I live in Georgia and I love this time of year. In the spring, the azaleas and dogwoods are absolutely gorgeous with beautiful blooms. If you watch the Masters golf tournament, you know how stunning they can be (they bloomed too early for the tournament this year). However, there’s another type of dogwood that many people are promoting as a cure for migraines and neuralgia. But does this dogwood stand up to all the hype?
The dogwood I’m talking about is the Jamaican dogwood. While it’s not to be confused with the American dogwood that I love so much, it is a beautiful tree. But there’s a not-so-beautiful little secret about this tree that you should know before you go and buy it. In its native country of Jamaica, the natives use the leaves of the tree to make a poison that kills fish.
Because of this little secret, the Penn State Hershey Medical Center warns people to avoid the herb. The Center’s website says, “This herb also contains a substance known as rotenone that has been used in insecticides to control lice, fleas, and larvae. Rotenone is believed to be nontoxic to warm blooded animals, including people (when taken orally). Because of the potential danger from Jamaica dogwood, you should never use it without a doctor's close supervision.”
There are times to heed the “never use without a doctor’s close supervision” and there are times when it’s not so crucial. It seems doctors like to say that just to get you to come into their office. But this poisonous plant is one where it’s probably a good idea to work with your doctor. Personally, I wouldn’t take a fish poison unless I knew it was safe for me and my doctor recommended it.
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So why would a doctor recommend Jamaican dogwood? Well, even Penn State says it has its uses: “Jamaican dogwood has been used as a traditional remedy for treating nerve pain, migraine, insomnia, anxiety, fear, and nervous tension. As early as 1844, Western scientists discovered that Jamaica dogwood had pain relieving and sweat promoting properties. More recent scientific studies have also shown that bark extracts of this plant have anti-inflammatory, sedative, and antispasmodic (helps relieve smooth muscle spasms along the digestive tract) effects in animals.”
Of course, this is the same information you’ll find on about a hundred different websites. So what’s the real evidence. Honestly, it’s hard to find. Most of the information we have on Jamaican dogwood is anecdotal folk medicine. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. But I like to see studies confirming the stories. And most of the studies on Jamaican dogwood were not done on humans.
For instance, one study looked at the impact of Jamaican dogwood on the central nervous system in mice. When the researchers gave the mice an oral dose it produced immediate effects. It also calmed the mice down considerably. Notice it didn’t kill the mice. They found that it did work for nerve pain and joint pain.
One study I found particularly interesting was from Guatemala. These researchers found that Jamaican dogwood can kill skin infections — including fungal infections. But again, this was in test tubes, not on people. Still, if you have fungal infections on your skin, such as under your toes, you might want to try Jamaican dogwood.
Other studies say this can work just as effectively for migraines and other forms of pain. It might. But we need more studies. If you want to try it, make sure you talk to your integrative physician first. We don’t want you to end up like the fish.
Your insider for better health,
Steve Kroening is the editor of Nutrient Insider, a twice-a-week email newsletter that brings you the latest healing breakthroughs from the world of nutrition and dietary supplements. For over 20 years, Steve has worked hand-in-hand with some of the nation's top doctors, including Drs. Robert Rowen, Frank Shallenberger, Nan Fuchs, William Campbell Douglass, and best-selling author James Balch. Steve is the author of the book Practical Guide to Home Remedies. As a health journalist, Steve's articles have appeared in countless magazines, blogs, and websites.
Caceres A, Lopez BR, Giron MA, Logemann H. Plants used in Guatemala for the treatment of dermatophytic infections. 1. Screening for antimycotic activity of 44 plant extracts. J Ethnopharmacol. 1991;51(5):263-276.
Della Loggia, R, Tubaro A, Redaelli C. Evaluation of the activity on the mouse CNS of several plant extracts and a combination of them. J Ethnopharmacol. 1991;31:263-276.