Presented by: UT El Paso / Austin Cooperative Pharmacy Program & Paso del Norte Health Foundation

West Indian Elm

Compilation by Armando Gonzalez Stuart, PhD.

Scientific Name:

Guazuma ulmifolia

Botanical Family:


Other Common Name:

Ajillá, Bastard cedar, Gunstock, Hay cedar, Jackocalaloo, Pricklenut, Bois De L’Orme, Bois de hetre, Bwa Dom, Guazuma, Guácima, Cuaulote, Caulote, Contamal, Huásimo, Mawo baba, Moena, Mutamba, Papayillo, Pixoy (Quattrocchi, 2012; Longuefosse, 2007; Martínez, 1994; White, 2002; Sánchez-Monge, 2001).

Common names in Spanish:

Bolaina negra, Bolita, Cabeza de negro, Cabeza de negrito, Caca de mico, Coco, Cerezo, Chicharrón, Guácimo blanco, Guácimo cimarrón, Guácimo de caballo, Guácimo dulce, Guácimo de ternero, Llucho vainilla, Majagua de toro, Tablote, Tapaculo, Yaco de granadillo, Yaco de venado (Quattrocchi, 2012; Mendoza-Castelán and Lugo-Pérez, 2011; White, 2002; Sánchez-Monge, 2001; Martínez, 1994; Torkelson, 1996; Liogier, 1974).

Where is it found?

This medium-size to tall tree grows in the tropical and subtropical regions Mexico, as well as Latin America (including some Caribbean countries), and India (Quattrocchi, 2012; Mabberley, 2008; Johnson, 1999; Martínez, 1994; Nunez-Melendez, ).

Parts of the plant used:

The leaves, bark, root, flowers, and fruit (Mendoza-Castelán and Lugo-Pérez, 2011; Adame and Adame, 2000).

How is it used?

The bark of the tree and the fruit can be decocted in water to make a tea. The decoction can also be used as a mouthwash or externally as a wash to treat various skin disorders.

What is it used for?

The leaves taken as a tea have antidiabetic properties, and help protect the gastric lining of the stomach (Mendoza-Castelán and Lugo-Pérez, 2011). Decoctions made with the fruit and bark are taken as a tea against syphilis, urinary problems, diarrhea, bronchitis, coughs, colds, malaria, fever, gastritis, rheumatism and problems related to the spleen. A tea made from the leaves is taken to treat gonorrhea, fever, liver and kidney problems, as well as to lose weight. A decoction made for the fruit is taken to treat diarrhea, kidney ailments, and colds. A decoction made with the bark of the root is taken to treat hemorrhoids and dysentery. The tender fruits and branches produce a mucilage (gummy substance) that can be used medicinally, both externally as well as internally (Adam and Adame, 2000; Martínez, 1989). Externally, the decoction of the bark can be applied against leprosy, elephantiasis, ulcerations, and infections (Mendoza-Castelán and Lugo-Pérez, 2011; Mabberley, 2008; Johnson, 1999; Vallejo and Oviedo, 1994).

In the Caribbean region, the tree is valued as an important medicinal and forage plant. A tea made from a decoction of the bark is reputed to have aphrodisiac properties, and is also used externally to treat fractures. The fruit is astringent, but edible for both humans and livestock, and can be applied externally as a poultice to treat skin problems. A decoction of the leaves is used to treat elephantiasis. The tree is also used to treat venereal diseases (syphilis), as well as to treat fever and malaria. A decoction of the bark is used in Venezuela as an emmenagogue (to promote menstruation). A poultice made from the leaves and bark is applied externally to wounds and cuts. The mucilage (gummy substance) from the bark is applied externally for burns and as an enema for the treatment of hemorrhoids and dysentery. A tea made from the flowers is used as a cough and cold remedy. The leaves chopped in rum and the young bark of the tree are applied externally against scratches, cuts, and skin abrasions. The young leaf buds are decocted in water and taken as a tea to treat coughs, colds, and sore throat. The bark and leaves are used as a vaginal wash (douche). The decoction of the bark and leaves is applied externally as a wash to treat baldness (Longuefosse, 2007; Liogier, 1990; Nuñez-Melendez, 1982; Pittier, 1971).

Ethnobotanical research undertaken with G. ulmifolia in Latin America has found that this plant has active ingredients that are active against various species of pathogenic bacteria, and can be useful in treating various gastrointestinal infections in humans (Mendoza-Castelán and Lugo-Pérez, 2011; Caceres et al., 1990). Extracts from the bark of possess various active ingredients that exert important antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, cytotoxic, and antibacterial properties (Lopes et al., 2012; Mendoza-Castelán and Lugo-Pérez, 2011; Kaneria et al., 2009).

Ethanol extracts obtained from the leaves of G. ulmifolia showed significant inhibition against the protozoan parasites Trypanosoma cruzi, Leishmania brasiliensis, and L. infantum. The authors of the study suggested that the extract’s leishmanicidal activity was possibly due to the presence of quercetin, a natural phytochemical known to be a powerful leishmanicidal compound (Calixto Júnior et al. 2016).

The antimicrobial effects of G. ulmifolia was evaluated against various human multi-drug resistant pathogens, including bacterial and fungal species. The results of the study showed that the plant’s bioactive ingredients exerted powerful antimicrobial effects against the infectious species Candida albicans and Acinetobacter lwoffii. The authors if the study concluded that this plant could be an important source of antimicrobial agents for the treatment of human infectious diseases (Jacobo-Salcedo et al., 2011).

G. ulmifolia leaves combined with other plants are used as fodder in various parts of tropical America for ruminants (Castrejón-Pineda et al., 2016; Vallejo and Oviedo, 1994), as well as for rabbits (Safwat et al., 2014).

Safety / Precautions

  • The safety of using products made from this plant (either internally or externally) during pregnancy and lactation has not been established.
  • Avoid taking this plant during pregnancy and lactation.
  • The plant should be taken internally only in moderation, as large doses can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea (Longuefosse, 2007; Vallejo and Oviedo, 1994).

Before you decide to take any medicinal herb or herbal supplement, be sure to consult with a health care professional first. Avoid self-medication and self-diagnosis: Always be on the safe side!


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