This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V23", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
In recent issues of the Gardener's Monthly, I notice with much pleasure the notes on Cinchona. It is a true and well known fact that the consumption of quinine of late years has increased to such an enormous extent, that the demand has exceeded by far the supply; owing also to a great destruction of the quinine trees in the South American forests by the most reckless manner of gathering the bark by Indians. At the so frequent raging fevers in East Indies and Australia, thousands of people have perished only for want of quinine, being not able to pay the enormous prices charged for this valuable drug. It is not so many years back since the Royal Gardens, Kew, had sent men to South America to collect the seeds of cinchona for the plantations in India and Ceylon, and therefore the satisfactory results gained of them are indeed worthy of our admiration, attention and consideration, as the reduction of the high price of quinine in the market has proved already a great alleviation to suffering humanity.
Whether quinine will ever replace opium in the trade with China, undoubtedly remains as yet a question of time. The young and thriving plantations of quinine trees, belong to Mauritus, Queensland, (Australia) and the Island of St. Helena. The gray bark Cinchona Peruviana and the crown bark, Cinchona officinalis, are less cultivated, but mostly the red bark - Cinchona succirubra of Ecuador. The hard cartagena (Cinchona cordifolia) and Cinchona condaminea, all grow very luxuriantly and seem more adapted to the climate of these countries, than the first named ones. In Mauritus and Queensland the plants were grown mostly from imported seed from Ceylon and India, while at St. Helena, the plants - over a thousand - were sent, I believe, direct from the Royal Gardens, Kew. The quinine bark is found in commerce in pieces of different sizes; some are rolled up in thick short quills, and others are flat; the outside is generally brownish, and has sometimes a whitish moss on it, the inside of a yellowish, reddish, or rusty iron color. To the trade it is astringent and bitter, having advantage over other bitters in being aromatic; the best sort is very bitter, resinous, breaks short and smooth, and is easily reduced to powder.
The action of quinine on dead animal matter is antiseptic; on the living body it acts as a stimulant tonic and antispasmodic. The way of collecting the quinine bark in Peru is, perhaps, as follows. On the long chain of mountains extending to the north and south of Loxa, the trees are growing abundantly, generally in a red clayey or rocky ground on banks of small rivers, the trunks frequently exceeding a man's body in size. The proper time for cutting the bark is from September to November, the only period of considerable intermission of rain. Having made a road from the nearest plantation in the low lands to the spot where the trees abound, huts are built for the workmen, and a large hut for the bark. Each Indian is provided with a large knife and a bag to hold fifty pounds of green bark; he cuts down the bark as high as he can reach from the ground, and then fastens a stick about half a yard long with tough withes to the tree, like the steps of a ladder, fixing a new step higher every time the bark is sliced off, thus ascending to the top, while another Indian gathers up below what is cut. Care is taken not to cut the bark wet.
The moist bark is immediately carried to the low country to dry, spread in the open air and frequently turned, otherwise it loses its color, turns black and rots. As the trees perish generally soon after they have been stripped of their entire bark, it is no wonder that through this reckless system a considerable scarcity of them has been apprehended of late, and even a complete exhaustion feared. Of trees possessing a bark with similar properties to quinine, there are the Picraona excelsa, the bitter wood of Jamaica, and the Alstonia constricta (Apocyneae) and Petalostigma quadriloculare (Ephorbiacea) of Queensland, Australia; the bark of this tree produces an intensely powerful bitter, and is said to contain the same qualities as the genuine quinine. The Alstonia constricta and A. scholaris, a guttapercha yielding tree of Ceylon are largely cultivated in Queensland on account of their peculiar qualities. There are also a few Cinchonas in culture for their pretty foliage and flowers in European hot-houses, as C. Caribea, C. floribunda, C. Jamaicensis, C. montana of the Caribbee Islands, C. longiflora of St. Domingo, and C. remijana and C. Hilarii of Brazil. All of them produce the so called mock quinine bark of commerce.