Guajava Tree, Guava
Myrtaceae (Myrtle Family)
Forms and Subspecies
There are a number of wild forms and cultivars, which differ primarily in the size of their fruits (Lutterodt and Maleque 1988, 219).
Psidium guajava Raddi
Psidium pomiferum L.
Psidium pyriferum L.
Aci’huit, äh pichib, al-pil-ca (Chontal), arazá, a’sihui’t (Totonac), asiuit, asiwit, bec (Huastec), bek, bijui (Zapotec), bimpish (Shipibo-Conibo), bui, ca’aru (Coya), carú, chak-pichi (Mayan, “red guava”), chalxócotl (Aztec), coloc, cuympatan, djambubaum, enandi (Tarascan), gouyave, guabesbaum, guáibasim (Mayo), guajavabaum, guajava tree, guajave, guajave-apfel, guava,283 guave, guavenbaum, guayaba, guayaba dulce, guayaba manzana, guayaba perulera, guayabilla, guayabilla cimarrona, guayabo, guayabo colorado, guayabo del monte, guayabo de venado, guayabo morada, guayavabaum, guyav, huayabo, jaljocote pichi, jalocote, jukoin papoxtiks, julú, kautonga, kolok, kuava, ku’ava, kuawa (Hawaiian), kuma (Siona), lacow (Huave), mo’eyi (Cuitlatec), ngoaba (Fang), ñi-joh (Chinantec), nulu (Cuna), pachi’, palo de guayabo blanco, pata (Tzotzil), patan, pehui (Zapotec), pichi, pichi’ (Mayan), pichib, pici, pitchcuy, pocs-cuy (Zoque), pojosh (Popoluca), posh-keip (Mixe), potoj, potos, pox (Mixe), poxr, puitá, sacpichi, sahuintu, saiyú, sumbadán (Zoque), tuava, tzon t kichi (Amuzgo), ushca-aru (Tepehuano), vayevavaxi-te (Huichol), vî papalagi, xalácotl (Nahuatl), xalcolotl, xalxócotl, xaxokotl, xaxucotl (Náhutl), xoxococuabitl (Aztec), yagahuií (Zapotec)
The fruits of the guava tree are rich in vitamins. In contrast, the narcotic principle is found in the leaves. (Copperplate engraving from Meister, Der Orientalisch-Indianische Kunst- und Lustgärtner [The Oriental-Indian Art and Pleasure Gardener], 1677)
The plant was originally native from Mexico to Brazil but is now grown throughout the world as a tropical economic plant (Anzeneder et al. 1993, 59*). In Peru, it was already in cultivation by the eighth century B.C.E. (Root 1996, 105*). The first report about the guava tree is contained in Relación de las cosas de Yucatán, written by the Franciscan monk Diego de Landa (1524–1579). One of the earliest botanical descriptions of the tree as well as a copperplate engraving of the fruits were provided by the East Indies traveler George Meister (1677). The chewing of the leaves as a narcotic and diarrhea medicine is well known in the tropics. In contrast, the psychoactive use of the leaves was only recently discovered in Ghana (Lutterodt and Maleque 1988, 220).
The guava tree is apparently originally from Mexico but is now found in all of the tropical zones from Mexico to Peru (Dressler 1953, 154*). It also is planted in other parts of South America (Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina), where it sometimes occurs as a wild or feral plant (Santos Biloni 1990, 222*). It prefers a distinctly tropical climate and has spread throughout the world (Africa, Oceania, Southeast Asia, India).
Propagation occurs through cuttings or seeds. In nature, the seeds are spread by birds, bats, rodents, and humans. The seeds contained in the fruits pass through the digestive tract without harm and are excreted “well fertilized” (Lutterodt and Maleque 1988, 219).
