Lignum Vitae

Wood of Life

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Guaiacum Sanctum (Zygophyllaceae)

The Lignum Vitae tree is indigenous to the Caribbean and the north coast of South America. The "true" Lignum Vitae grows in Jamaica and has been adopted as the official Jamaican national flower. The name is Latin for "Wood of Life" because of it's medicinal uses. Other names for this tree are: guayacan, guaiacum, or pockholz in some parts of Europe.

Medicinal Uses:

The native people of Jamaica use the bark to make a medicinal tea. This tea, rich in the tree's resin, contained two very active compounds: guaiaconic acid and guaiaretic acid. These two compounds are highly potent anti-inflammatory agents as well as local stimulants. This combination of properties makes for good blood flow to affected areas which brings more nutrients and white blood cells. The Jamaicans used this tea to cure common tropical ailments while European explorers used it as a topical remedy to treat gout, rheumatic joints, and herpes blisters. The resin was also used by both cultures as a local anesthetic for toothaches.

Other uses:

Lignum vitae wood is the densest wood on earth as as such has many uses other than medicinal. Before plastics were invented, it was machined to make very durable tools and British police truncheons. Its resin gives it natural lubricative and waterproofing qualities which make it perfect for nautical shaft bearings and hydroelectric turbine bearings. It's still used today on nuclear submarines. The characteristic yellow and green grain is also used in wood art.


• Nicholls, R. (2009, January 1). HerbalGram: Medicinal Trees of the US Virgin Islands and Neighboring Islands. Retrieved December 3, 2014, from

• Gilman, E., & Watson, D. (1993, November 1). Guaiacum Sanctum: Lignumvitae. Retrieved December 3, 2014, from

• Levetin, E., & McMahon, K. (2012). Plants & Society (6th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Companies.

• Sadava, D., Hillis D., Heller H., Berenbaum M. (2012). Life: the science of biology (10th ed.). New York: W. H. Freeman.