Brazilian Pepper Tree
While the Brazilian pepper tree (Schinus terebinthifolius, Anacardiaceae) has become invasive in Florida, devastating mangrove ecosystems and also affecting scrub and pine habitats.1 In South and Central America, the tree grows naturally and has many traditional food and medicinal uses.2 The shrubby tree can reach 13-32 ft. in height, and produces an abundance of small flowers followed by berry-like fruit in December and January. The tree has a high essential oil content noted for its spicy aroma. Representations of the tree have been found on ancient Chilean Amerindian religious artifacts. In Peru, the pepper-flavored berries are used in syrups, vinegar, and beverages, and are also added to Chilean wines.2
Medicinally, almost all parts of the Brazilian pepper tree (leaves, bark, fruit, seeds, resin, and oleoresin) have been used by indigenous peoples.2 Uses include as an astringent, diuretic, digestive stimulant, tonic, antiviral, and wound healer. The sap is used as a mild laxative in Peru, and the entire plant has been used externally for fractures and as an antiseptic. The oleoresin is also used externally to heal wounds, stop bleeding, and relieve toothaches. The resin is taken internally for rheumatism and as a purgative. In the Brazilian Amazon, a bark-and-leaf tea is used as a stimulant and antidepressant. In Argentina, a dried leaf decoction is taken for menstrual disorders and is used for respiratory and urinary tract infections.2
Current application of Brazilian pepper tree consists primarily as treatment for colds, flu, and other upper respiratory infections. It is also used to treat hypertension, arrhythmia, fungal infections, and menstrual complaints.2 A clinical trial, published in 2013, found that a Brazilian pepper tree mouthwash may reduce inflammation in children with biofilm-induced gingivitis.3
1 Gioeli K, Langeland K. Brazilian pepper tree control. University of Florida IFAS Extension. Available at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/aa219. Accessed October 30, 2013.
2 Taylor L. The Healing Power of Rainforest Herbs. Garden City Park, NY: Square One Publishers; 2005.3Freires IA, Alves LA, Ferreira GLS, Jovito VC, de Castro RD, Cavalcanti AL. A randomized clinical trial of Schinus terebinthifolius mouthwash to treat biofilm-induced gingivitis. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med 2013;2013:873907. doi:10.1155/2013/873907.