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Controversial Cinchona

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Location: Blue Ridge Mountains
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It would be nearly impossible to discuss bitter herbs without including an entry on Peruvian, Jesuit or Cinchona Bark.  This is THE true source of quinine.  This herb is the classic flavor of several medicinal bitters, some cocktail bitters and tonic water.  Peruvian Bark is the herb that created the cocktail.  That original cocktail was the classic Gin and Tonic, that originated as the panacea for sailors.  The G&T could help stave off scurvy, settle a stomach, help with malarial fevers, bolster the immune system and make the tough life of a sailor quite a bit more pleasant.  This native herb was very likely introduced to Jesuit missionaries by the natives of Peru, but some legends say the discovery was by chance - a branch having dropped into a pool of water.

Wikipedia gives us the history of this herb, clearing up much of the confusion over its origins.  It seems that in the 1600s, the use of quinine was a matter of controversy, based on its association with the Catholic Church.  In the era of COVID, of course, its association with Hydroxychloroquine causes at least as much knee-jerk condemnation… especially as many dubious formulas for “homemade quinine” appear on the internet, most of which have nothing in common with the legitimate herb, Cinchona.

The western history of cinchona bark dates back more than 350 years. Circa 1650, the physician Sebastiano Bado declared that this bark had proved more precious to mankind than all the gold and silver that the Spaniards had obtained from South America. In the 18th century, the Italian professor of medicine Bernardino Ramazzini said that the introduction of Peruvian bark would be of the same importance to medicine that the discovery of gunpowder was to the art of war, an opinion endorsed by contemporary writers on the history of medicine. The value of Jesuit's bark, and the controversy surrounding it, were both recognized by Benjamin Franklin, who wittily commented upon it in his Poor Richard's Almanac for October 1749, telling the story of Robert Talbot's use of it to cure the French Dauphin. Hugh Algernon Weddell observed, "Few subjects in natural history have excited general interest in a higher degree than cinchona; none perhaps have hitherto merited the attention of a greater number of distinguished men". Dissension, however, was rife at the time, mainly due to its source of discovery, the Jesuits. Alexander von Humboldt said, "It almost goes without saying that among Protestant physicians hatred of the Jesuits and religious intolerance lie at the bottom of the long conflict over the good or harm effected by Peruvian Bark".

The Spanish Jesuit missionaries in Peru were taught the healing power of the bark by natives, between 1620 and 1630, when a Jesuit at Loxa was indebted to its use for his cure from an attack of malaria (Loxa Bark). It was used at the recommendation of the Jesuits in 1630, when the Countess of Chinchon (Cinchon; the derivative is Cinchona, the appellation selected by Carl Linnaeus in 1742; Clements Markham preferred "Chinchona", wife of the new viceroy, who had just arrived from Europe, was taken ill with malaria at Lima. The countess was saved from death, and in thanksgiving caused large quantities of the bark to be collected. This she distributed to malaria sufferers, partly in person and partly through the Jesuits of St. Paul's College at Lima (pulvis comitissæ). She returned to Europe in 1640 and was the first to bring the bark there to spread its use through Spain and the rest of the continent, as stated by Markham. For the earliest transportation of the bark we must thank the Jesuit Barnabé de Cobo (1582–1657; the Cobæa plant), who rendered important services in the exploration of Mexico and Peru. In his capacity of procurator of the Peruvian province of his order, he brought the bark from Lima to Spain, and afterwards to Rome and other parts of Italy, in 1632. In the meanwhile its merits must have been ascertained both in Lima and in various parts of Europe, as Count Chinchon and his physician Juan de Vega brought it back with them in 1640.

Count Chinchon, however, troubled himself little about the use or sale of the bark. A greater distribution resulted from the large quantity brought over by the Jesuit Bartolomé Tafur, who, like Cobo, came to Spain in 1643 while procurator of the Peruvian province of his order, proceeded through France (there is an alleged cure of the young Louis XIV, when still dauphin, effected by Father Tafur by means of Peruvian bark), and thence to Italy as far as Rome.

