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The name Lignum Vitae comes from the Latin, Tree of life
Guayaco : of Haitian origin
Lignum Vitae: Everlasting wood
Other Names: Gum guaiacum. Gauaiacum officinale.
Common Names: Lignum sanctum, Lignum vitae. Guaiac. Guyacan, Palo Santo ( Mexico, Central America, West Indies, Venezuela and Colombia ), Pockwood, Brazil Wood
Homeopathic preparation: Tincture of the gum-resin. (Allen’s Encyclopedia).
N.O. Subclass: Rosidae; Order: Sapindales; Family: Zygophyllaceae or Caltrop Family
Provings: Allen: Cyclopoedia, V. 4. Hahnemann: Mat. Med. Pura. Chr. Dis., 2d ed. Hering: Guid. Symptoms, V. 5. Jahr: Symp. Codex. Macfarlan: High Pot. Provings.
Jackson: Tr. Mass. Hom. Med. Soc., 1884.
Lambert: A. H. Z., V. 20, p. 32.
Macfarlan: Hom. Phys., V. 12, p. 290; V. 13, pp. 288, 388. (Bradford’s Index).
Description of the substance
Botanical Information: The Guaiacum tree grows to the height of from thirty to forty feet, and near a foot in the diameter of its trunk. The branches numerous, divaricated, knotty, leafy at the ends. The bark very smooth, variegated with green and white. The wood hard and ponderous, dark olive - brown within, whitish towards the bark, having a peculiar acid, aromatic scent, and well known in England by the name of Brazil - wood, or Lignum - vitae. The leaves are opposite, abruptly pinnate, consisting only of two pairs of obovate or roundish, obtuse, entire, smooth, pale, riid leaflets, various in size, with seveal radiating veins. Flowers pale blue, on simple, axillary, clustered stalks, shorter than the leaves. The tree was first cultivated in this country by the Duchess of Beaufort, in 1669.
The Gum - resin, which is obtained from the wood of the tree. The process usually followed in procuring this is, in heating billets several feet long, which have been previously perforated from end to end, and collecting the resin which slowly flows out from the depending extremity. Guaiac is imported in irregular lumps of various sizes. It often contains chips of wood. Its surface is brownish - red, or brownish - yellow when recent, but becomes greenish under exposure to light. It is brittle, presents a splintery, vitreous fracture, and possesses some translucency. Its powder, at first greyish, gradually acquires a greenish tint. It emits a somewhat basalmic odour while triturated, and has a faintly - bitter, sweetish taste, followed by a pricking in the back of the throat, which is very strong and unpleasant if it be tasted in powder.
The wood commonly called Lignum - vitae is largely imported into this country from St. Domingo, for making block - sheaves, wooden pulleys, and many other objects, for which it is peculiarly fitted by its extraordinary hardness and toughness. It is remarkably tough and dense in its texture, and quickly sinks in water. It consists of a broad grey and yellow alburnum, and a dark, dirty greyish - green, or greenish - black duramen, the latter of which is the denser and heavier of the two. The Guaiac wood of the chemist consists of the shavings and turnings from the workshops of the turners. It has an acrid, aromatic taste, attended with a singular pricking in the throat, which is excited most strongly by the alburnum. It is scarcely subject to adulteration. It is known to be genuine by its sinking in water; by the chips being a mixture of yellowish and greenish shreds, and by its peculiar taste.
Dr. Hancock considers that the whole medicinal property of Guaiac exists in the wood, and that the gum - resin is a peculiar substance called Guaiacine.
Quin (op. cit.) orders, for homoeopathic preparation, one part of the resin to be dissolved in twenty parts of alcohol. Jahr orders the three first attenuations to be made by trituration.
Habitat: Guaiacum was first introduced into Europe by the Spaniards, in the year 1508, from the West Indies. (Hamilton’s Flora). The Guaiacum tree is a native of the West India island, but especially of Jamaica, St. Domingo, and St. Thomas, and the warmer parts of the continent of America. (Ibid).
A small ornamental evergreen tree, found in the West Indies especially Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Thomas and St. Domingo. It also grows in Columbia, Venezuela and Panama on the
S. American continent. The best quality wood is said to come from St. Domingo.
(NB: Not to be confused with Guaiacum Sanctum [Habitat - Bahamas and S.Florida] which has an ovoid five-cornered fruit, and which does not yield so much resin).
The tree grows very slowly, with the diameter increasing by approximately 6mm every 10 years. It reaches a height of between 9 to 20 metres. The trunk is short, almost always crooked with crowded, knobby, short-jointed spreading branches. The bark is hard, smooth, spotted, greenish-black or ash gray. The leaves form a dense broad crown and are evergreen, leathery, pinnate, oval and very obtuse.
Flowers are pale blue, turning white, rather large on slender straight peduncles. Fruit is yellow-orange, flattened, narrowly winged, obcordate (heartshaped) and capsular. When ripe the fruit splits open revealing bright red, glossy, pulpy arils covering two seeds. The seeds are solitary, hard, compressed, roundish, smooth and pendulous.
The wood is extraordinarily heavy, hard, solid, dense and durable, with a specific gravity of between 1.2 and 1.3. One of the very few woods that sinks in water. Both the heartwood (duramen) and sapwood (alburnum) owe their tenacity to a peculiar zigzag arrangement of the woody bundles. The distinction between the sapwood and heartwood is very marked. The sap-wood is little in quantity and of a pale yellow colour. The heart-wood is a dark olive-greenish brown, due to the deposition of copious amounts of resin.
The powdered wood is grey and must be kept in dark-coloured bottles as exposure to light and air soon turns it green. Nitric acid will turn it bluish-green. A solution of chlorinated lime effects no change in other woods, but causes guaiacum to turn green in seconds. (This test can be used to determine the authenticity of the wood).
The heart wood has an acrid, aromatic taste, and is only odorous when burned or rasped. Shavings of the duramen are used medicinally. The bark and wood contain saponin.
Guaiacum resin is procured from the wood of the tree by any of the following methods :
a) Natural exudation.
b) Wounding or cutting the tree.
c) Melting - one end of the log is raised and a fire lit underneath. The heat melts the resin which pours out of a hole cut in the other end and the resin, which soon hardens, is collected in vessels.
d) Boiling the wood chips in water and salt and skimming off the resin as it floats on the surface.
The last two methods are the most frequent.
The resin is imported in amorphous, hard masses of varying sizes. It is readily reduced to powder and is remarkable for the blue colour reaction it yields in alcoholic solution. It is brittle and breaks easily with a clean glassy fracture. Thin splinters are transparent, yellow-reddish, turning greenish brown on exposure to the light. It does not soften by the heat of the hand.
It becomes tough when chewed, has a sweetish faintly bitter taste and leaves a pricking, burning sensation in the throat. It is practically insoluble in water. Guaiac resin contains guaiaretic acid and other phenolic compounds belonging to the lignan group. It is remarkable for the blue colour reaction it yields in alcoholic solution.
Both Guaiacum Officinale and Guaiacum Sanctum are now on the endangered species list, having been over-harvested.