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Brucea javanica (L.) Merr. 1928
pronounced: BROO-see-ee jar-van-EYE-kuh
(Simaroubaceae – the Simarouba family)
common name: Java Brucea
Simarouba is the native Guianan vernacular name for some trees of this family. Brucea was named for Eileen A. Bruce (1905–1955), a British botanist at Kew Gardens, London, who worked on African plants. Javanica is botanical Latin for ‘from Java’.
The Java Brucea is a small, spreading tree, usually growing to under 2 m in height, but in the right conditions it can reach about 6 m. It is deciduous with downy branches, and is native to India, Sri Lanka, China, the East Indies, the Malay Archipelago, and down to northern Australia. The leaves are compound with 3–15 leaflets; the base of the leaflets is oblique, the margins serrate. Each serration is formed by the end of a vein bearing a marginal gland. The flowers are in a raceme, and have red stamens. The fruits are small drupes, purple to black in colour when ripe.
In China, the plant is known as Ya Dan Zi (Crow Gall-bladder Seed). In that country in particular, but also in many other Asian countries, the seeds of this tree are an important source of medicine. The ripe fruits are picked and dried in the sun, after which the seeds are extracted. According to the principles of Chinese medicine, Java Brucea seed has bitter, cold, and slightly toxic properties, and is associated with the Large Intestine and Liver meridians. It has been used for centuries to treat dysentery and malaria. Externally, it can be made into an ointment to treat foot problems such as corns, and skin conditions such as warts. According to some practitioners of alternative medicine, there is also evidence that Brucea, in combination with Logan, may be effective in treating some types of skin cancers.
Great care should be taken in its use, because of its toxic properties. Under no circumstances should it be taken by pregnant or nursing women, or small children; nor should it be taken by those suffering from nausea and vomiting, or those with pre-existing liver or kidney disorders. This may be a good place to stress that self-experimentation with medicinal herbs is dangerous. As with all medicines, herbal remedies should be taken only under the advice of a qualified practitioner.
Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.
Photographs taken at Alma Bay 2010, 2012
Page last updated
13th October 2016