The celebrated Jesuit theologian John de Lugo, who became a cardinal in 1643, learned about the cinchona from Tafur, and remained from 1643 until his death in 1660 its faithful advocate, zealous defender, and generous, disinterested dispenser in Italy and the rest of Europe, for which he was honoured in the appellation of pulvis cardinalis, pulvis Lugonis, and by having several portraits painted of him. De Lugo had the bark analysed by the pope's physician in ordinary, Gabriele Fonseca, who reported on it very favourably. Its distribution among the sick in Rome took place only on the advice and with the consent of the Roman doctors. The cardinal had more bark brought from America over the trade routes through Spain. Almost all the other patrons of the drug in those times appear to have been directly influenced by de Lugo; as, for instance, the lay brother Pietro Paolo Pucciarini, S. J. (1600–1661), apothecary in the Jesuit College at Rome, who undoubtedly deserves the greatest credit after de Lugo for distributing the genuine unadulterated article, and to whom are attributed the Roman directions for its use Schedula Romana, the earliest dating at least from 1651.

In his friend Honoré Fabri, a French Jesuit, who stayed for a time in Rome, de Lugo won a determined defender of the bark against the first anticinchona pamphlet written by the Brussels doctor Jean-Jacques Chifflet. Under the pseudonym of Antimus Conygius, Fabri wrote in 1655 the first paper on cinchona published in Italy, as well as the first of the long list of brochures defending its use and the only independent article on this bark which has been issued by a Jesuit. The two Genoese, Girolamo Bardi, a priest, and Sebastiano Baldo, a physician, who were among the pioneer advocates of the plant, were intimate with the cardinal, and Baldo prefixed to his principal work a letter from de Lugo, dated 1659, on cinchona, which shows that the cardinal even when seventy-seven years old was still active in its behalf.

Circumstances created a suitable opportunity for disseminating the bark from Rome throughout Europe by means of the Jesuits. In 1646, 1650, and 1652 the delegates to the eighth, ninth, and tenth general councils of the order (three from each province) returned to their homes, taking it with them, and at the same time there is evidence of its use in the Jesuit colleges at Genoa, Lyon, Leuven, Ratisbon, etc. The remedy – connected with the name of Jesuit – very soon reached England. The English weekly Mercurius Politicus in 1658 contained in four numbers the announcement that: "The excellent powder known by the name of 'Jesuit's powder' may be obtained from several London chemists". It remains to recall the fact that even in the 17th and 18th centuries the bark kept in the Jesuit pharmacies or in their colleges was considered particularly efficacious because they were better able to provide a genuine unadulterated supply. Further, that in those two centuries Jesuit missionaries took the remedy to the malaria regions of foreign countries, even reaching the courts of Peking, China and Kyoto, Japan, where they cured the emperor by its means; that in Peru during the 18th century they urged American collectors to lay out new plantations; and in the 19th century they were the first to plant cinchona outside of South America.

This bias against the “Jesuit Bark” accounts for its scant reference in the British herbals of the era.  Even Mrs. Grieves, in 1935, gives only brief mention of the herb, offering little of her usual historic perspective:

The species most cultivated in India and elsewhere are Cinchona succirubra, or Peruvian Bark, and C. officinalis. These evergreen trees grow in the hottest part of the world and are said to constitute a twenty-ninth part of the whole flowering plants of the tropics. Peruvian bark was introduced to Europe in 1640, but the plant producing it was not known to botanists till 1737; a few years later it was renamed Cinchona after the Countess of Chinchon, who first made the bark known in Europe for its medicinal qualities. The history of Cinchona and its many vicissitudes affords a striking illustration of the importance of Government aid in establishing such an industry. It was known and used by the Jesuits very early in its history, but was first advertized for sale in England by James Thompson in 1658, and was made official in the London Pharmacopoeia of 1677. The bark is spongy, very slight odour, taste astringent and strongly bitter.

Febrifuge, tonic and astringent; valuable for influenza, neuralgia and debility. Large and too constant doses must be avoided, as they produce headache, giddiness and deafness. The liquid extract is useful as a cure for drunkenness. The powdered bark is often used in tooth-powders, owing to its astringency, but not much used internally (except as a bitter wine); it creates a sensation of warmth, but sometimes causes gastric intestinal irritation. Cinchona in decoction is a useful gargle and a good throat astringent.

That Cinchona was an important herb in early America is without doubt.  Malaria plagued the colonies and was especially bad in the south - Jamestown, Virginia was almost crippled by outbreaks of the virus at various times and this was a major impetus for the slave trade, as Africans were believed to be immune to the the disease.  The importation of the Peruvian Bark and its prescription by the physicians and pharmacists of the day were essential.  Without this herbal treatment, the establishment of permanent settlements south of Pennsylvania would have been much more difficult. Only cold winters prevented the universal spread of this mosquito born virus.  During the Civil War, one of the main goals of the Union blockade was to prevent the importation of Cinchona to the Southern States.  The Confederacy hired a French Botanist to find native plants that would substitute for Cinchona - his work recorded in the excellent book, Resources Of The Southern Fields And Forests - he found Dogwood and Tulip Poplar Bark to be very useful substitutes, as well as the herbs Wild Quinine, Boneset and Joe Pye Weed.

