Jamaica (or Jamaican) dogwood (Piscidia erythrina or Piscidia piscipula) has been used as a traditional remedy for treating nerve pain, migraine, insomnia, anxiety, fear, and nervous tension. As early as 1844, Western scientists discovered that Jamaica dogwood had pain relieving and sweat promoting properties. More recent scientific studies have also shown that bark extracts of this plant have anti-inflammatory, sedative, and antispasmodic (helps relieve smooth muscle spasms along the digestive tract) effects in animals.
However, Jamaica dogwood is potentially toxic. It has been used throughout Central and South America as a fish poison. This herb also contains a substance known as rotenone that has been used in insecticides to control lice, fleas, and larvae. Rotenone is believed to be nontoxic to warm blooded animals, including people (when taken orally). Because of the potential danger from Jamaica dogwood, you should never use it without a doctor's close supervision.
Jamaica dogwood is native to Central America, Florida, and the West Indies, and can now also be found in Texas, Mexico, and the northern part of South America. The plant's characteristic pods bear four projecting longitudinal wings. The bark is yellow or grayish brown on the outer surface, and lighter colored or white on the inner surface. Jamaica dogwood's distinctly acrid and bitter taste causes a burning sensation in the mouth, and the bark gives off an unpleasant odor.
The root bark is the medicinal part of Jamaica dogwood.
Medicinal Uses and Indications
Jamaica dogwood is not recommended for human use, and should never be taken without a doctor's close supervision. Animal studies have shown that Jamaica dogwood may promote sleep, relieve pain, reduce smooth muscle spasms, relieve cough, and reduce fever and inflammation. However, it is also potentially toxic.
The Jamaica dogwood root bark is sold in pieces about 1 - 2 inches in length and 1/8 inch in thickness. There is considerable variation in the chemical constituents of Jamaica dogwood from different geographic regions. Jamaica dogwood is also available in liquid extract and tincture forms.
How to Take It
Children should not use Jamaican dogwood.
Do not take Jamaican dogwood without first talking to your doctor. Typical forms include teas, fluid extract, and tincture.
The use of herbs is a time honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, contain components that can trigger side effects and interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, you should take herbs with care, under the supervision of a qualified health care provider.
Jamaica dogwood can be toxic. Symptoms of Jamaican dogwood overdose include numbness, tremors, salivation, and sweating. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of these symptoms after taking Jamaican dogwood. Do not take Jamaica dogwood on your own.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women should never use this herb. Elderly people should also avoid Jamaica dogwood.
Jamaica dogwood has rarely been studied in humans, so there are no known scientific reports of interactions between Jamaica dogwood and conventional medications. However, Jamaica dogwood has sedative effects and may increase the effects of other drugs or herbs used for insomnia or anxiety (called central nervous system depressants). Do not take Jamaica dogwood if you already take medications for anxiety or insomnia. There is some concern that Jamaican Dogwood may combine poorly with anesthesia so discontinue use at least 2 weeks prior to scheduled surgery.
Brinker F. Herb Contraindications and Drug Interactions. 2nd ed. Sandy, OR: Eclectic Medical Publications; 1998:86-87.
British Herbal Pharmacopoeia. 4th ed. Great Britain: Biddles Ltd, Guildford and King's Lynn; 1996:139-141.
Costello CH, Butler CL. An investigation of Piscidia erythrina (Jamaica dogwood). J Am Pharm Assoc Am Pharm Assoc. 1948 Mar;37(3):89-97.
Della Loggia R, Zilli C, Del Negro P, Redaelli C, Tubaro A. Isoflavones as spasmolytic principles of Piscidia erythrina. Prog Clin Biol Res. 1988;280:365-368.
Gruenwald J, Brendler T, Jaenicke C. PDR for Herbal Medicines, 4th ed. Montvale, NJ: Thomson Healthcare; 2007:478.
Newall C, Anderson L, Phillipson J. Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health-care Professionals. London, England: Pharmaceutical Press; 1996: 174-175.
Fish poison tree; Piscidia erythrina; Piscidia piscipula
- Last Reviewed on 01/25/2011
- Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
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This page was last updated: May 7, 2013