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Botanical Description & Habitat

Quillaja saponaria


Common Names

China bark
Murillo bark
Panama bark
Soap bark
Soap tree


Large, evergreen tree with shiny thick leaves.


Indigenous to South America where "quillean" means to wash; cultivated in India and California.

Medicinal Parts

Inner bark.

Historical Properties & Uses

Not Recommended for internal use. Quillaia bark, otherwise known as soap tree, is just that, up to 10% saponin surfactants. It is used for washing clothes in South America, and is used in the manufacture of commercial soaps.

Used medicinally, Quillaia bark is a fairly dangerous substance as it can, among other things (see toxicity), depress the heart in large doses. In small amounts it is approved for food use even in the United States.

In South America quillaia bark is used in mouthwashes, shampoos and tooth powders to promote the growth of hair, dry up itchy scalp, get rid of dandruff, sterilize tissues, etc. It is also used in vaginal douches, and to treat skin sores, athlete's foot and cough.

Method of Action

Quillaia bark has good Emulsifying Action
Quillaia bark contains 10% saponin glycosides, quillaic acid and quillaiasapotoxin. These saponins are responsible for the detergent and emulsifying actions of the bark.

The British Herbal Pharmacopoeia recognizes Quillaia bark as a mucosal irritant, nauseant, emulsifying agent and expectorant, formerly used in the treatment of bronchial congestion. Combined with myrrh, lungwort, hyssop and mullein in bronchitis.

Quillaia bark and Immunology
Saponins have received considerable attention lately as enhancers of non-specific immunity. The saponins of Quillaia bark have been used in several studies designed to understand the specific mode of action of saponins on the immune system.

Saponins exhibit surface-activity and have been shown to bind to cholesterol in cell membranes to form circular lesions which would initiate the immune response. The target cell in the immune system is postulated to be the macrophage or antigen-presenting cell which is stimulated to release IL-1.

It should be noted the purified extracts of Quillaia bark do not exhibit the many side effects of the native bark, when administered at therapeutic doses.

Drug Interactions & Precautions

Possible Interactions
Quillaia and sparteine may have synergistic oxytocic activity.

Safety Factors & Toxicity

Sapotoxin is highly toxic in large doses.

In large doses Quillaia bark depresses the heart and respiration, and even in reasonable doses can be hemolytic and irritating to gastrointestinal tract, making it an agent of questionable value for internal application. Large doses can also produce liver damage, convulsion and coma.

Preparation & Administration

Read data on toxicity before using. Suggest using only under medical supervision.

Liquid Extract
Use 0.125-0.25ml

Use 2.505ml

Note: This Herbal Preparation information is a summary of data from books and articles by various authors. It is not intended to replace the advice or attention of health care professionals.


British Herbal Pharmacopoeia, British Herbal Medicine Association, 1983.

Duke, J.A. CRC Handbook of Medicinal Herbs, CRC Press, Inc., Boca Raton, Florida, 1985.

Facts and Comparisons. The Lawrence Review of Natural Products. Mar, 1994.

Kensil, CR et al., Separation and characterization od saponins with adjuvant activity from Quillaja saponaria Molina cortex. J. Immunol. 1991, 146:431.

Maharaj, I., K.J. Froh & J.B. Campbell. Immune responses of mice to inactivated vaccine administered orally - potentiation by quillaia saponin. Canadian Journal of Microbiology, 32, 414, 1986.

Mowrey, Daniel B., Ph.D. Exper. Psych., Brigham Young University. Director of Nebo Institute of Herbal Sciences. Director of Behavior Change Agent Training Institute. Director of Research, Nova Corp.

Scott, M.T., et.al. Adjuvant activity of saponin - antigen localization studies. Int. Archs. Allergy Appl. Immun. 77, 409, 1985.

Varshney, I.P., M.F.A. Beg & A.V.P. Sankaram. Saponins and sapongenins from quillaia saponaria. Fitoterapia, 56, 254, 1985.


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