Today’s spice is Quassia

Quassia amara, also known as amargo, bitter-ash, bitter-wood, is a species in the genus Quassia, with some botanists treating it as the sole species in the genus. The genus was named after the first botanist to describe it – Graham Quassi.

Quassia (genus) amara (species) is an attractive small evergreen shrub or tree from the tropics.

The name “amara” means “bitter” in Spanish and describes its very bitter taste. 

Quassia amara contents more than thirty phytochemicals with biological activities in its tissues including the very bitter compound quassin. Therefore, it is used as insecticide, in traditional medicine against lot of disease and as bitter tasting additive in the food industry.

All plant parts are useful for medicinal properties and the bark extracts are mainly used as flavouring in drinks.

Quassia amara grows wild but can be cultivated. Trunk wood, roots, bark, stems, leaves, flowers and seeds are harvested to gain extracts of the plant. For its beauty, quassia is also grown as an ornamental plant.  

Quassia amara potential health benefits:

  • the stem can be used in remedies for diseases of the spleen, liver (cirrhosis), and urinary tract
  • it has been shown to encourage the secretion of gastric juices, increase the appetite and aid digestion
  • it has been used successfully in the treatment of anorexia nervosa
  • it is used in the treatment of malaria and fevers
  • decoction of the bark can be used as a blood purifier and to treat malaria, diarrhoea and dysentery
  • can help treat alcoholism – prepare a tea of bitter Quassia leaves and drink one cup regularly, it kills the appetite for alcohol
  • can help with stomach problems – take a cup made from Quassia wood, put some water in it and leave overnight and the next morning drink it on empty stomach
  • can help with rheumatism used externally
  • crushed leaves can be used as mosquito repellent

Quassia amara has many culinary uses – it is used in gin-based drinks and can also be used as a substitute for hops when brewing beer.

Quassia amara should only be used in small amounts and should be avoided in pregnancy.

Long term overuse can lead to weakened vision and blindness.