of the muscular and intestinal coats. The dose of pure quassin is three-tenths of a grain (0.02 Gm.).
An infusion of quassia, two ounces in a pint of water, affords a valuable and safe injection for seat-worms.
Syrupus Quassiae.—This syrup is used in the preparation of a harmless fly-poison. Macerate, during twenty-four hours, 1000 parts of quassia wood with 5000 parts of water, then boil for half an hour, set aside for twenty-four hours, and press; mix the liquid with 150 parts of molasses, and evaporate to 200 parts. A weaker decoction of quassia does not kill the flies. From this the Fly Water or Fly Plate is prepared as follows: Mix when needed, and dispense without filtering, 200 parts of syrup of quassia, 50 parts of alcohol, and 750 parts of water. It is used by moistening with the mixture a cloth or filtering paper on a plate.
Quassia is given in infusion, tincture, extract, or fluidextract. Some dyspeptic patients who have become habituated to its bitterness, chew the wood occasionally with benefit.
Dose, five to ten grains (0.32-0.65 Gm.).
The Dispensatory of the United States of America, 1918, was edited by Joseph P. Remington, Horatio C. Wood and others.