Guajacum officinale

Opinion is ultimately determined by the feelings, and not by the intellect.
[Herbert Spencer]
Guaiacum officinale. Lignum Vitae. N.O. Zygophyllaceae.
CLASSIFICATION The Zygophyllaceae is closely related to the Rutaceae. The family comprises some 25 genera and 250 species. It is a largely tropical and subtropical family of shrubs, some herbs and a few trees, many of which are adapted to dry or salty habitats. It includes some valuable timber trees such as lignum vitaGuajacum officinalee [Guaiacum species]. The family is found widely in the tropics and subtropics, often in drier areas, forming a conspicuous element of scrub vegetation, with some temperate representatives. The genus Guaiacum includes eight species which are found in tropical and subtropical regions. Homoeopathy employs four species: Guaiacum, Tribulus terrestris [Puncture Vine], Larrea mexicana [Neoschroetera tridentata, Creosote Plant], and Peganum harmala [a hallucinogenic of significance in native religion or magic, and source of the dye ‘turkey red’].
GUAIACUM Guaiacum officinale is a small, slow-growing, ornamental, evergreen tree. Native to Central America as far south as Venezuela and Colombia, it hardly ever reaches 10 metres. It likes dry, sandy soils and grows mainly along coasts. The stem is almost always crooked. The deep blue star-shaped flowers change to white before they fall. The wood is extraordinarily heavy, and denser than water, so that it sinks. The wood is known for its durability, waxiness and self-lubricating qualities. It is difficult to work and doesn’t glue well; it rejects most applied finishes. Guaiacum wood is only odorous when burned or rasped, the odour being aromatic; its taste is acrid, aromatic, and bitter, succeeded by a pricking in the throat. Guaiacum sanctum, of the Bahamas and South Florida, is used for the same purposes as G. officinale.
RESIN This is obtained from both Guaiacum officinale and G. sanctum. The resin exudes naturally, but can also be procured by raising one end of the log and firing it; this melts the resin, which runs out of a hole cut in the other end, and is then caught into vessels. The resin is found in round or ovoid tears; some are imported the size of walnuts, but usually it is in large blocks; these break easily; the fracture is clean and glassy, in thin pieces, colour yellow-reddish brown. The powder is grey, and must be kept in dark-coloured bottles, as exposure to the light and air soon turns it green. 1

Guajacum officinale flowering

 OIL Guaiacwood oil, the essential oil, is obtained by steam distillation of the broken wood and sawdust. Due to its tea rose-like odour, it is used as an adulterant for rose oil. Used as a perfume fixative and modifier, soap odorant, and in fragrances. The oil is a raspberry, strawberry, rose, fruit, honey, ginger, and ginger ale flavouring for beverages, ice cream, candy, baked goods, gelatine desserts, and chewing gum.
CONSTITUENTS Lignum vitae contains lignans [furoguaiacidin, guaiacin and others], 18-25% resin, vanillin, guaiazulene, and triterpene saponins. “Azulenes, for example chamazulene from chamomile and yarrow and guaiazulene from Guaiacum officinale, do not exist in any quantity in the natural state. They are produced as artefacts of the steam distillation process of extraction from volatile precursors in the plant. They will also be found in appreciable quantity after the normal process of infusion in hot water, especially if this is done in an enclosed container that allows steam rising to recondense and rain back into the liquid. The azulenes are effective anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic agents, reducing histamine-induced tissue reactions and calming the nervous system.”2
USES Guaiacum derives from the South American vernacular word guaiac, the name for lignum vitae, ‘wood of life’, so named because of its high repute in medicine. The wood of these trees is hard, dense, and virtually unsplittable. It is used where strength and hardness are required, e.g. for butcher blocks, mallets, bowling balls, ships’ blocks and, formerly, for ship propeller shaft and wagon wheel bearings and bushings. The wood is relatively waterproof on account of its high oil content; it is almost impervious to salt-water, holds high heat and friction without sudden breakdown, and withstands high pressure. Lignum vitae was used in the lock gate hinges on the Erie Canal where they lasted for a century. The medicinal resin guaiacum is obtained from the wood. It is used as a clinical reagent for occult blood or haemoglobin in urine. Guaicol has been used in veterinary practice as an intestinal antiseptic.
MEDICINE “The wood is very little used in medicine; it obtained a great reputation about the 16th century, when it was brought into notice as a cure for syphilis and other diseases; later on the resin obtained from the wood was introduced and now is greatly preferred, for medicinal use, to the wood. It is a mild laxative and diuretic. For tonsillitis it is given in powdered form. Specially useful for rheumatoid arthritis, also in chronic rheumatism and gout, relieving the pain and inflammation between the attacks, and lessening their recurrence if doses are continued. It acts as an acrid stimulant, increasing heat of body and circulation; when the decoction is taken hot and the body is kept warm, it acts as a diaphoretic, and if cool as a diuretic. Also largely used for secondary syphilis, skin diseases and scrofula.”3 Boerhaave [1668-1738], the Dutch physician and professor in medicine, recommended a decoction of guaiacum for bone diseases. Reverend John Wesley [1703-1791], who was interested in the medical secrets of primitive peoples, prescribed it for gout, ‘green sickness’, and chronic rheumatism.

