Plant Profiler

Quassia (Quassia amara)

Quassia (Quassia amara) Image
Synonyms / Common Names / Related Terms
2-O-glucosylsamaderine C (10), 18-oxyquaxine, ailanthus, amargo, bitter ash, bitter bark, bitterholz, bitterwood, bois amer, C19 quassinoid glycoside, gorzkla, indaquassin, Jamaican quassia, Jamaica quassia extract, kvassia, kwassi, neoquassin, palo muneco, pau amarelo, pau quassia, pao tariri, picrasma, quassia africana, quassia amarga, quassia bark, quassia indica, Quassia undalata, quassia undulate, quassia wood, quassin, quassinoids, ruda, samaderines, simarinolide, Simaroubaceae (family), Surinam quassia, Surinam wood.

Mechanism of Action


  • Constituents: Many of the extracts described in this section are loosely termed quassia, and come from the same family (Simarubeae). However, it appears that the various quassia extracts may indeed differ in their constitutional makeup, as Jamaica quassia extract (Quassia excelsa) was different from Picrasma quassioides Benn. as confirmed by their differing HPLC profiles.9 Regardless, most species of quassia contain quassin and isomers of neoquassinl, volatile oil, gummy extractive pectin, woody fiber, tartrate and sulphate of lime, chlorides of calcium, sodium, various salts such as oxalate and ammoniacal salt, nitrate of potassa and sulphate of soda. Quassia amara, specifically, contains both beta-carbonile and cantin-6 alkaloids as well as, primarily, the bitter compounds known as quassinoids.7
  • Antibacterial and antifungal properties: In vitro study confirmed the antibacterial and antifungal activity of Quassia undulata and Quassia amara extracts against Escherichia coli, Streptococcus faecalis, Stapylococcus aureus and Aspergillus niger. A total of eight extracts, comprising of hexane and methanol extracts of the leaves and stems of each of the two plants were investigated. At a concentration of 5mg/mL all eight extracts exhibited marked antibacterial and antifungal activities in most cases higher than the standard reference drugs included in the study. Quassia amara leaf methanol extract singularly exhibited the highest activities in both assays, which included the use of six clinical strains of bacteria and five fungi.
  • Antiedematogenic, antinociceptive and/or sedative properties: Oral administration of hexane extracts of Quassia amara in an animal study decreased the paw edema induced by carrageenan, showed antinociceptive effects on the hot-plate test and on acetic acid-induced writhing, and showed sedative effects on pentobarbital-induced sleep. Naloxone did not reverse the antinociceptive effect of this extract. Although the mechanisms are uncertain, the results demonstrated that these effects are apparently related to sedative and muscle relaxant or psychomimetic activities of the hexane extract of the plant.1
  • Antifertility properties: Intramuscular injections of the chloroform extract of the bark of Quassia amara for 15 days in albino rats resulted in a significant reduction in the weight of testis and epididymis but not that of the seminal vesicles and prostate (all lobes). A marked decrease in the sperm count, motility, viability was also observed in sperm collected from the cauda epididymis of treated animals. A number of abnormalities like double heads, double tails, detached heads and fragile tails were frequently seen. Epididymal alpha-glucosidase activity was drastically reduced. Chloroform extract of the bark of Quassia amara has potential for use as an antifertility agent.2 Similar effects were notes with a methonal extract of the stem wood of Quassia amara. L.3
  • Anti-inflammatory properties: Based on in vitro study, quassinoids isolated from the stems of Quassia indica are thought to exhibit significant anti-inflammatory activity.8
  • Antiulcerogenic properties: Hexane, ethanol and dichloromethane extractions of Quassia amara bark administered at a dose of 100mg/kg orally inhibited the indomethacin/bethanechol-induced gastric ulcer in mice. This dose also decreased gastric juice content, increased pH values and decreased acid output. The authors of this study concluded that the mechanism of its activity relates to cytoprotective factors, such as mucous and prostaglandins, but there is still the possibility that antisecretory activity is involved in its antiulcerogenic effect.7
  • Antilarval properties: Crushed aqueous extracts of leaf, wood, bark and flowers of Quassia amara showed antilarval activity against C quinquefasciatus. Quassin has been identified to be the antilarval principle present in this plant and was effective against mosquito larvae at a concentration of 6 ppm. Quassin was present to the extent of 0.1 to 0.14 per cent (average 0.12%) on a dry weight basis in wood of Q.amara.6
  • Antimalarial properties: Quassia amara L. and Quassia undulata plant extracts showed significant antimalarial activities in the four day suppressive in vivo antimalarial assay in mice inoculated with red blood cells parasitized with Plasmodium berghei berghei. At a concentration of 100mg/kg of mouse, Q. amara leaf hexane extract had the highest suppressive activity with a parasite density of 0.16 +/- 0.001%. Q. amara leaf methanol extract had an outstanding activity; of 0.05 +/- 0.03% at 200 mg/kg.4
  • Antiviral properties: Chloroform and ethyl acetate crude extracts of the ground root bark of Quassia Africana Baill. (Simaroubaceae) led to pronounced activities against Herpes simplex, Semliki forest, Coxsackie and Vesicular stomatitis viruses. Simalikalactone D was responsible, at least in part, for the high antiviral activity observed for the chloroform crude extract. For quassinoids the ester group at C-15 and the epoxymethano bridge between C-8 and C-13 appeared to be important structural features in order to exhibit a pronounced antiviral activity.5
  • Growth-inhibitory properties: Certain quassinoids isolated from the stems of Quassia indica are thought to exhibit significant growth-inhibitory activity against the cultured malarial parasite Plasmodium falciparum (a chloroquine- resistant K1 strain) and exhibit in vitro cytotoxicity against KB cells.8


