Peruvian bark (Cinchona) is of the family Rubiaceae, native to the western forests of the South American Andes. Its pharmacologically active substance derived from it, quinine has long been known to treat and cure many diseases that torment human kind. It has been documented over the course of history by old time nineteenth century medical professionals, healers and authors as a cure for cancer, fevers and other ailments such as malaria. In fact, it was known as the King of remedies for all malarial diseases.
Peruvian bark has also been known by such names as the The Countess’s Powder, Jesuit’s Bark, Jesuit’s Tree, Jesuit’s Powder, and Pulvis Patrum and it became so valuable that this bark was selling for its weight in silver. An article on how this bark cured various Kings and Countesses in the 17th and 18th centuries when it was first discovered and became one of the favorite and most secretive remedies with the Jesuit Catholics can be found at this link.(1)
The cinchona tree’s medicinal uses were first discovered by the Quechua Indians of Peru and Bolivia. They were well aware of the medicinal qualities of Peruvian bark, and that they imparted their knowledge to the Spaniards. The medicinal qualities of Peruvian bark are derived from its alkaloid, the Sulphate of Quinine which in Malaria acts to kills malarial parasites.
The Sulphate of Quinine is said to work in the ganglionic nervous centers that control the functions of organic life, and the base of the brain to build up and prevent the destruction of nerve tissue. In malarial diseases where there is a loss of bodily fluids, and great disintegration of nervous tissue, quinine contributes wonderfully to the reparative process.(2)
Author, Sir William H. Burt had written in his book, Cinchona Officinalis and Its Alkaloid, the Sulphate of Quinine;
“The word quinquina is generally adopted fur the medical preparations which are taken from Peruvian bark. Quina signifies bark in Quichua, andquinquina is a bark possessing some medicinal property. Quinine is, of course, derived from quina, chinchonine from chinchona. The Spaniards corrupted the word quina into china; and in bark, by enabling chemists to extract the healing principle, has greatly increased the usefulness of the drug. Chinchonidine and quinidine are quite equal to quinine as cures for fever, and chinchonine is only slightly less efficacious. It is equally a febrifuge, but must be taken in larger doses.
Thus these alkaloids not only possess tonic properties to which recourse may be had under a multitude of circumstances, but also have febrifuge virtue which is unequalled, and which has rendered them almost a necessary of life in tropical countries and in low marshy situations where agues prevail. Many a poor fellow’s life was saved in the Walcheren expedition by the timely arrival of a Yankee trader with some chests of bark, after the supply had entirely failed in the camp.” Dr. Baikie, in his voyage up the Niger, attributed the return of his men alive to the habitual use of quinine; and the number of men whose lives it has saved in our naval service and in India will give a notion of the vast importance of a sufficient and cheap supply of the precious which yields it.
The action of quinine upon the brain is very powerful and specific ; is action especially centers upon the base of the brain, affecting those lobes that control the organic functions of the system, and sensation ; that part of the encephalon that controls the emotional and intellectual functions, are only affected sympathetically. This is why it so seldom produces mental excitement, delirium and coma ; but its specific action upon the base, of the brain is constantly shown us, by the disturbance of hearing, loss 01′ sight, and the reflex muscular movements of the circulation and respiration.”
WARNING: It is also understood that at certain doses and especially to young children, Peruvian bark can be dangerous and even fatal. However, it is well known that in many medicines marketed to the public today can also be very dangerous and fatal.
Preparation of Peruvian Bark
Sir Clements Robert Markham had written in Peruvian Bark: A Popular Account of the Introduction of Chinchona;
“The roots, flowers, and capsules of the chinchona-tree have a bitter taste with tonic properties, but the upper bark is the only part which is commercially valuable. The bark of trees is composed of four layers—the epiderm, the periderm, the cellular layer, and the liber or fibrous layer, composed of hexagonal cells filled with resinous matter and woody tissue. In growing, the tree pushes out the bark, and as the exterior part ceases to grow, it separates into layers, and forms the dead part or periderm; which in chinchonas is partially destroyed, and blended with the thallus of lichens.
The bark is thus formed of the dead part, or periderm, and the living part, or derm. On young branches there is no dead part, the exterior layers remaining entire, while the inner layers have not had time to develop. In thick old branches, on the contrary, the periderm or dead part is considerable, while the fibrous layer of the derm is fully developed.
In preparing the bark the periderm is removed by striking the [trunk with a mallet, and the derm is then taken off by uniform incisions. The thin pieces from small branches are simply exposed to the sun’s rays, and assume the form of hollow cylinders, or quills, called by the natives canuto bark. The solid trunk bark is called tabla or plancha, and, until recently, was sewn up in coarse canvas and an outer envelope of fresh hide, forming the packages called serous.”
Modern Medicine and Malaria Today
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that there were an estimated 198 million cases of malaria worldwide (range 124–283 million) in 2013, and an estimated 584 000 deaths (range 367 000–755 000). 90% of all malaria deaths occur in Africa.
In 2013, an estimated 437 000 African children died before their fifth birthday due to malaria. Globally, the disease caused an estimated 453 000 under-five deaths in 2013. Between 2000 and 2013, an expansion of malaria interventions helped to reduce malaria incidence by 30% globally, and by 34% in Africa.
During the same period, malaria mortality rates decreased by an estimated 47% worldwide and by 54% in Africa. In the under-five age group, mortality rates have declined by 53% globally, and by 58% in Africa.
During the 1960s, several strains of the malarial parasite Plasmodium falciparum developed resistance to some synthetic drugs, particularly chloroquine. The parasite remained sensitive, however, to quinine, leading to a resurgence of its use, despite potential side effects from large doses.(3)
Quite possibly a more thorough study of the application and medicinal qualities of a natural treatment of Peruvian bark should be done to see if this ancient bark remedy can reduce these rates of death due to malaria.
2. Cinchona Officinalis and Its Alkaloid, the Sulphate of Quinine By William H. Burt