Jamaican Dogwood Bark

Piscidia erythrina, Fabaceae

Jamaican Dogwood Jamaican dogwood bark comes from a tropical tree of the Bean (Leguminosae) family which is indigenous to the West Indies, Florida, Mexico, and the northern parts of South America. The tree produces pods with four projecting longitudinal wings. The tree is valued for its wood as well as its bark. The young branches and leaves were traditionally pounded and placed into a crate which was dropped into the water and swirled around until the water became filled with the liquid from the pounded leaves and saplings which would stun the fish causing them to float to the surface where they were quickly and easily caught. Fortunately, the bark is not poisonous to humans, who value it as a strong sedative and anodyne. The bark is sliced into pieces approximately one or two inches long and about an inch wide. The outer surface of the bark is a yellowish to grayish brown color, with the inner bark being lighter colored or whitish. Inside the bark is fibrous and the color is dark brown. The bark has a bitter acrid taste with a disagreeable odor. The name piscidia is from the Latin for “fish poison.”

Jamaican dogwood bark is a powerful remedy for treating painful conditions such as migraine, ovarian and uterine pain, dysmenorrhea and neuralgia. It is a very effective treatment for insomnia, which is perhaps its most popular use. It aids in promoting a quiet, restful sleep, particularly when sleeplessness is due to anxiety, mental worries, and nervous excitement. It is also used for fever, inflammation, rheumatism, and toothaches. The chemical constituents of the bark include the saponin glycosides piscidin, jamaicin, ichthyone; flavonoids including piscidine, piscerythrone, rotenone, sumatrol, lisetin; and a resin. Little scientific research has been conducted regarding the traditional uses of the plant, which have yet to be validated by modern medicine. The active ingredients are unknown. Jamaican dogwood bark should not be taken in conjunction with prescription sedatives such as valium, seconal, etc. nor should it be taken by people with heart problems. Excessively large doses can cause toxic side effects including sweating, drooling, numbness, nausea, or extreme tiredness. Do not use frequently for long periods of time. Do not use if pregnant or lactating.

[1] USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. Plants Database. Piscidia piscipula (L.) Sarg. Florida fishpoison tree.

[2] University of Florida. School of Forest Resources and Conservation. Florida Forest Trees: Fishpoison tree (Piscidia piscipula).

[3] Auxence, Elena G. 1953. A pharmacognostic study of Piscidia erythrina. Economic Botany 7(3): 270-284.

[4] altMD: Jamaican Dogwood.

[5] University of Maryland Medical Center. Jamaica dogwood.

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