When Malaria struck Europe, and was soon carried over to the New World, there was no known treatment for the disease. Remarkably, a natural substance known as Quinine was discovered. There are multiple legends that contribute to how Quinine was first found; but the legends all suggest that the
A stem of quinine from the Cinchona tree
natives of the New World played a signifcant role in the quinine discovery. When quinine was discovered and became a widely-used remedy, it carried on to be the only compelling treatment Malaria until the 1920's.

History: The Legend of the Countess of Chinchon

Many beleive that the native Quechua Indians of Peru and Bolivia were truly the first to come upon the medical powers of the "Cinchona" tree, the key figure in Malaria treatment. In Europe, a legend suggests that the Countess of Chinchon visted Peru in the 1630's with a group of Jesuit missionaries. While there she contracted a Malarial-related fever. The native Peruvians cured her with the bark of a tree. In 1638, The Countess of Cinchon brought the quinine bark back to Europe. Some time during the 1640's, quinine becamame a regularly used medication method, and was for sale to the public in 1658.
The Countess of Chinchon (painted by Goya)
In 1742, after examining the bark, botanist Carol Linnaeus named the healing tree "The Cinchona tree" in the Countess' honor.

Other Legends
As goes for many legends, this one is somewhat faulty. Another legend suggests that in the Andean Mountian range in South America, a man became sick with a fever. He stumbled upon a random pool of water and drank from it. The water was bitter-tasting, but it worked to cure the fever. The man noticed that the water pool contained "quina-quina" tree bark, and identified the bitter substance as "quinine." He relayed his discovery to others in his village, and soon it became the go-to treatment for Malaria.

The Quechua Indians of Peru and Bolivia
However, the legend of the Countess of Chinchon may not be entirely false. Some beleive that while she may have been the one to expose Europe to quinine, the Natives in South America deserve the credit. The natives also showed the Jesuits how to remove the quinine bark from the tree. The "Chinchon tree," as botanists later identified it as, is the same tree known to natives at the quina-quina tree. Quinine can also be identified as "Jesuits bark."

Even though we may not know who to thank, without the discovery of quinine, it may have been years until a treat for Malaria was avaliable. Quinine is most popular for treating Malaria, but its various other uses make it a versatile, natural remedy.

A Cinchona tree, native to tropical South America
A Cinchona tree, native to tropical South America
Science,Composition, and Uses
Quinine was now commonly used for both medical and non-medical purposes
Quinine was now commonly used for both medical and non-medical purposes

Quinine is the white powder-like substance from the bark of the cinchona tree, most often found in the Andes mountain range in Peru and Ecuador. Quinine has a wide range of uses that are both medicinal and non-medicinal. Most widely, it is used as an orally-taken anti-malarial drug which is commonly used as treatment for the disease today. It is also a traditional treatment for muscle cramps, but the way in which it helps relieve the cramps is unknown. It is a bitter digestive aid, and anti-parasitic, and an antispasmodic.

Quinine also is known to treat internal hemorrhoids, varicose veins and pleural cavities after thoracoplasty. Quinine was eventually replaced with synthetic anti-malarial drugs because the destruction of the cinchona trees to extract quinine made them rare. Once the new synthesized drugs were available, they were initially preferred over the quinine treatments. The new drugs included Chloroquine and Mefloquine (Larium) which caused serious side effects, and the malarial parasite began gaining resistance to them. This renewed interest in quinine treatment.


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