Guajacum officinale

SYPHILIS In the belief that where God sent a disease, He also planted a cure, the guaiacum tree bark was considered by some a specific for syphilis. Syphilis was popularly known as “the pox” because it brought out pocks or pustules on the skin, or as the French disease, being first identified with French soldiers. It was later called the Spanish disease in Holland, the Polish disease in Russia, the Russian disease in Siberia, the Christian disease in Turkey, and the Portuguese disease in India and Japan. “Regardless of the origin of syphilis, its effect on Europe was devastating. Everyone and everything was to blame. Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn had been in rare conjunction, said astrologers, and syphilis was the result. The noted Spanish physician Ruy Diaz de Isla blamed cabbage. The German clergy of the day considered that it was caused by the sin of blasphemy: soldiers and sailors swore the most, they contended, hence they were most afflicted with the disease. Maximillian I was convinced by this logic, and issued an edict that all children with lesions be punished for swearing! Few physicians treated syphilis. It begins in one of the most degrading and ignoble places of the body, wrote a medical leader, and should be ignored. Cures were few. Suicides became so commonplace that not since the time of the Greeks and Romans had so many taken their own lives. A temporary ray of hope was introduced with lignum vitae [Guaiacum officinale] and lignum sanctum [G. sanctum], native to tropical America; a broth made from the bark was taken for 14 days, and a bark foam was rubbed on the chancres. But interest soon faded, for the lignum vitae miracle bark, the penicillin of its time, cured few.”4 When the Spaniards, in 1508, introduced Guaiacum as the great antisyphilitic, prince and peasant alike drank the wonderful decoction, attested its healing powers, and bestowed upon it the suggestive names, Lignum vitae and Lignum sanctum.5 A real craze about the efficacy of lignum vitae came about in 1519, after Ulrich von Hutten, a German satirist, allegedly had cured himself of syphilis after a 40-day regime involving fasting, profuse sweating and drinking decoctions of lignum vitae. In 1526, Oviedo, one of the earliest chroniclers of American natural history, wrote that “Caribbean Indians cure themselves very easily” of venereal disease with this plant. Distrust contributed to the decline of Guaiacum-therapy for syphilis, for the German merchant company Fugger had gained an import monopoly on guaiac and critics claimed they were simply cashing in on misfortune.
PROVINGS •• [1] Hahnemann – 4 provers; method: unknown.
[1] Grieve, A Modern Herbal. [2] Mills, Herbal Medicine. [3] Grieve, ibid. [4] Lewis and Elvin-Lewis, Medical Botany. [5] Laird, Guaiacum; The Hahnemannian Monthly, November 1883.
Secretions [glands; TONSILS; ovaries; skin]. Fibrous tissues [ligaments; joints]. Chest. Lungs. Skin. * Left side. Right side.
Worse: HEAT. Touch. Motion. Exertion. Rapid growth. Mercury. Cold wet weather. Evening. Morning. Pressure. Open air.
Better: Cold [locally]. Apples. Indoors.
Main symptoms
* The wood is mainly used for hinges, spindles, gear-wheels and sheaves. Affinity with rotary motions [compare joints and flexibility, both mental and physical].
M Delusion: everything seems too narrow.
• “On awaking too early, everything feels too tight, and he tosses about in bed.” [Hahnemann]
M Rigidity; indolent, obstinate and fretful.
Loss of flexibility.
• “Strong desire to criticize and to despise everything.” [Clarke]
• “Emotionally, they are tough rather than feeling. Like the dense Guaiacum timber, they may avoid emotional ‘waters’ if possible. ‘None of that nonsense’, they’ll decide if an emotional storm breaks in their environment, and off they’ll go to water the garden, chop some wood or clean out the kitchen cupboards. They are doers rather than feelers.”1
