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What is Guaiacum?

Dee Saale
Updated May 17, 2024
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Guaiacum or lignum vitae is an evergreen tree that can grow up to 30 feet (9.1 m) tall, though most are about 10 feet (3.0 m) tall. It is native to the tropical rain forests in South America and to various islands across the Caribbean Ocean. It has oval-shaped leaves and small, blue flowers that are shaped like little stars. The tree has several uses. Its timber is collected as a hardwood and the oil is often used to treat arthritic pain, joint pain, and growing pains.

There is a long history associated with the use of Guaiacum. In the early 1500s, there were rumors that people afflicted with syphilis could cure themselves by drinking a concoction made from the resin of the tree. There were also rumors that the Indians of the Caribbean could treat themselves for venereal disease by using the oils from the plant. These rumors kept it in high demand across Europe for many years. Once the rumors were proven false, its demand decreased.

As new uses for Guaiacum were discovered, it regained some its popularity, particularly in England. Many people who practice homeopathic medicine believe it is useful to treat arthritic and rheumatic disorders. Guaiacum also has anti-inflammatory properties that may work to decrease pain and swelling in the joints.

There are other uses for Guaiacum as well. For example, many people claim it can be used as a diuretic. Others believe it works well as a laxative and as a way to induce perspiration. Because it is believed to eliminate toxins from the body, many homeopathic medicine practitioners use it to treat gout.

Guaiacum is most often used as a tincture. Resin from the tree is collected, combined with alcohol, and bottled. It then can be rubbed on painful rheumatic areas. If someone has tooth pain, a cotton ball can be soaked with the oily resin and applied to the gums. In addition, a decoction can be made from the wood chips taken from the heart of the tree trunk. When the wood chips are mashed, it acts as a local anesthetic and may also treat joint pain and blisters from the herpes virus.

Although it is not common, some people are allergic to Guaiacum. Those people may experience a tight chest, trouble breathing, hives, or a rash. It is best to consult a doctor before using it, and many practitioners caution women who are pregnant or breastfeeding against using it.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Dee Saale
By Dee Saale

Dee is a freelance writer based in Colorado. She has a B.A. in English Literature, as well as a law degree. Dee is especially interested in topics relating to medicine, legal issues, and home improvement, which are her specialty when contributing to WiseGEEK.

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Dee Saale

Dee Saale

Dee is a freelance writer based in Colorado. She has a B.A. in English Literature, as well as a law degree. Dee is...

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