Cinchona bark; Hathor's bark
A chinchona tree’s remarkable collection of medicinal qualities is completely belied by its rather mundane appearance. A broad-leafed evergreen, the trees do not commonly exceed twenty feet in height, with the most successful known examples barely reaching fifty feet. The leaves are a dark, uniform green, and the bark and branches shading from pale tan in new growth to cinnamon red-brown in older growth. Typically unseen is the tree’s elaborate network of far-reaching roots, which can extend far distant from the trunk in search of reliable water supplies. The trees germinate in the spring, producing prolific clusters of small pink tubular flowers. The bark is incredibly bitter in taste, and all useful preparations retain this bitterness in their final forms.
Chinchona trees thrive in warm, sandy earth with unobstructed sunlight. They are well adapted to areas with no significant amount of rainfall; instead they prefer to exploit consistent sources of ground water with their broad root structure. The great majority of the bark used locally is harvested in Khem and imported.
Aging sections of the chinchona tree’s bark naturally dry and curl away from the tree’s trunk. These can be pulled from the tree, coming away in long curling strips. Care should be taken not to damage the tress by harvesting too much at a time from any one tree. If too much of the soft wood of the trunk is laid bare and left exposed, the tree will be at risk of succumbing to wood-borer beetles which would otherwise be discouraged by the bark’s great bitterness. If stored in very dry conditions, chinchona bark retains its full medicinal effectiveness even long after being harvested.
Chinchona is a wonderfully generous plant, with a wide array of useful properties. The ideal preparation will vary, depending on which of the bark’s functions the herbalist wishes to magnify. As an anesthetic, chinchona should be decocted and reduced to a thick dark brown paste, which is commonly thinned and smoothed by blending with coconut oil. A balance between the bark’s anesthetic and muscle-relaxant qualities is obtained in the multipurpose painkiller Midwife’s Helper; in this application, the bark is dried and powdered and combined with a paste reduced from feverfew leaves, which is stored in this thick pasty form, then diluted into a beverage as needed (note that Midwife’s Helper is a thoroughly unpleasant-tasting drink, which really should be sweetened with a great deal of honey to avoid tormenting the patient). As an antipyretic, the bark is prepared in tincture which is often included in healing kits intended to combat disease (though it should be noted that in this application, the bark still functions only as an antipyretic, not a healing agent, and that the healing properties of chinchona-treated bandages come entirely from the skilled application of the bandages and accompanying implements).
Some individuals can react badly to preparations of chinchona bark, showing symptoms suggestive of exaggerated forms of the bark’s anesthetic properties: blurred vision, over-sensitivity to light, impaired hearing, dizziness, vertigo, and disorientation. These symptoms can be uncomfortable and disturbing, but are generally short-lived, and likely outweighed by the medicinal benefits imparted by the treatment.