The small, gnarled evergreen tree, which does not grow much taller than 10 meters, has squamous bark and opposite elliptical leaves (5 to 15 cm long, 3 to 6 cm wide). The large white flowers have five petals and have a large number of stamens (up to 275). The fruits (approximately 7.5 cm in length) are initially green but turn yellow and exude a fruity aroma as they mature. The fruits of the wild form contain a great number of seeds and only a little pulp. This situation is reversed in cultivated fruit trees, which develop only a few seeds while producing a great deal of pulp (Lutterodt and Maleque 1988, 219 f.).
The guava tree is easily confused with Psidium acutangulum DC., which also is called guayaba and cultivated for its edible fruits (Vickers and Plowman 1984, 24*).
—Leaves (djambu leaves, djambu folium, folia djambu)
Preparation and Dosage
The fresh leaves are chewed or drunk as a decoction as needed. Overdoses do not appear to occur.
In Southeast Asia, and especially in China, a narcotic Psidium drug is obtained in a very unusual manner. The fresh leaves are fed to insects (walking sticks, praying mantises, especially Hepteropteryx dilata) as their exclusive food. The dung the insects excrete is collected, kneaded into small balls, dried, and stored in an airtight container. When needed, some of these balls are dissolved in hot water and drunk. The wine-colored drink is said to have a “pleasant taste” (Lutterodt 1992, 156).
The tropical fruit tree Psidium guajava has leaves that produce narcotic effects.
Use of the leaves as a psychoactive substance was first observed among the Ga tribes who live near the coast in Ghana. They chew the fresh leaves. It has not been reported whether ritual customs (e.g., communal chewing as a socially integrative element, magical acts, healing ceremonies) are associated with this use. The Ga say that the chewed leaves exert a depressing effect upon the central nervous system that is useful in cases of sleeplessness, and that the leaves also suppress the effects of alcohol (Lutterodt and Maleque 1988, 220).
In the Philippines, the bark is chewed in betel quids as a substitute for areca nuts (Areca catechu) (Hartwich 1911, 529*).
In many traditional medicine systems, the leaves are used as an analgesic, a neuroleptic, and an agent for treating diarrhea (including that caused by cholera) (Lutterodt 1992, 151). However, folk medical knowledge of the beneficial effects of the leaves as a diarrhea medicine (which have been pharmacologically confirmed) is not as widespread as one might assume (Lutterodt 1992, 155).
In Hawaii, the fresh young leaves are chewed and swallowed to treat diarrhea (Krauss 1981, 24*). An infusion of the leaves is used for the same purpose in Trinidad (Wong 1976, 133*).
The Yucatec Maya drink a decoction made from the bark or the leaves to treat diarrhea (Pulido S. and Serralta P. 1993, 46*). In Belize, a tea made from the leaves is gargled to treat mouth sores and bleeding gums. A decoction of nine leaves and nine young fruits (boiled for twenty minutes) is drunk three times daily before meals in cases of diarrhea, dysentery, upset stomach, and colds (Arvigo and Balick 1994, 121*).
In South America, teas made from the leaves are drunk to treat digestive disorders (Anzeneder et al. 1993, 59*). In Chile and Peru, the leaves are chewed to strengthen the teeth (Schultes 1980, 110*). In Panama, the leaves are chewed for toothaches (Lutterodt and Maleque 1988, 220).
The Fang of central Africa use the leaves to make an anthelmintic juice (Akendengué 1992, 169*). In Samoa, the leaves are used as a cough medicine and as an antidote for all types of poisonings (Uhe 1974, 22*).
The leaves contain some 10% tannin, β-sitosterol, maslenic acid, guaijavolic acid, essential oil (chiefly caryophyllene, along with β-bisabolene, aromadendrene, β-selinene, nerolidiol, caryophyllene oxide, sel-11-en-4a-ol, and eugenol), triterpenoids (oleanolic, ursolic, crategolic, and guaijavolic acids),284 a quercetin derivative, guaijaverin (= 3-α-l-arabopyranoside), and several unidentified substances (Argueta et al. 1994, 711*; Lutterodt and Maleque 1988, 220; Wong 1976, 133*). The glycoside quercetin285 and its derivative (quercetin-3-arabinoside) are regarded as the primary active constituents (responsible for the narcotic effects) (Lutterodt and Maleque 1988, 229).
