Dr. Ron’s Research Review – May 23, 2012

This week’s research review focuses on Thuja, the "tree of life".

Vitamin C is widely known as the miraculous cure for scurvy in Jacques Cartier's critically ill crew in 1536.  (Durzan 2009)

Cartier's crew was cured from scurvy by ascorbic acid (vitamin C) obtained as a decoction from the Iroquois. It was prepared by boiling winter leaves and the bark from an evergreen tree. The tree, identified as "Annedda", became known as the "tree of life" or "arbre de vie" because of its remarkable curative effects. In the winter, scurvy was the most prevalent disease among the Iroquois. This was due to the lack of food and vitamin C.

Arborvitaes (from Latin for "tree of life") are also known as Thuja. The natives of Canada used the needles of Thuja occidentalis (Eastern White Cedar) to make a tea that has been shown to contain 50 mg of vitamin C per 100 grams; this helped prevent and treat scurvy. In the 19th century Thuja was commonly used as an externally applied tincture or ointment for the treatment of warts, ringworm and thrush, and a local injection of the tincture was used for treating venereal warts.

The candidate trees of life are also rich nutritional source of arginine, proline and other amino acids. Today, these amino acids are used as nutritional support for the recovery of critically ill patients. In the recovery from scurvy they would help to promote vitamin C-dependent collagen biosynthesis, promote wound healing, reduce susceptibility to sepsis, and contribute to weight gain.

Dr. Ron


Articles

Arginine, scurvy and Cartier's "tree of life"

            (Durzan 2009) Download

Several conifers have been considered as candidates for "Annedda", which was the source for a miraculous cure for scurvy in Jacques Cartier's critically ill crew in 1536. Vitamin C was responsible for the cure of scurvy and was obtained as an Iroquois decoction from the bark and leaves from this "tree of life", now commonly referred to as arborvitae. Based on seasonal and diurnal amino acid analyses of candidate "trees of life", high levels of arginine, proline, and guanidino compounds were also probably present in decoctions prepared in the severe winter. The semi-essential arginine, proline and all the essential amino acids, would have provided additional nutritional benefits for the rapid recovery from scurvy by vitamin C when food supply was limited. The value of arginine, especially in the recovery of the critically ill sailors, is postulated as a source of nitric oxide, and the arginine-derived guanidino compounds as controlling factors for the activities of different nitric oxide synthases. This review provides further insights into the use of the candidate "trees of life" by indigenous peoples in eastern Canada. It raises hypotheses on the nutritional and synergistic roles of arginine, its metabolites, and other biofactors complementing the role of vitamin C especially in treating Cartier's critically ill sailors.

References

Durzan, D. J. (2009). "Arginine, scurvy and Cartier's "tree of life"." J Ethnobiol Ethnomed 5: 5.