Georgia Fever Bark

Fever in the Wiregrass

In the days when pioneers of Ray City, Georgia  fought with Indians, panthers and wolves  they also fought with fever.  Whether it was malaria, typhoid fever, or “intermittent” fever, the real causes were little known and the effective treatments were few.

One pioneer fever remedy was Georgia Fever Bark.

“In bottom lands the soil is richer and colored almost black by decayed leaves and other vegetation, and the growth is poplar, cypress, and titi, with some pine and “fever tree” or “Georgia fever bark.” It was valued in the South throughout the Civil War and afterwards remained in the pharmacopeia of local doctors.  Later, in the Spanish-American War, Georgia men were recruited into special units, called the Immunes, to fight in Cuba because they were thought to be immune to malaria.

Pinckneya pubens

Pinckneya pubens

In 1833 in The dispensatory of the United States of America , Dr. George B. Wood and Dr. Franklin Bache of Philadelphia wrote about the use of the Georgia Fever Bark, Pinckneya Pubens, to treat intermittent fever.

PINCKNEYA PUBENS. Michaux. A large shrub or small tree, growing in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, in low and moist places along the sea coast. It is closely allied, in botanical characters, to the Cinchone, with which it was formerly ranked by some botanists. The bark is bitter, and has been used with advantage in intermittent fever. Dr. Law, of Georgia, cured six out of seven cases in which he administered it. The dose and mode of preparation are the same with those of cinchona. The chemical composition and medical properties of this bark deserve a fuller investigation than they have yet received.

John C. Gifford related a story on the use of Georgia Bark, also known as Florida Quinine, during the Civil War.

“Intermittent fevers were common throughout the South, and  among many bitter barks the Florida-quinine, or Georgia-fever-bark, was a common household remedy. The bark was soaked in rum, and at regular intervals the family and slaves lined up for their proper doses. Down on the Keys prince-wood bark was used. Both belong to the quinine family and have been almost exhausted. Dr. Perrine introduced the first powdered quinine into this country from France. Without this quinine exploration of the tropics would have been much delayed. It is still necessary in many places. During the Civil War the supply of quinine and other drugs was short in the South, and my friend, Dr. Charles Mohr of Mobile,  now dead, was delegated to find substitutes in our own fields and woods. In this line he was very successful, and we have many things  now  not used, quite as good as articles imported from foreign parts. We need to study what the Indians and early settlers knew before it is too late.

Five Plants Essential to the Indians
and Early Settlers of Florida
 by JOHN C. GIFFORD

Florida-quinine.
Bitter barks have been used for many years in all parts of the tropics for the control of intermittent fevers. For this purpose the plants belonging to the madder family have long been famous. Various forms of malaria constitute our worst tropical diseases, and according to recent reports are actually on the increase. There is general agreement as to the efficiency of quinine, but we must bear in mind that manufacturers will insist that there is no substitute for it, although in time past it was criminally adulterated by many dealers. Some doctors in self-defense used the crude powdered Peruvian bark. The first powdered quinine was introduced into this country from France about a century ago by Dr. Henry Perrine of Florida fame. In fact, it was poor quinine that had much to do with the passage of the Pure Drugs Law. Quinine has always been scarce in wartime. This same feeling existed during the Civil War in this country when importations from foreign parts were seriously curtailed. My old friend Dr. Charles Mohr, a druggist in Mobile, worked for a long time for suitable native substitutes for imported drugs during the Civil War and for quinine he used the bark of the Georgia-fever-tree. The tree long famous for this purpose was Pinckneya pubens, Georgia-bark, fever-bark, maiden’s-blushes, or Florida-quinine. The tree was named for Charles C. Pinckney, the revolutionary patriot of South Carolina. Pubens means hairy and it is sometimes referred to as the pubescent Pinckneya. It has showy flowers, white, tinted with red. It is a little tree growing in the swamps, but now very scarce. Professors Coker and Totten in their excellent book on the trees of the Southeastern United States say that “Pinckneya is a close relative of the cinchona tree of South America that furnishes the quinine of commerce and probably contains the same curative element, as its effectiveness in curing malaria has been repeatedly proved.”

Years ago at regular intervals the slaves on the plantation were lined up and required to take their dose of fever-bark soaked in rum.

The writer is certain from experience that not only quinine but several other bitter barks are excellent preventatives of malarias of various kinds.  The amoebae that cause them do not flourish in the body of a person saturated with these bitter drugs.

 

According to David H. Rembert, author of The Botanical Explorations of William Bartram in the Southeast, it was during the spring and summer of 1773 when William Bartram was travelling through Georgia making observations and collecting plant specimens that   Bartram made a painting, now lost, of the plant Pinckneya pubens

Also at the same time William Bartram identified Franklinia in the Altamaha River Valley of Georgia, he discovered a plant that he placed in the genus Bignonia. This plant today is known as the Georgia Fever Tree or the Feverbark tree and was correctly identified by Andre Michaux in his publication in 1803. Michaux named the plant Pinckneya for Charles Coatsworth Pinckney of Charleston. This plant was a very important species during the Civil War and it was used as a substitute for quinine, being very closely related to the Chinchona tree of Peru. It is from this Peruvian species that we get the extract quinine for the treatment of malaria.”

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