Peruvian Bark

This genus of about 40 species of tender, evergreen trees and shrubs is found on warm moist slopes of the Andes, mostly at 1,500-2,000m (5,000-8,000ft). The species are difficult to tell apart; some authorities consider that there may be as few as 20. Cinchona pubescens is one of several cinchonas, including C. calisaya, C. ledgeriana (both known as yellow cinchona), and C. officinalis, from which the alkaloid quinine, a potent anti-malarial, is extracted. The story of cinchona's discovery by the eponymous Countess of Chinchon, wife of the Viceroy of Peru, after a bout of malaria, has been disproved by historians. It is certain, however, that Jesuits in the Lima area were familiar with its uses c.1630 (hence the name "Jesuit's bark); it was first mentioned in medical literature by Herman van der Heyden (Discours et advis sur les flus de ventre douloureux, 1643). The use of quinine to give protection against malaria played a significant role in enabling Europeans to survive in the tropics and establish colonial empires. Made more palatable by the addition of gin, the daily dose of quinine gave rise to "gin and tonic", the latter containing quinine to this day. By the early 19th century, populations of wild cinchona were severely depleted, leading to competition between the Dutch and English to establish plantations. The Dutch succeeded, cultivating C. ledgeriana in Java, which became the world center for quinine production for many years. Cinchona is now grown in many tropical regions, some 8,000 to 10,000 tons of bark producing 400-500 tons of alkaloids (mainly quinine) annually. Though largely replaced by synthetic drugs toward the end of the 20th century, Cinchona and other plants, such as Artemisia annua (See, sweet annie), are increasingly important, as various strains of malaria become resistant to synthetics. Another alkaloid, quinidine, is also important as a cardiac depressant. Quinine is famous as the first substance that Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843), founder of homeopathy, tested on himself, leading to the formulation of the Law of Similars (similia similibus curentur, "like cures like").

Fast-growing evergreen tree with ovate leaves, about 15cm (6in) long, sometimes flushed red on the undersides. Lilac-like panicles of small, tubular, pink flowers are followed by 2-lobed capsules, 2cm (¾in) long.

Common Name:
Peruvian Bark
Other Names:
Red Cinchona, Jesuit's bark
Botanical Name:
Cinchona pubescens
Well-drained, moist soil, with high humidity, in sun or partial shade. Commercial plantations are usually coppiced (cut back nearly to the ground) when about 6 years old. In late winter cut back specimen plants hard to encourage strong new growth.
By nodal greenwood cuttings in late spring; by semi-ripe cuttings in summer at 15-18°C (59-64°F)
Bark is collected from May until September, and dried for liquid extracts, tablets, or tinctures, or powder. It may be shaved off in situ or peeled from coppiced branches.
25m (80ft)
This herb, especially in the form of quinine, is subject to legal restrictions in some countries.
Min 15-18°C (59-64°F)
Parts Used:
Stem and root bark
A bitter, astringent herb that lowers fever, relaxes spasms, and is anti-malaria (quinine), and slows the heart (quinidine).
Medicinal Uses:
Internally for malaria, acute fevers, neuralgia, muscle cramps, cardiac fillibration; and ingredient of most proprietary cold and influenza remedies. Excess causes cinchonism; headache, rash, abdominal pain, deafness and blindness. Not given to pregnant women unless suffering from malaria. Externally as a gargle for sore throat. Used in homeopathy (as China officinalis) for nervous exhaustion, anemia, and convalescence.
Culinary Uses:
Quinine is used as a bitter flavoring in tonic water, soft drinks, and alcoholic drinks, such as Campari and Dubonnet.
Encylopedia of Herbs by Deni Brown Copyright ©: 1995, 2001 Dorling Kindersley Limited pg 169