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Chapter: Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry : Drugs Containing Glycosides

Quassia is dried wood of the stem of Aeschrion excelsa (Picroena excelsa Lindl or Picrasma excelsa (S.W) Planchon), belonging to family Simarubaceae.





Lignum quassiae, Bitter Wood, Jamaica Quassia, Bitter Ash.


Biological Source


Quassia is dried wood of the stem of Aeschrion excelsa (Picroena excelsa Lindl or Picrasma excelsa (S.W) Planchon), belonging to family Simarubaceae.


Geographical Source


It is indigeneous to West Indies, Jamaica, Barbados, Martinique and St. Vincent.


Cultivation and Collection


It is a tree growing 50–100 feet, erect stem over 3 feet in diameter. The stem is cut and small branches are separated. Main trunk and large branches are cut in to small pieces, sewed and logs and billets prepared. Bark is removed from logs and billets and shavings, raspings and chips made and then dried immediately to prevent the growth of moulds.





It is in the form of chips or raspings, Chips are poanoconvex, has no smell but an intense bitter taste. They have false annual rings breaking easily longitudinally. Colour is white, but changes to yellow on contact with the air. Cork easily detaches from phloem. Sometimes black markings are present because of mould.


                         Picrasma excelsa



Wood consists of medullary rays, parenchyma and vessels. The whole drug is stained red with phloroglucinol and hydrochloric acid due to the presence of lignin in the cell wall. Medullary rays are one to five seriate but usually triseriate. Cells of medullary rays are radially elongated and their cell walls are pitted. Vessels are thick walled and are border pitted. Fibres are also present in the wood; they are long; tapering, thick walled with oblique shaped pits. Prismatic type of calcium oxalate is present in cells of medullary rays and parenchyma.


                       Transverse section of Quassia wood

Chemical Constituents


Quassia contains bitter amaroid compounds like quassin, isoquassin (picrasmin), neoquassin and 18-hydroxy quassin. Volatile oil, gummy extractive pectin, woody fibre, tartrate and sulphate of lime, chlorides of calcium and sodium, various salts such as oxalate and ammoniacal salt, nitrate of potash and sulphate of soda are also present.





Quassia wood is a pure bitter tonic and stomachic; it is also a vermicide and slight narcotic; it acts on flies and some of the higher animals as a narcotic poison. It is a valuable remedy in convalescence, after acute disease and in debility and atonic dyspepsia; an antispasmodic in fever. In small doses Quassia increases the appetite.


Allied Drugs


Quassia amara, or Surinan Quassia (Simarubaceae), is in much smaller billets than the Jamaica Quassia, and is used in its place on the Continent, and is easily recognized from the Jamaica one, which it closely resembles, by its medullary rays, which are only one cell wide, and contain no calcium oxalate.


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