- Rattlesnake Bean
Cedron (scientific name Simaba cedron) is a plant from the Simarubaceae family (quassia) that also includes Quassia amara, also known as the bitter wood. It is a rare and quite unknown herb, believed to have its origin in Colombia or a region in Central America.
It is a small and unremarkable tree but its seeds have very important medicinal properties. Interesting enough, the plant has been exported outside of its native range in the Equatorial and Central American areas and can be found as an ornamental plant in gardens all around the world. However, its medicinal benefits are usually ignored and it’s just used as a landscape plant. In its native range, it remains to this day an important ingredient in traditional medicine.
Cedron is a small plant, with large feather-sized leaves. It has numerous thin leaflets with an elliptical shape, and very large groups of flowers, which can reach an impressive size of 3-4 feet. The fruit is about the same size as a goose egg and grows alone. One of its features is that it contains a single seed, with the remaining four cells being empty. The fruit has some interesting characteristics: when ripe it has a powerful aroma that resembles the one of coconuts, even if the taste is actually very different. It looks like a very big almond and has the same very hard and strong texture, with a pale color usually close to yellow. Despite the compact flesh, cutting the fruit is not difficult. The taste is very bitter and odourless, very similar to the taste of its relative the bitter wood fruit.
The substance popularly known as cedron can be extracted from the seed of the fruit. For a long time, it has been cultivated in its native range in South America only for this purpose, the medicinal properties of the seed being highly valued. These benefits are unknown and almost never used in other parts of the world. In Central America, it was used to treat snake bites, which was very useful given the large number of deadly snakes in the area.
Fruits, leaves, seeds.
The most useful part of cedron is the seed inside its fruit. It has been used for hundreds of years to treat several serious diseases. The seed retains its medicinal properties in any form or state and can be used fresh or dried, whole or cut to pieces and also grounded like a powder or processed in other ways. Even if the taste become more and more bitter as the seed dries out, it remains therapeutically powerful.
In traditional medicine, the seed has always been used as a potent cure for fever. Usually, the flesh is razed off the fresh fruits and the seed is scraped. These scrapes are decocted or infused in hot water to produce a mixture that is taken once per hour in order to stop fever, or even at faster intervals if the symptoms are really severe. For chills or low-temperature fevers, small doses or infusions with a low concentration of seed can be used. However, for strong fevers with high temperature, a full-strength decoction is recommended. Due to this effect, it might have been employed in the past as a treatment for malaria. Besides reducing fever, it also prevents diseases from reappearing. It can also treat a host of other diseases, according to the experience of herbalists.
Modern research has validated the use of cedron as an agent against intermittent fever, as well as its ability to break the cycle of periodic diseases. In its native range, the locals continue to be extremely convinced of its efficacy against snake bites and other types of poison and venom. Most of them still have a small quantity of cedron seeds with them when they travel through the jungle. They use it in two ways against snake bites: a mixture of seeds with boiled water is applied directly on the wound, while another small dose of seeds is ingested with water or alcohol.
If brewed as a tea, cedron has several benefits. It has a moderate tonic effect, being full of minerals and bioactive compounds that can lift human morale. It relaxes the nerves and can stimulate neural activity, improving overall mood. This makes it useful in mild cases of depression. Another medical use of the tea is as a cure for digestion problems. It can cure diarrhea, flatulence and even hemorrhoids, while having an overall calming effect on the stomach.
Even if all parts of the plant are very bitter, including the seeds, the tea is actually tasty. It is a nice drink, in addition to its health benefits, and is very close in taste to lemon tea, or other citrus fruits.
In Southern and Central America, a beverage made from cedron was a very popular light drink. Prepared as decoct, it was believed to have both tonic and medicinal properties. Natives were convinced that it could boost appetite and digestion, at the same time increasing the production of bile in the body, because of its very bitter taste. It was also considered to be a cure for liver or other internal organs. In time, people began to believe it could cure any digestive or internal issue, from light indigestion to urinary trouble or even dysentery.
From the cedron plant, the only part that was consumed as food by the Native Americans was the fruit. However, this decreased a lot over time and rarely happens today. By contract, many parts of cedron have found medicinal uses, besides the seeds. A decoct can be prepared from the fresh leaves and used as a digestive both before and after a meal, since it can facilitate intestinal transit. In tribal medicine, a stronger potion made from the fresh leaves was employed to stimulate or increase menstrual flow. Another use for the leaves, in both human and animal medicine, was a cure for parasites like mange and a killer of fleas, mites or ticks. The bark also has the ability to boost menstrual flow but was more widely used to kill intestinal worms and even as a primitive insecticide. A powder made from the dry bark was believed to kill all types of parasites, both internal (when ingested or prepared as a tea) and external (when applied on the skin). Old testimonies even suggest that it was used to kill rats and other unwanted rodents. The roots also share most of the plant’s medicinal uses and can counter poison, kill parasites or alleviate allergies.
Strong decocts were considered to have powerful benefits. The main use of the concentrated potion was as an antidote for bites of snakes and other venomous creatures, the locals were absolutely convinced of its powers against poison. It was both ingested and applied externally, directly on the wound, with a soaked piece of cloth. This usage has revealed other medicinal properties, for example when used as an antidote for poison and venom it also provided an overall detoxification of the organism. The locals have also noticed that it reduced high fever and was even useful against convulsions, spasms and other similar problems normally associated with poisoning. When applied externally, people noticed it was effective in the treatment of fractures and bruises, allowing faster healing.
The seeds were used as a tonic or a medicine for a very long time, up until the end of the Victorian era. Authors of that time wrote about cedron’s value in stomach problems, as an antispasmodic, as well as a poison antidote. These mentions validate the testimonies of the natives, who have always believed in the plant’s powers. However, in the Victorian age there were new methods used to prepare the plant. It was often found as a tincture, normally prepared by placing the seeds in alcohol and the adding water, the easiest way to extract the essential compounds.
Side effects and cautions
According to several reports, drinking too much cedron tea can cause severe health problems, including potentially lethal kidney failure. For this reason, it should be avoided completely if you have any kind of kidney problems or diseases.
Women who are pregnant or lactating should always avoid cedron because of its properties as an emmenagogue. By boosting menstruation, the result can be severe problems or even abortion. Small kids, under the age of ten, should also avoid the plant for safety reasons, since its properties have not been fully studied.