Scarlet Bush - Hamelia patens, Fire Bush - Hamelia patens - Scarlet Bush - Hamelia patens, Fire Bush - Hamelia patens - Scarlet Bush - Hamelia patens Scarlet Bush - Hamelia patens, Fire Bush - Hamelia patens - Scarlet Bush - Hamelia patens, Fire Bush - Hamelia patens - Scarlet Bush - Hamelia patens

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Scarlet Bush
(Hamelia patens)

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Scarlet Bush - Hamelia patens, Fire Bush - Hamelia patens - Scarlet Bush - Hamelia patens, Fire Bush - Hamelia patens - Scarlet Bush - Hamelia patens

Scarlet Bush

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  • Family: Rubiaceae
    Genus: Hamelia
    Species: patens
    Synonyms: Hamelia erecta
    Common Names: Scarlet bush, fire bush, Texas firecracker, corail,
    ix-canan, koray, ponasi, polly red head, red head, sanalo-todo, uvero, hummingbird bush
    Part Used: Leaves

    From The Healing Power of Rainforest Herbs:

    Main Actions Other Actions Standard Dosage
  • relieves pain
  • reduces spasms
  • Leaves
  • reduces inflammation
  • kills parasites
  • Infusion: 1 cup 2-3
  • heals wounds
  • enhances immunity
  • times daily
  • kills bacteria
  • increases urination
  • Tincture: 1-2 ml twice daily
  • reduces fever
  • increases urination
  • kills fungi
  • lowers body temperature

    Scarlet bush is a small, fast growing, semi-woody bush that can be found throughout South America including the Amazon basin. It grows up to three meters in height and has red tinged, deeply veined leaves about 10-20 cm long. It produces a showy mass of tubular, bright reddish-orange flowers—earning its name of scarlet bush or fire bush. It also produces a showy fruit; the edible juicy berry turns from green to yellow, to red, and finally, black when ripe. In Mexico, the ripe berry is turned into wine. The plant is indigenous most all of South America, the West Indies, Mexico, and even southern Florida.

    Due to its beauty and adaptability from hot and dry climates to hot and humid climates, it has been gaining in popularity over the last few years as a landscape plant in parts of the lower United States, including Texas, Florida and California. In Texas (the southern half), it makes a great 4-5 foot mound of bright red flowers from early summer until late fall; the leaves turn bright red in the fall before shedding, then it freezes to the ground in the winter and re-sprouts each spring. It can be found in southern plant nurseries these days being sold under such names as Texas firecracker bush, fire bush, polly red-head, and of course, scarlet bush. It makes a beautiful addition to any Southern garden and attracts butterflies and hummingbirds.

    Scarlet bush belongs to the Madder family (Rubiaceae), to which another important rainforest plant belongs: cat's claw. Several of the same active chemicals can be found in both plants, and some of their traditional medicinal uses are similar as well.


    It's Mayan name, Ix-canan, means "guardian of the forest." Indigenous people in Belize use the plant to prepare a natural remedy to treat all types of skin problems including, sores, rashes, wounds, burns, itching, cuts, skin fungus, and insect stings and bites. The remedy is prepared by boiling a double handful of leaves, stems and flowers in 2 gallons of water for 10 minutes. After it cools, it's applied liberally to the affected area. This same remedy is also drunk as a tea to relieve menstrual cramps. The Choco Indians in Panama drink a leaf infusion for fever and bloody diarrhea; the Ingano Indians of northwest Amazonia prepare a leaf infusion for intestinal parasites. Indigenous tribes in Venezuela chew on the leaves to lower body temperature to prevent a sun or heat stroke. In the Peruvian Amazon, the leaves are used by the indigenous people for dysentery, fevers, rheumatism and scurvy. Leaves are also warmed or prepared into a poultice and applied externally as a pain reliever for bruises, strains, sprains, and other painful or inflamed conditions.

    In Peruvian herbal medicine systems today the scarlet bush is used to reduce inflammation, relieve pain, and tp expel intestinal worms . It is also used there for dysentery, fevers, itchy conditions, skin diseases, rheumatism, parasites and scurvy. In Brazil the root is used as a diuretic, while the leaves are used for scabies and headaches. In Latin American herbal medicine systems scarlet bush is widely used for many affections including skin problems, diarrhea, fever, post partum pain, and menstrual disorders. In Cuba the leaves are used externally for headaches and sores while a decoction is taken internally for rheumatism. In Mexico it is widely used externally to stop staunch to flow of blood and heal wounds.


    Scarlet bush is rich in active phytochemicals including alkaloids and flavonoids. It contains several of the same oxindole alkaloids as Cat's Claw (Uncaria tomentosa) including pteropodine and isopteropodine; both have been highly studied and even patented as effective immune stimulants. These two chemicals have also recently shown to have a positive modulating effect on brain neurotransmitters (called 5-HT(2) receptors) that are targets for drugs used in treating a variety of conditions including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, chronic pain conditions and obesity. Three new oxindole alkaloids have also been discovered in scarlet bush which have never been classified before; they've been named Hamelia patens alkaloid A, B and C. Scientists in India discovered that scarlet bush leaves contain small amounts (00.05%) of ephedrine - a stimulant alkaloid that has received some negative press of late. In addition, the aerial parts of the plant have been found to contain rosmarinic acid, a phytochemical that has demonstrated immune modulating and antidepressant activity.

