Scientific Name(s): Quillaja saponaria Molina
Common Name(s): China bark, Murillo bark, Panama bark, Quillaja, Soap tree, Soapbark
Quillaja is a large evergreen tree with shiny, thick leaves that grows to 18 m by 6 m.Roner 2010 The generic name is derived from the Chilean word quillean, meaning "to wash," due to the bark’s use as a cleansing aid. It has an acrid, astringent taste. Although quillaja is native to Chile and Peru, it is now widely cultivated in southern California. The inner bark is separated from the cork and collected for commercial use.Leung 1980
Quillaja has been used orally in traditional medicine to relieve cough and bronchitis, and topically to relieve scalp itchiness and dandruff. The bark has been used in South America to aid in washing clothes. Quillaja extracts are approved for food use and are used as foaming agents in some carbonated beverages and cocktail mixes, typically in concentrations of approximately 0.01%.Leung 1980 Saponins were first studied in 1925 as an adjuvant to enhance antibody response against diphtheria and tetanus. Currently, they are used as adjuvants in vaccinations.Ragupathi 2011
The first report of isolation of a quillaja saponin was in 1887.van Setten 1996 Quillaja contains about 10% saponins, secondary metabolites containing a triterpene or steroidal nucleus, linked to a sugar.Rocha 2012, van Setten 1996 These consist primarily of glycosides of quillaic acid (quillaja sapogenin [a mixture of acetylated triterpenoid oligoglycosides], hydroxygypsogenin). The bark contains tannin, calcium oxalate, and numerous other components. One study analyzing the phenolic constituents of quillaja wood extracts found that (+)-piscidic acid was the major phenolic compound, representing 75% to 87% w/w of all phenolic compounds identified. Maier 2015
A highly purified saponin, designated QS-21, has been used as an adjuvant to enhance the activity of viral vaccines and is a combination of 2 structural isomers.Ragupathi 2011
Uses and Pharmacology
The use of saponins may produce virucidal activity through interaction of the viral envelope, causing destruction of the cell membrane and a loss of viral binding sites.Roner 2007
Animal/In vitro data
In mice, quillaja saponin was found to enhance the immune response by stimulating macrophages.Naknukool 2011 In an in vitro study, saponins from Q. saponaria demonstrated activity against Trichomonas vaginalis, with maximum cytotoxicity noted at 0.025%.Rocha 2012 Another in vitro study, quillaja saponin extracts exerted antibacterial effects against Staphylococcus aureus and also demonstrated hemolytic activity.Hassan 2010
In another in vitro study, quillaja extracts were found to possess antiviral activity against cells infected with rotavirus and reovirus. Specifically, these effects were noted at concentrations 1,000-fold lower than concentrations that demonstrate cytotoxicity. In addition, cells treated with quillaja were resistant to infection for 16 hours after removal of quillaja exposure. However, 24 hours after being removed from quillaja, infection rates were similar to those of untreated cells, demonstrating a lack of sustained effect after quillaja treatment.Roner 2007
In a separate in vitro study, Q. saponaria did not inhibit the growth of Escherichia coli strains, but instead increased multidrug-resistant strains of E. coli at quillaja concentrations between 6 and 12 mcg/mL. Quillaja also enhanced E. coli growth in the presence of antibiotics tested.Arabski 2012
No clinical data exist regarding the use of Q. saponaria for its antimicrobial effects.
Because of toxicity concerns, Q. saponaria fractions have been converted into stable nanoparticles that have been studied for their cytotoxic effects.Hu 2010
Animal/In vitro data
The nanoparticulate quillaja saponin blocking and balancing effect particles selectively induced caspase activity and apoptosis in a renal cell carcinoma cell line.Hassan 2013
In another in vitro study of human leukemia cells, killing and growth-inhibiting particles, as well as blocking and balancing effect particles, exerted cytotoxic effects. Specifically, the killing and growth-inhibiting particles demonstrated cytotoxic effects against 9 of 10 cells lines, while blocking and balancing effect particles demonstrated cytotoxic effects in only 1 of 10 cell lines.Hu 2010
No clinical data exist regarding the use of Q. saponaria for its effects against cancer.
The QS-21 saponin fraction from Q. saponaria has been studied extensively as an adjuvant in immunizations, particularly against cancer and infectious diseases.Gin 2011, Ragupathi 2011 Although saponins enhance antibody response and cytotoxic T-cell responses, their use in clinical practice is hindered by dose-limiting local and systemic toxicity, chemical instability in solutions with a pH of 7.4 or higher and in warmer temperatures, and limited availability from natural sources.Ragupathi 2011 Purity challenges also exist because composition can vary greatly.Gin 2011
Quillaic acid derived from Q. saponaria demonstrated anti-inflammatory activity against arachidonic acid and phorbol ester–induced inflammation when applied topically to mouse ears.Rodriguez-Diaz 2011
There is no clinical evidence supporting specific dosage recommendations for Q. saponaria bark.
Pregnancy / Lactation
Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking.
None well documented.
A case report describes the development of rhinitis and asthma in a patient occupationally exposed to quillaja bark dust. A 24-year-old male with a history of asthma reported wheezing, rhinorrhea, and itchy, watery eyes after 3 months of working at a factory that manufactured saponin dust. He noticed wheezing and dyspnea after exposure to raw bark dust, but only nasal symptoms after exposure to saponin dust. His symptoms improved on weekends and while on vacation. Skin testing was not completed for quillaja bark; however, total immunoglobulin E was markedly elevated at 2,000 units/mL (normal range, 10 to 250 units/mL). In addition, he developed asthma and anaphylaxis, necessitating epinephrine and intravenous steroids after a bronchial challenge test.Rocha 2012, Roner 2010
Quillaja is approved for use in the United States as a natural flavoring or substance to be used in conjunction with flavors.Maier 2015, Roner 2010 It is likely safe when used in amounts found in food.
Quillaja is toxic when ingested orally in large amounts. Severe toxic effects following ingestion of large doses of the bark include liver damage, gastric pain, diarrhea, hemolysis, respiratory failure, convulsions, and coma.Roner 2007, Roner 2010
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