Substances & Homeopatic Remedies

Guaiacum officinale

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Constituents:  Cresol. Guaiacol. “Guaiazulene. Guaiol. Tannin. Vanillin. (USDA).

Toxicology: The high resin content may act as an aggravating principle in people with gastritis or peptic ulceration.

Cases of contact dermatitis are reported where minor finger wounds in those working with the heart wood have been contaminated with the Lignum Vitae dust. Recently, a wood carver who had worked with Lignum Vitae over many years, posted queries on the Internet asking if anyone had experienced the symptoms they had experienced while carving the wood. They said they had found they had been getting dizzy spells and stomach problems.

Pharmacology - The tincture and decoction of the heart wood is considered to act as a peripheral circulatory stimulant. Although it primarily targets the Musculo-Skeletal system, it acts as a diuretic, a diaphoretic and as a mild laxative.

Modern Use in Medicine - Guajacum is useful in rheumatic complaints. It is especially useful where there is much inflammation and pain present: it is used in the treatment of chronic rheumatism and rheumatoid arthritis. It aids the treatment of gout, and may be used in the prevention of its recurrence.

The decoction is made by putting 1 teaspoonful of the wood chips in a cup of water, boiled and simmered for 15 - 20 minutes, drunk t.i.d.

The tincture is taken as 1 -2 ml, t.i.d.

J Pharm Pharmacol. 1994 Apr;46(4):286-90.
Anti-inflammatory activity of Polygonum bistorta, Guaiacum officinale and Hamamelis virginiana in rats.
Duwiejua M, Zeitlin IJ, Waterman PG, Gray AI.
Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK.

The aqueous ethanolic extracts of Polygonum bistorta L. Polygonaceae, Guaiacum officinale L. Zygophyllaceae and Hamamelis virginiana L. Hamamelidaceae were screened for anti-inflammatory activity. Administered (100 and 200 mg kg-1, p.o.) before the induction of carrageenan rat paw oedema, extracts of P. bistorta significantly suppressed both the maximal oedema response and the total oedema response (monitored as area under the time course curve). H. virginiana was inactive and G. officinale was only active at 200 mg kg-1. At 200 mg kg-1 administered before the induction of adjuvant arthritis, P. bistorta significantly inhibited both the acute and chronic phases of the adjuvant-induced rat paw swelling, while G. officinale and H. virginiana were only active against the chronic phase. Further studies on P. bistorta (100-800 mg kg-1) revealed a dose-dependent inhibition of the carrageenan-induced rat paw oedema over the dose range 100-400 mg kg-1, the E50 value being approximately 158.5 mg kg-1. The extract (200 mg kg-1), administered after the onset of the inflammatory responses reversed the course of both the carrageenan- and adjuvant-induced rat paw swelling. The results confirm that the extracts of P. bistorta, G. officinale and H. virginiana contain anti-inflammatory substances.

Past Use - The decoction was much used for secondary syphilis, where snail track ulcers are apparent, for scrofula and some skin diseases

The wood of this tree was used as a medicine by the inhabitants of the West Indies long before the discovery of the region by the Europeans.  The wood and resin are the parts most used, though the whole tree has medicinal properties. The flowers were used as a mild laxative and the juice of the leaves for biliousness. The hard resin soaked in rum was used as a gargle for sore throats, for stomachache and on cuts and bruises. Resin and gin together were used as a painkiller. The boiled leaves were used to procure abortion.

In Haiti an infusion of the wood was used for treating endemic syphilis, skin diseases and scrofula.
The 'cure' for secondary syphilis involved taking regular doses of Guaiac, following strict dietary measures (including fasting) and being sweated. The Spaniards took Guaiac back with them to Europe in 1508,  where it became much sought after as a specific for syphilis and an alternative to the toxic doses of mercury used at the time. So popular did it become, that it was sold at the rate of seven gold crowns per pound.  

However, although it was employed to much advantage in syphilitic affections the craze for Guaiacum dwindled as it was not seen to be completely effective.  This has been put down to people not continuing the course for long enough, or not following the additional treatment strategies. Sometimes other sudorific woods were added to guaic, noteably china root, sarsparilla and sassafras.

Oviedo who landed in America in 1514 described the medicinal properties of  the tree: "Of the wood called Guaiacum that healeth the French Pockes and also helpeth the gout in the feete, the stoone, the palsey, lepree, dropsy, fallynge ewyll and other diseases"

The resin is the active principle and was introduced into medicine later than the wood. The London Pharmacopeia first mentions the resin in 1677.

Taken internally, both the wood and the resin excite a sense of warmth in the stomach and a dryness in the mouth with thirst. They act upon the economy like stimulants, increasing the heat of the body and accelerating the circulation.  A decoction of guaiacum shavings may be made by boiling 2 ounces of the shavings in 3 pints of water down to 2 pints, the dose of which is then 2 to 4 fluid ounces every 3 or 4 hours.  If the body is kept warm when taking the decoction, it induces perspiration - if the body is kept cool, it acts as a diuretic.

Guaiacum has anti-inflammatory properties.  Used for the arthritic diathesis and gout. In chronic rheumatism it relieves the pain and inflammation between attacks and lessening their recurrence if doses are continued.  Symptoms of stiffness and contraction of muscles, tendons and extremities, with rheumatic swellings of the joints. Also for chronic inflammation and degeneration of the bones, which are very sore, ache and cannot bear the slightest touch.  Growing pains in children.   

For tonsillitis it is given in powdered form. Guaiacum resin lozenges for sore throats are mentioned in Mrs M.Grieves Modern Herbal. 1976.