In an earlier study, guava leaves were found to contain the polyphenols quercetin, guaijaverin, leucocyanidin, and amritsoside (Seshadri and Vashishta 1965). Opiates (opium alkaloids) and cannabinoids (cf. THC) have not been detected (Lutterodt 1992, 152).
The fruit contains large amounts of vitamins (A, B, C), about two to three times as much as an orange (Arvigo and Balick 1994, 121*).
Animal experiments using a leaf extract demonstrated a distinct morphinelike effect as a result of inhibition of acetylcholine release (cf. morphine). This effect was likely produced by the quercetin contained in the leaves (Lutterodt 1989 and 1992, 152). The active constituent does not appear to bind to the opioid receptors and is not thought to have any “addictive potential” (Lutterodt and Maleque 1988, 225). Toxic effects and overdoses are unknown (Argueta et al. 1994, 711*).
A hot-water extract of dried leaves has antibacterial effects upon Sarcina lutea, Staphylococcus aureus, and Mycobacterium phlei. An aqueous extract of the fresh leaves has fungicidal effects (Arvigo and Balick 1994, 121*).
Commercial Forms and Regulations
Guava leaves are sometimes found as ingredients in tea mixtures (stomach teas) sold in pharmacies (Pahlow 1993, 437*).
Whether the psychedelic underground duo Ween named their debut album Pure Guava for the narcotic effects of guava leaves or used the fruits as a symbol for other substances is something the listener must decide. (CD cover 1992, Electra Records)
“Xalxocotl—Guajava-apple The Xalxocotl tree has thin foliage, sparse foliage. Its wood is brown-red on the surface. Its branches fall off. Its fruit is pale, dark yellow, delicate, very delicate, grainy. Its heart is like sand. They are round; it is sweet-sour. It makes one belch, makes one’s teeth dull, increases the flow of saliva. My teeth are dull. My saliva is flowing. I am becoming sour. My teeth are dull.”
BERNARDINO DE SAHAGUN FLORENTINE CODEX (11.6)
Brieskorn, Carl Heinz, Klaus Münzhuber, and Gerhard Unger. 1975. Crataegolsäure und Steroidglukoside aus Blütenknospen von Syzygium aromaticum. Phytochemistry 14:2308–9.
Cheng, J. T., and R. S. Yang. 1983. Hypoglycemic effects of guava juice in mice and human subjects. American Journal of Chinese Medicine 11 (1–4): 74–76.
Khadem, H. el-, and Y. S. Mohammed. 1958. Constituents of the leaves of Psidium guajava. II: Quercetin, avicularin and guaijaverin. Journal of the Chemical Society (London): 3320–23.
Lutterodt, George D. 1989. Inhibition of gastrointestinal release of acetylcholine by quercetin as a possible mode of action of Psidium guajava leaf extracts in the treatment of acute diarrhoeal disease. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 25:235–47.
———. 1992. Inhibition of Microlax*-induced experimental diarrhoea with narcotic-like extracts of Psidium guajava leaf in rats. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 37:151–57.
Lutterodt, George D., and Abdul Maleque. 1988. Effects on mice locomotor activity of a narcotic-like principle from Psidium guajava leaves. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 24:219–31.
Osman, A. M., M. E. Younes, and A. E. Sheta. 1974. Triterpenoids of the leaves of Psidium guajava. Phytochemistry 13:2015–16.
Seshadri, T. R., and K. Vasishta. 1965. Polyphenols of the leaves of Psidium guajava—quercetin, guaijaverin, leucocyanidin and amritsoside. Phytochemistry 4:989–92.