M Passiveness.
• “A typical Guaiacum patient, if there be such a thing, is one of dark complexion, tall, angular, large frame, with a not overactive mind or body. Stupid at school, never learned very rapidly nor entered heartily or enthusiastically into play. They are usually termed lazy. Can only be temporarily enthused – over anything. Would rather sit and dream – dreams by the hour.”2
• “Excessive forgetfulness, esp. of names.” [Clarke]
G Rheumatic, arthritic remedy, esp. arthritis of WRISTS, ankles and knees.
• “All the affected parts of Guaiacum are sensitive to touch and aggravated by heat, whether the pain is in bone, muscle, or fibrous tissue, but general heat is soothing.”3
G Rheumatic affections with history of recurrent tonsillitis.
G Growing pains [> cold applications]; too rapid growth.
G Chilly; desire for heat in general but aggravation from local heat.
< OPEN AIR. G > COLD applications, esp. in arthritis.
• “Joint pains < warmth and more comfortable when cool; limbs contracted and stiff; rheumatism of joints < heat and motion.” [Kent] • “Burning heat in affected parts.” [Boger] G < MOTION. Aversion to motion. G Sensation of SWELLING. or Sensation of CONSTRICTION. • “Constriction or actual contraction with burning, runs through every affected organ and tissue. The stomach feels as if there was a band around it which interferes with breathing. The abdomen feels contracted or drawn, with pinching pains, relieved by passing flatus. The bladder is constricted, causing frequent urination, with continuous desire to urinate, even just after evacuation.”4 G Secretions copious and OFFENSIVE [expectoration, perspiration, etc.]. Night sweat. G TENSION muscles. Muscles seem too SHORT [eyelids, back, thighs, etc.]. • “Tension in the thighs, esp. in the right thigh, when walking, as if the muscles were too short, attended with weariness; aggravated by touching it, allayed when sitting.” [Hahnemann] G Desire to yawn and STRETCH. P TONSILLITIS [< right] with rapid suppuration, BURNING pain and white tongue. < WARM drinks. Recurrent tonsillitis FOLLOWED by rheumatism. P Gastric symptoms > APPLES.
P One of the main remedies for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome [due to the affinity with the wrists].
[1] Hall, Herbal Medicine. [2] Krichbaum, Guaiacum; International Hahn. Association, 1909-1910.
Anxiety, from constriction in stomach [1/1]. Audacity [1]. Censorious [1]. Delusions, everything seems too narrow [1]. Thoughtless staring in morning [2/1].
Constriction, as from a band or hoop [1]. Pain, > motion [1], > external pressure [1], from changes of weather [1].
Distended feeling [2]. Sensation of protrusion [1].
Pain, bursting sensation [2].
Expression, old looking [3].
Pain, > apples [1/1]. Summer < [2/1]. Abdomen Pain, cramping, on inspiration [1]. Bladder Sensation of fulness [1]. Chest Chilliness, shivering in mammae [2]. Pain, on motion of the head [2/1]. Back Pain, cervical region, extending down the back [1]; dorsal region, between scapulae, on breathing [2]; contracting, dorsal region, between scapulae [3]. Stiffness, cervical region, after taking cold [2]. Limbs Pain, > cold applications [2], rheumatic, alternating with dyspnoea [1/1]; lower limbs, sciatica > flexing leg [1], < motion [2], > sitting [1], < stretching the leg [1], < touch [1], < warmth [2]; legs, growing pains [3]. Sensation of swelling of legs [1*], with pain in bones of legs [1*]. Sleep Clothes feel damp or tight on waking [2/1]; waking with sensation of falling [2]. Dreams Falling from a height [1]. Being stabbed with knives [1]. Scientific [1]. Generals Contractions, stricture, after inflammation [1]. * Repertory additions [Hughes]. Food Aversion: [2]: Milk. [1]: Apples. Desire: [2]: Apples. [1]: Cold drinks; fruit; sour. Worse: [1]: Warm drinks [< throat]. Better: [1]: Apples [> stomach].

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