Quinine is a very bitter substance, that can be found in the reddish bark of several species of the genus Cinchona and especially Cinchona officinalis and Cinchona ledgeriana. All these plants range from large shrubs to small trees with an evergreen foliage. They have somewhat inconspicuous flowers, that are, depending on the species or subspecies, white, pink or red in colour. The cinchonas trees are native to the tropical forests that try to work their way up the eastern slopes of the central and western ranges of the South American Andes.
Quinine is a spice which is still used as a medicine today. It is an effective remedy for fever and an important cure for the prevention and control of malaria and the related babesionis. Quinine is an alkaloid, a bitter substance that is created by the plant in order to prevent insects or herbivores from feeding on it. That nature sometimes arrives at the same solution via different routes is shown by the fact that quinine is also hidden in the hard core of a pineapple.
The first part of its scientific name, Cinchona, honours Ana de Osorio, Countess of Chinchón and wife of the viceroy of Peru. The (somewhat questionable) legend claims that in 1638 she was cured of terrible fever attacks by the bark of the Cinchona shrub. She then introduced the medicine in her native Spain in 1640. The second part officinalis, is easy to explain: it is from the Latin word officium, which literally means 'work-doing'. At the root of the word lies the word opus ('work'). It explains that the plant is used for '(medical) work'. The English word 'office' still attests to that old meaning. The second part of the other species, ledgeriana, honours Charles Ledger (1818-1905), born in England and who became an alpaca farmer in Peru. He became known for his studies on quinine. For the record: in Quechua, the native language of the Incas, the medicinal bark was called kina kina. In the Portuguese language that word was transcribed as quinaquina ('bark of the barks') and from that 'our' word quinine originated.

It were in particular Jesuit priests who were responsible for a rapid distribution of the quinine in the expanding world. After all, they had established outposts and most of them were situated in tropical regions where malaria was a major burden upon society. It was because of this that the remedy was often called Polvo de los Jesuitos ('Jesuits Powder').
Because of the ever increasing popularity of the drug, shortages arose. The entrepreneurial spirit of the Dutch immediately saw a business opportunity. Dozens of boxes filled with quinine seeds were illegally exported from Bolivia. The cargo was escorted by several Dutch warships and was eventually unloaded in the port of Bandoeng on the island of Java in the Dutch East Indies. The first seedlings were planted in 1855. Some ten years later, the site turned out a perfect choice. Eventually the estates in Java yielded about 90% of global production of quinine. The Second World War changed it all. The Japanese kept operating the estates and the factory, but destroyed all trees on the estates at the very end of the war, leaving ruin in their wake.

The "Bandoengsche Quinine Factory N.V." on the Indonesian island of Java still exists, though the factory was nationalized in 1958 and is now called the Kimia Farma Quinine Plant.

Quinine is also used to flavor all kinds of beverages. Quinine is a well-known flavour component of tonic water and bitter lemon. According to tradition, the bitter taste of antimalarial quinine tonic led British colonials in India to mix it with gin, thus creating the iconic gin and tonic cocktail, which is still popular today in many parts of the world. Quinine is also used to spice some Italian and Spanish wines.

As you see, the differences between a spice and a medicine can be very minute.

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