  • Insufficient available evidence.


  1. Toma, W., Gracioso, J. S., Hiruma-Lima, C. A., Andrade, F. D., Vilegas, W., and Souza Brito, A. R. Evaluation of the analgesic and antiedematogenic activities of Quassia amara bark extract. J Ethnopharmacol  2003;85(1):19-23. 12576198
  2. Parveen, S., Das, S., Kundra, C. P., and Pereira, B. M. A comprehensive evaluation of the reproductive toxicity of Quassia amara in male rats. Reprod Toxicol  2003;17(1):45-50. 12507657
  3. Raji, Y. and Bolarinwa, A. F. Antifertility activity of Quassia amara in male rats - in vivo study. Life Sci 1997;61(11):1067-1074. 9307052
  4. Ajaiyeoba, E. O., Abalogu, U. I., Krebs, H. C., and Oduola, A. M. In vivo antimalarial activities of Quassia amara and Quassia undulata plant extracts in mice. J Ethnopharmacol  11-30-1999;67(3):321-325. 10617067
  5. Apers, S., Cimanga, K., Vanden Berghe, D., Van Meenen, E., Longanga, A. O., Foriers, A., Vlietinck, A., and Pieters, L. Antiviral activity of simalikalactone D, a quassinoid from Quassia africana. Planta Med 2002;68(1):20-24. 11842321
  6. Evans, D. A. and Raj, R. K. Larvicidal efficacy of Quassin against Culex quinquefasciatus. Indian J Med Res 1991;93:324-327. 1778621
  7. Toma, W., Gracioso, Jde S., de Andrade, F. D., Hiruma-Lima, C. A., Vilegas, W., and Souza Brito, A. R. Antiulcerogenic activity of four extracts obtained from the bark wood of Quassia amara L. (Simaroubaceae). Biol Pharm Bull  2002;25(9):1151-1155. 12230107
  8. Kitagawa, I., Mahmud, T., Yokota, K., Nakagawa, S., Mayumi, T., Kobayashi, M., and Shibuya, H. Indonesian medicinal plants. XVII. Characterization of quassinoids from the stems of Quassia indica. Chem Pharm Bull (Tokyo) 1996;44(11):2009-2014. 8945767
  9. Sugimoto, N., Sato, K., Yamazaki, T., and Tanamoto, K. [Analysis of constituents in Jamaica quassia extract, a natural bittering agent]. Shokuhin Eiseigaku Zasshi 2003;44(6):328-331. 15038116

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