The researchers, from the Federal Santa Maria University in Brazil, studied the native tree Schinus lentiscifolius – often called the Chilean Pepper Tree – for its wide range of therapeutic properties – used traditionally by South American natives for centuries for the treatment of wounds and acute injuries. (Note that this is not related to black pepper – harvested from the Piper nigrum vine).
The researchers tested an extract of the tree’s leaves in the laboratory, against a variety of pathogens that commonly infect humans. These included bacteria species such as Bacillus subtilis, Staphylococcus aureus, Staphylococcus epidermidis, Staphylococcus saprophyticus and Streptococcus pyogenes – which are known to cause a variety of infections, from sinus and throat infections to skin and wound infections.
The researchers also tested the leaf extract against the very vigorous bacteria (gram negative) Escherichia coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Shigella sonnei.
In addition, the researchers tested the extract against four sometimes-pathogenic yeasts. These were Candida albicans, Candida tropicalis, Cryptococcus neoformans, and Saccharomyces cerevisiae.
The researchers found significant yet modest antibiotic effects with the extract. These ranged from a minimum inhibitory concentration of 125 to 250 micrograms per milliliter against many of the the bacteria and yeasts tested.
While the bacteria-inhibition levels were modest, the researchers found that the leaf extracts significantly inhibited the two Candida yeasts tested and the Cryptococcus yeast. These ranged from 15 micrograms per milliliter against Candida tropicalis and Cryptococcus neoformans to 25 micrograms per milliliter against Candida albicans (the smaller the MIC the better.)
The most antibiotic compounds found in the extract included nonadecanol, moronic acid, gallic acid, quercetin and others.
The researchers agreed that the results of this study confirm that the traditional healing practice of South American natives that use the leaves and bark of this tree to help heal wounds and infections of various types:
“The results of the present study provide scientific basis for the popular use of Schinus lentiscifolius for a number of different health problems.”
The article was published in the scientific Journal of Ethnopharmacology.
We should add that this tree has several close relatives, including the Peruvian Pepper Tree (Schinus molle) and the Australian Peppercorn Tree (Schinus areira). These trees all produce small round pepper-like buds that are often dried and used as a spice.
Written by Case Adams, Naturopath
Gehrke IT, Neto AT, Pedroso M, Mostardeiro CP, Mânica Da Cruz IB, Silva UF, Ilha V, Dalcol II, Morel AF. Antimicrobial activity of Schinus lentiscifolius (Anacardiaceae). J Ethnopharmacol. 2013 May 14.