This section is from the book "A Text Book Of Materia Medica, Being An Account Of The More Important Crude Drugs Of Vegetable And Animal Origin", by Henry G. Greenish. Also available from Amazon: A Text Book of Materia Medica : Being an Account of the More Important Crude Drugs of Vegetable and Animal Origin.
The lignum vitae or guaiacum wood of commerce is derived from Guaiacum officinale, Linne, and G. sanctum, Linne (N.O. Zygophylleoe), both evergreen trees, the former a native of the West Indian Islands and the north coast of South America, the latter of southern Florida and the Bahamas. Both occur in Cuba and Hayti, whence the wood is largely exported. The Spaniards became acquainted with the drug when they conquered San Domingo; it was soon brought to Europe, where it acquired an immense reputation in the sixteenth century as a cure for syphilis and certain other diseases, the resin extracted from the trunk being introduced subsequently.
The trees are felled, the bark stripped off, and the wood exported in logs varying commonly from 1 to 2 metres in length and from 10 to 50 cm. in thickness.
The logs are exceedingly hard, heavy, and compact, and consist of a dark greenish brown heartwood surrounded by a yellowish sapwood. The exterior is yellowish brown in colour and either smooth or furrowed, the furrows being oblique and varying in direction (corresponding to the arrangement of the wood fibres in the wood).
The medullary rays, which can be seen under a lens, are narrow, straight, and closely approximated; the vessels are distinct, usually single, and arranged in concentric zones.