Quassia is probably the only plant named in honour of a slave, at least according to legend: Back in Suriname during the 18th century intermittent fevers were a common plague. But rumour had it that a slave called Quassia had a sacred remedy for this terribly debilitating disease. A Swede by the name of Daniel Rolander, managed to buy the slave's secret and learnt which plant he used for his cure: it was a tree of the Simaruba family. However, later the name became associated with two other species of Simaruba, Picrasma excelsa and Quassia amara, which are now both sold as Quassia and in time became official in the pharmacopoeias of Britain, Germany and the US.
Quassia is one of the most intensely bitter herbs, yet it contains no tannin. Originally used for fevers its use shifted to the treatment of digestive problems. Small doses of Quassia stimulate the flow of gastric juices as well as liver and gall bladder activity. It can be used to stimulate the appetite or to aid digestion especially in cases of dyspepsia. In the West Indies, where the tree is at home, natives carve cups from the wood and fill them with water. This is left to infuse long enough for the water to absorb the bitter principles from the wood. It is used as a remedy for indigestion or lack of appetite. Administered as an enema it was also used as a worming agent. An external application of the decoction is used to treat lice and to dispel flies.
Most sources mention Quassia to be used for love-'to draw and maintain', as it is often put. Its use as an insecticide and vermifuge suggests powers to ward off evil spirits.
Not all herbs are suitable in pregnancy, breastfeeding or for young children, or if you are unwell, or taking any medication. If in doubt, please ask a medical herbalist or healthcare practitioner.