There are eight to ten species of evergreen trees and shrubs in this genus, which occurs in tropical C and S America. Galipea officinalis had a long history of use as a bitter tonic by native S Americans before its introduction to Europe in 1759. Angostura aromatic bitters were first made in Angostura (now Cuidad Bolivar), Venezuela, and the recipe (originally a medicine for fevers) was patented by Dr. Johann Siegert in 1824, The recipe is a closely guarded secret, though it is known that Gentian (Gentiana lutea, See gentian) is one of the main ingredients. Production of Angostura bitters, best known as the ingredient of "pink gin", is now based in Trinidad. Angostura bark is obtained from both G. officinalis and the related Angostura febrifuga. When added to water courses, the active constituents of G. officinalis have the effect of stunning fish. Fishing by means of ichthyotoxic plants does not affect edibility or cause pollution, since the compounds break down rapidly. The skill has been developed by many tribes in S America, using various species of Galipea.

Rainforest shrub or small tree with smooth gray bark, and shiny, trifoliate, tobacco-scented leaves, to 30cm (12in) long. White, tubular, 5-lobed flowers, with an unpleasant scent, are produced in panicles to 8cm (3in) long, followed by 5-celled capsules containing round black seeds.

Common Name:
Other Names:
Cusparia Bark
Botanical Name:
Galipea officinalis syn. G. cusparia
Native Location:
Tropical S America
Rich soil in partial shade. This species does not appear to be cultivated; no information has been found about its needs.
Bark is dried for use in concentrated infusions, liquid extracts, and powders.
15m (50ft)
10m (30ft)
Min. 15-18°C (59-64°F)
Parts Used:
A bitter, musty smelling, tonic herb that stimulates the liver and gall bladder, lowers fevers, and relaxes spasms.
Medicinal Uses:
Internally for dysentery, bilious diarrhea, poor appetite, and feverish illnesses. Large doses are laxative and emetic.
Economic Uses:
Extracts are used in the food industry to flavor alcoholic and soft drinks, candy, and baked products; also as an ingredient of bitters, such as Angostura.
Encylopedia of Herbs by Deni Brown Copyright ©: 1995, 2001 Dorling Kindersley Limited pp 218-219