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Cinchona pubescens - flowers
Cinchona pubescens - flowers
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Gentianales
Family: Rubiaceae
Genus: Cinchona
L. 1753

about 25 species; see text

Cinchona is a genus of about 25 species in the family Rubiaceae, native to tropical South America. They are large shrubs or small trees growing to 5-15 metres tall with evergreen foliage.

Cinchona pubescens - fruit

The leaves are opposite, rounded to lanceolate, 10-40 cm long. The flowers are white, pink or red, produced in terminal panicles. The fruit is a small capsule containing numerous seeds.

The name of the genus is due to Linnaeus, who named the tree in 1742 after a Countess of Chinchon, the wife of a viceroy of Peru, who, in 1638, was introduced by natives to the medicinal properties of the bark. Stories of the medicinal properties of this bark, however, are perhaps noted in journals as far back as the 1560s-1570s (see the Ortiz link below).

Cinchona species are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species including The Engrailed, The Commander, and members of the genus Endoclita including E. damor, E. purpurescens and E. sericeus.


  • Cinchona antioquiae L.Andersson (1998).
  • Cinchona asperifolia Wedd. (1848).
  • Cinchona barbacoensis H.Karst. (1860).
  • Cinchona × boliviana Wedd. (1848).
  • Cinchona calisaya Wedd. (1848).
  • Cinchona capuli L.Andersson (1994).
  • Cinchona fruticosa L.Andersson (1998).
  • Cinchona glandulifera Ruiz & Pav. (1802).
  • Cinchona hirsuta Ruiz & Pav. (1799).
  • Cinchona krauseana L.Andersson (1998).
  • Cinchona lancifolia Mutis (1793).
  • Cinchona lucumifolia Pav. ex Lindl. (1838).
  • Cinchona macrocalyx Pav. ex DC. (1829).
  • Cinchona micrantha Ruiz & Pav. (1799).
  • Cinchona mutisii Lamb. (1821).
  • Cinchona nitida Ruiz & Pav. (1799).
  • Cinchona officinalis L. (1753): Quinine Bark
  • Cinchona parabolica Pav. in J.E.Howard (1859).
  • Cinchona pitayensis (Wedd.) Wedd. (1849).
  • Cinchona pubescens Vahl (1790) : Quinine Tree
  • Cinchona pyrifolia L.Andersson (1998).
  • Cinchona rugosa Pav. in J.E.Howard (1859).
  • Cinchona scrobiculata Humb. & Bonpl. (1808).
  • Cinchona villosa Pav. ex Lindl. (1838).

Cinchona alkaloids

Cinchona alkaloids
Cinchona alkaloids

The bark of trees in this genus are the source of a variety of alkaloids, the most familiar of which is quinine, an anti-fever agent especially useful in treating malaria.

Cinchona alkaloids such as quinine (R = vinyl, R' = methoxy), cinchonidine (R = vinyl, R' = hydrogen) and dihydroquinidine & dihydroquinine (enantiomers with R = ethyl, R' = methoxy) and find use in organic chemistry as organocatalysts in asymmetric synthesis.

Medicinal use

The medicinally active bark, which is stripped from the tree, dried and powdered, includes other alkaloids that are closely related to quinine but react differently in treating malaria. As a medicinal herb, cinchona bark is also known as Jesuit's bark or Peruvian bark.

The plants are cultivated in their native South America, and also in other tropical regions, notably in India and Java.


19th century illustration of Cinchona calisaya

The Italian botanist Pietro Castelli wrote a pamphlet noteworthy as being the first Italian publication that mentions the cinchona. By the 1630s (or 1640s, depending on the reference), the bark was being exported to Europe. In the late 1640s, the method of use of the bark was noted in the Schedula Romana, and in 1677 the use of the bark was noted in the London Pharmacopoeia.

The legend says that the first European ever to be cured from malaria fever was the wife of the Spanish Viceroy, the countess of Chinchon. The court physician was summoned and urged to save the countess from the wave of fever and chill which was proving fatal for her. Every effort failed to relieve her from this ailed condition. At last the court physician collected a medicine from the local Indians, that grew on the Andes mountain slopes. They had been using this medicine for similar syndromes. The medicine was given to her and surprisingly she survived the malarial attack. When she returned to Europe in the 1640s, she reportedly brought the bark with her.

In 1753 Carolus Linnaeus named the bark Cinchona after the countess of Chinchon. The story of the cure of the countess, however, is doubtful.

Charles II called upon Mr Robert Talbor, who had become famous for his miraculous malaria cure. Because at that time the bark was in religious controversy, Talbor gave the king the bitter bark decoction in great secrecy. The treatment gave the king complete relief from the malaria fever. In return, he was offered membership of the prestigious Royal College of Physicians.

In 1679 Talbor was called by the King of France, Louis XIV, whose son was suffering from malaria fever. After a successful treatment, Talbor was rewarded by the king with 3,000 gold crowns. At the same time he was given a lifetime pension for this prescription. Talbor was requested to keep the entire episode secret.

After the death of Talbor, the French king found this formula : six drahm of rose leaves, two ounces of lemon juice and a strong decoction of the chinchona bark served with wine. Wine was used because some alkaloids of the cinchona bark are not soluble in water, but soluble in wine.

The birth of homoeopathy was based on quinine testing. The founder of homoeopathy, Dr. Samuel Hahnemann, when translating the Cullen's Materia medica, noticed that Dr. Cullen wrote that quinine cures malaria and can also produce malaria. Dr. Hahnemann took daily a large non-homeopathic dose of quinine bark. After two weeks, he said he felt malaria-like symptoms. This idea of "like cures like" was the starting point of his writing on "Homoeopathy".

History of cultivation

The bark was very valuable to Europeans in expanding their access to and exploitation of resources in far off colonies, and at home. Bark gathering was often environmentally destructive, destroying huge expanses of trees for their bark, with difficult conditions for low wages that did not allow the indigenous bark gatherers to settle debts even upon death.[citation needed]


Cinchona has been used for a number of medical reasons such as:

  • Treats malaria
  • Kills parasites
  • Reduces fever
  • Regulates heartbeat
  • Calms nerves
  • Stimulates digestion
  • Kills germs
  • Reduces spasms
  • Kills insects
  • Relieves pain
  • Kills bacteria and fungi
  • Dries secretions

The main reason for its use is to treat malaria, but it is rarely used today as many people think it is dangerous, as it can kill if taken in large amounts.

References and external links

bg:Хининово дърво ca:Quina da:Kinatræ de:Chinarindenbäume eo:Kinkono it:Cinchona qu:Kina-kina