    The main plant chemicals documented in scarlet bush thus far include: apigenin, ephedrine, flavanones, isomaruquine, isopteropodine, maruquine, narirutins, oxindole alkaloids, palmirine, pteropodine, rosmarinic acid, rumberine, rutin, seneciophylline, speciophylline, and tannin.


    Much of the clinical research on scarlet bush has validated the traditional uses of the plant. In animal studies (with rats) scarlet bush leaf extracts demonstrated analgesic, diuretic, and hypothermic actions. External use of the leaf in mice showed significant anti-inflammatory activity comparable to that of a prescription anti-inflammatory drug used as a control. Scientists in two different countries have documented scarlet bush's antibacterial and antifungal properties against a wide range of fungi and bacteria in several in vitro studies. The plant has also been documented with diuretic effects and was shown to inhibit the growth of tumor and bacteria cells.


    A decoction or infusion of the leaves of scarlet bush is generally used internally or externally for bacterial and fungal infections as well as for its anti-inflammatory and pain-reducing properties. Typically, if the remedy is taken internally, an infusion is employed; a leaf decoction is prepared for external use. Try planting a beautiful scarlet bush the garden. . . while working in the garden on hot days, chew on one of the leaves like the rainforest Indians do; it has remarkable hypothermic/cooling actions which will help keep the body from overheating.

    The use of this plant in herbal medicine systems has been reported to be safe and non-toxic when taken orally at the traditional remedy dosages. Only one of the animal studies published thus far indicated toxicity: when they injected a methanol extract of scarlet bush leaves into mice at high dosages (1.5 grams per kg of body weight.)

    Main Preparation Method: decoction or tincture

    Main Actions (in order):
    ): analgesic, antispetic, anti-inflammatory, febrifuge (reduces fever), refrigerant (reduces body temperature)

    Main Uses:

    1. as a topical anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain-reliever) remedy for skin problems (rashes, bites, stings, etc) and for bruises, strains, muscle aches, sprains, etc
    2. as a topical astringent, antiseptic, and antimicrobial remedy for wounds, cuts, burns, skin fungi, etc
    3. for fevers and to lower body temperature (to prevent sunstroke, overheating)
    4. taken internally for inflammation (rheumatism, arthritis, etc)
    5. taken internally for pain (headaches, menstrual cramps, postpartum pain, etc.)
    Properties/Actions Documented by Research:
    analgesic (pain-reliever), anesthetic, anti-inflammatory, antitumorous , antibacterial, antifungal, diuretic, immunostimulant, nervine (balances/calms nerves), refrigerant (lowers body temperature

    Other Properties/Actions Documented by Traditional Use:
    antidysenteric, antihemorrhagic (reduces bleeding), antiparasitic, astringent, febrifuge (reduces fever), vermifuge (expels worms), wound healer

    Cautions: none

    Traditional Preparation: 1 cup of a standard decoction or leaf infusion is taken 2-3 times daily. If desired, 1-2 ml of a 4:1 alcohol tincture can be substituted. A decoction of the leaves is also applied topically to wounds, rashes, burns, and skin fungus and is widely used in the tropics to stop wounds from bleeding.

    Contraindications: None known.

    Drug Interactions: None known.

    Amazonia for cancer, cholera, constipation, diarrhea, dysentery, erysipelas, fever, headache, jaundice, malaria, scurvy, skin disorders, sores, wounds
    Belize for burns, cuts, fungal infections, insect bites & stings, itch, menstrual cramps, rashes, skin problems, sores, wounds
    Brazil for headaches, scabies
    Costa Rica for migraines
    Cuba or headache, rheumatism, sores
    Guatemala for dysentery, menstrual disorders
    Haiti for abortions, anemia, headache, menstrual disorders, nervous shock, rage
    Mexico for skin problems, sores, wounds(bleeding)
    Panama for bites (snake and insect), diarrhea, fever, post partum pain
    Peru for blood cleansing, constipation, dysentery, fever, inflammation, itching, pain, pharyngitis, rheumatism, scurvy, skin problems, worms, wounds
    Venezuela for headache, jaundice, sunstroke, syphilis
    Elsewhere for cancer, constipation, diarrhea, dysentery, erysipelas, fever, fungal infections, headache, insect bites, jaundice, malaria, menstrual disorders, migraine, ovarian disorders, pain, rheumatism, skin problems, uterine disorders

    The above text has been printed from The Healing Power of Rainforest Herbs by Leslie Taylor, copyrighted © 2005
    All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage or retrieval system, including websites, without written permission.

    * The statements contained herein have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The information contained in this plant database file is intended for education, entertainment and information purposes only. This information is not intended to be used to diagnose, prescribe or replace proper medical care. The plant described herein is not intended to treat, cure, diagnose, mitigate or prevent any disease. Please refer to our Conditions of Use for using this plant database file and web site.

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    Last updated 12-28-2012