Friday, 30 December 2011


The flower of this tree is the national flower of Jamaica, as it is a native tree of the West Indies and the North coast of South America. Its range stretches from the Florida Keys through to Venezuela, Honduras and Panama. The Spanish explorers came across this tree in the 16th century in the Bahamas and adopted its name from one of the indigenous languages. It is an evergreen member of the Zygophyllaceae family and grows to around 60 feet tall. It was valued for its wood which is extremely hard and durable; it is so heavy that it sinks if put in water. It has been used for construction and to make small intricate parts of grandfather clocks and precision instruments, because of its longevity.
  Lignum vitae means living wood and it is known in the West Indies as the Tree of Life. Unfortunately it was the victim of deforestation as land was cleared for sugar cane plantations; it was placed on the IUCN red list of endangered species in 1998 and despite planting new trees, it has not been removed from the list.
  Its resin, which exudes in tear-shaped is valued in traditional medicine rather like myrrh and other tree resins. This resin contains vanillin, the polytriterpenoids guaiaguttin, and the resin acids, guaiaconic, guaianetic and guacic acids along with saponins. It has been used as a laxative, diuretic and to promote sweat in fevers.
  It has been traded as a commodity since 1508 and it was much used in Europe by medical practitioners who used it to treat syphilis along with the sassafras tree and sarsaparilla. It was introduced from the West Indies into the Asian subcontinent.
  Whether or not the tree can help cure syphilis and other STDs was not questioned until the 18th century, and it is still open to some doubt. The wood used to be used for such ailments, even sawdust and shavings were incorporated into remedies. Now however, only the resin is used.
  This resin is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties and is used for rheumatism, arthritis and gout. When this comes from the tree it is a red-brown whi9ch changes to a blue-green hue when it is exposed to oxygen, and this is used for staining and if applied to a sore tooth is said to relieve toothache. If applied externally it is used for the pains of rheumatism and so on. Taken internally it is said to lower blood pressure and to relieve gout and arteriosclerosis. It is also valued when it is made into a wash or lotion for skin diseases.
  It is an endangered species, and there are many other plants that can be used to treat skin diseases and other ailments, so its best to avoid using this tree until, at least, it is off the endangered species list.

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