Traditional Medicinal and Culinary Uses
of the Winteraceae
Several Winteraceous species have been associated with medicinal use amongst indigenous peoples in the regions in which they occur. New Guineans (presumably Solomon Islanders) are reported to have used the pounded leaves of a Belliolum species for treatment of 'diseased spots' on the skin of pigs, and decoctions of Tasmannia species were occasionally taken as an abortifacient.
Drimys wintera (locally known as 'canelo', 'foique' or 'casca d'anta'), distributed between the Straits of Magellan and central Chile forms a large tree to 30 metres and is reportedly used in Brazil as a treatment for cholic, cattle itch and as a 'stomachal tonic' .
Decoctions of Pseudowintera axillaris, a New Zealand shrub were used by Maori people as a stimulant, for skin diseases, venereal diseases and stomach ache and the leaves were chewed to relieve toothache.
European use of the family began in 1597 when Captain Winter, Commander of the Elizabeth, under Drake, used the bark of D. wintera to relieve scurvy amongst his crew. The species then enjoyed some European use as a herbal remedy until it became hard to obtain and was partly replaced by T. lanceolata, D. chilensis and False Winter's Bark (Cinnamomum corticosum from Jamaica and the West Indies). Winter's Bark either True or False appears to have fallen from favour as a herbal remedy during the twentieth century.
Bark of Pseudowintera axillaris, was used by pioneering New Zealanders as a quinine substitute while the sap was used for treating skin diseases.