The Thomsonians made good use of Cinchona, but the anti-Catholic bias continued unabated…. Would that there were an herb to cure bigotry!.  The Thomsonian System of Medicine tells us:

The genuine Peruvian bark is one of the most effective tonics ever employed for the cure of intermitting fever or ague. It may be used as a general tonic in all cases where the use of this class of medicine is indicated. As a general rule powerful tonics should not be employed in the first stage of disease attended with fever and a dry coated tongue. Under these circumstances bitters, unless combined with a large portion of Capsicum, would repress rather than promote the secretions, and aggravate the disease. When by the free use of Capsicum and other appropriate remedies the secretions are restored, the tongue cleaning and the skin warm and disposed to perspira- tion, then Peruvian bark or other tonics may be employed with advantage Peruvian bark is rendered more efficient as a tonic by combining it with Virginia snake root, cloves and Capsicum. I frequently mix equal parts of Peruvian bark and spice bitters, and have always found it a good preparation.

A tea made of equal parts of Peruvian bark and liquorice root is a good remedy for colic in infants, more especially where the spells of colic are observed to come on periodically.

The title Jesuit's Bark has been applied to the Peruvian bark, from the circumstance of the Jesuits having had the chief control of the sale of the article during its first introduction into use in Europe about the year 1640. It is not known whether they really introduced it into Europe, but if they did, it was about the only good thing they ever did.

Quinine was isolated from Cinchona Bark in the 1820s.  This isolated medical was prescribed in pill form for malaria and similar viruses.  Unfortunately, quinine is no longer recommended for use against malaria.  Not only has the virus mutated so that certain strains of it may be resistant to quinine, but in large doses quinine can have negative side effects - even deafness.  Perhaps the safest use of quinine is in tonic water.  Tonic water’s low levels of quinine were designed to be a regularly taken protection against malarial fevers.  Its bitter flavor paired well with gin and a slice of citrus.  While cinchona tea is likely a more effective antiviral, few health regimens are as pleasant as sipping on cold G&T on a hot summer evening.  A natural, juniper berry and herb infused gin makes this cocktail even more efficacious.  Although modern medicine is loathe to admit it, quinine is toxic to malarial pathogens and may be useful against COVID.  Scientists have been unable to disprove its efficacy…. And there is no profit in proving it.  I will leave it to others to make their own health choices while I raise a glass and toast, “To your health!”

Author: Judson Carroll.  Judson Carroll is an Herbalist from the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. His weekly articles may be read at http://southernappalachianherbs.blogspot.com/

His weekly podcast may be heard at: www.spreaker.com/show/southern-appalachian-herbs

He offers free, weekly herb classes: https://rumble.com/c/c-618325

His New Book is Herbal Medicine for Preppers, Homesteaders and Permaculture People

You can read about and purchase Herbal Medicine for Preppers, Homesteaders and Permaculture People here: southernappalachianherbs.blogspot.com/2021/10/herbal-medicine-for-preppers.html

Also available on Amazon: Herbal Medicine for Preppers, Homesteaders and Permaculture People: Carroll, Judson: 9798491252923: Amazon.com: Books

His other works include:

Look Up: The Medicinal Trees of the American South, An Herbalist's Guide: https://southernappalachianherbs.blogspot.com/2021/06/paypal-safer-easier-way-to-pay-online.html

The Herbs and Weeds of Fr. Johannes Künzle: https://southernappalachianherbs.blogspot.com/2021/05/announcing-new-book-herbs-and-weeds-of.html


The information on this site is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease or condition. Nothing on this site has been evaluated or approved by the FDA. I am not a doctor. The US government does not recognize the practice of herbal medicine and their is no governing body regulating herbalists. Therefore, I'm just a guy who studies herbs. I am not offering any advice. I won't even claim that anything I write is accurate or true! I can tell you what herbs have "traditionally been used for." I can tell you my own experience and if I believe an herb helped me. I cannot, nor would I tell you to do the same. If you use any herb I, or anyone else, mentions you are treating yourself. You take full responsibility for your health. Humans are individuals and no two are identical. What works for me may not work for you. You may have an allergy, sensitivity or underlying condition that no one else shares and you don't even know about. Be careful with your health. By continuing to read my blog you agree to be responsible for yourself, do your own research, make your own choices and not to blame me for anything, ever.
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