Jamaican Dogwood (Piscidia erythrina)

Jamaican Dogwood is a deciduous shrubby medium sized tree in the Fabaceae family native to the Carribean, Northern South America, Central America, Texas, Southern Florida, and Mexico that can grow up to 40 feet in height. Like other members of the Fabaceae family, it has compound leaves, spring blooming pink or white flowers with red stripes, and winged seedpods. It’s typically grown for it’s wood, which is used regularly in boat building. The root bark is harvested after the tree is cut down. It prefers well drained, sandy soils with some organic matter, and can tolerate being near the ocean and some brackish water conditions, but not continuous salt spray or inundation, or soils comprised entirely of sand. Once established, the tree is very drought tolerant.

Parts Used
Root and stem bark

Chemical Constituents
Isoflavones, lisetin, jamaicin, ichthyone, the rotenoids rotenone, milletone and isomilletone, beta-sitosterol, tannins, Organic acids piscidic acid, mono-and diethyl esters, fukiic acid, 3-0-methyl ester.

Medicinal Uses
Jamaican Dogwood is a strong sedative and anodyne, good for remedying neuralgia, migraines, and menstrual cramps or other ovarian and uterine pains. It’s also useful for insomnia in the cases of anxiety, nervous tension and excitability, and pain. It’s used commonly for menstrual and tooth pain, as well as muscle spasms, especially of the back. Its sedative properties also make it useful for easing whooping cough and other spasmodic respiratory conditions. Externally, it can be used in ointments and compresses to ease the pain of inflammatory rheumatism. It has also been shown useful for treating animals suffering from inflammatory conditions and nervous fear.

Folk Uses
Jamaican Dogwood was used for it’s sedative actions in the West Indies as a fish poison. While it’s not toxic to humans, large quantities of the herb should be avoided. In Belize, a decoction made from the bark is taken internally for dysentery, diarrhea, painful menstruation, and as a wash for bleeding gums, wounds, rashes, and other skin problems.

Flavor Profile and Energetics
Pungent, bitter, cooling, decreases Vata

1-2 tsp of the dried bark per cup of water, simmered for 10-15 minutes, taken as needed, or 2-4 ml of the tincture three times daily. Stick to the dosages! Symptoms of Jamaican dogwood overdose include numbness, tremors, and excessive salivation.

For insomnia, combine with hops and valerian. For painful menstrual cramps, combine with black haw or peony.

Avoid during pregnancy, and large amounts in general. Avoid driving and using heavy machinery after using.

(s) 1, 10, 15, The Herbal Resource, UMM Medical Center

Leafing structure of Jamaican Dogwood

Leafing structure of Jamaican Dogwood

A Jamaican Dogwood growing in Key Largo, photo from 7song

A Jamaican Dogwood growing in Key Largo, photo from 7song