With all the brouhaha surrounding Jamaica and its new medical marijuana export industry, it is easy to forget that the Bahamas once had the opportunity to become a significant medical plant exporter to America, and indeed the world.

But for many reasons, many reasons, the opportunity literally withered on the vine.

(The Reporter, Friday, April 06, 1903)

Cascarilla is a species of Croton

How the Cascarilla came to the Bahamas is not known exactly. What is known that it is a variety of the croton plant. There are more than 700 different varieties of this genus of plant. The croton is native to Indonesia and Malaysia. It was first discovered by the Dutch in 1690, then brought over to Europe.

The Bahamas became famous in the early 1900s for its cascarilla.

1903 – The Poor Seeking Substitutes For Tobacco Stumble Across New Ways To Get High

The 1800s became an interesting time for narcotic experimentation, both the legal and illegal kind. Tobacco was imported and expensive, so poor and rural people across the globe, began drying whatever leaves were at hand. They dried them, rolled them, and then smoked them to see which would equal the effects of tobacco. Not surprisingly, many stumbled across plants which surpassed the effects that tobacco delivered.

Experimentation in huts and fields, and even high up in the Swiss Alps, brought to the world stage, new varieties of plant based narcotics that basically, before medicinal uses were ferreted out, got its users high.

(The Daily Leader, Friday, 10 April 1903)

Cascarilla Used To Flavour Tobacco 1911

(The Watchman, Friday, 07 July 1911)

1896 – A New Cigarette – Two Part Hops and One Part Cascarilla (to bring that extra kick) For the Progressive Girl Calling Herself an End-of-Century Woman

Smoking became the most fashionable habit in the late 1800s for women. By 1896, for the discerning female smoker, there was etiquette, form and the important position of one’s forefinger involved in puffing on a hop cigarette laced with Cascarilla.

(The Philadelphia Inquirer Sunday, 07 June 1896)

Cascarilla Cigarette Habit

Unlike the Indian hemp “ganja” (which originated in India, then brought over to Jamaica by Indian labourers after slave emancipation in the British West Indian colonies) that was seen as a narcotic of the poor in third world countries, cascarilla’s popularity grew among the fashionable, well-to-do in America.

As the cascarilla laced cigarettes grew in popularity among women, many became alarmed at its drug like affect on them.

(Chicago Tribune, Friday January 3, 1902)


Many don’t know that quinine made from cascarilla helped Europe to colonise Africa. Without the medicine quinine, made from cheap cascarilla, the famous Scramble For Africa, may have not happened as quickly and as successfully as it did. Quinine made from cascarilla, was needed to combat the deadly malaria disease.

In the 1800s, after the demise of negro slavery, as Europe began their full onslaught to colonise Africa, they soon began to encounter a significant problem. Disease. And one particular disease was decimating the European settlers population like no other – MALARIA!

A cure of sorts was discovered, but it was expensive and hard to get. It was the quinine plant. Soon, fraudsters began selling many worthless tree barks in Europe, passing all sorts of old bark off as the genuine quinine.

The Europeans needed to find a cheaper, more easily obtained plant that quinine could be made from. They soon found it in the CASCARILLA.

Cascarilla was used to make quinine.

Quinine was the only drug found with the ability to combat the deadly malaria disease, which was killing Europeans at an alarming rate, and inhibiting further encroachment into deepest Africa. The quinine plant was hard to come by and expensive. As Casarilla became a more reliable and cheaper alternative to the proper quinine plant, Europe began importing every bit they could get their hands on from the plantations of Brazil and Bolivia.

The more quinine they were able to churn out for their colonists, the further they were able to move into deepest Africa.

(The Pittsburgh Dispatch, Sunday, July 20, 1890)


Poor Bahamians were smoking the bark of the cascarilla plant as an alternative to expensive tobacco for decades before it became fashionable in America. Negroes and poor whites, couldn’t afford tobacco in the islands, even the cheap tobacco imported from Cuba, was more than the average poor Bahamian could afford at the turn of the 20th century.

It’s narcotic effect, “getting high,” on the negro population was already well documented in American medical journals before 1900.

But just like the “ganja” of India, which made its way to Jamaica in the rough sacks of imported Asian labourers, and now into all sorts of uses in the present day, so too did Cascarilla find itself being used in all sorts of oils, ointments and preparations in the 1900s.

(The Pittsburgh Press, Thursday October 30, 1902)

For some reason however, the cultivation of this plant for export, was given little attention in the Bahamas.

(The Nebraska Journal, Thursday January 29, 1904)


By 1925, American scientists experimenting, looking for new plant based medicines, discover a new important use for Cascarilla.

American pharmaceutical companies petition the American consul in the Bahamas to facilitate trade in the one country, close to the U.S. with significant cultivation of Cascarilla.

Incredibly the exports coming out of the Bahamas of cascarilla was just 15,455 pounds, selling at $400 a ton. At 15,455 pounds, this was only about 8 American tons. This price was four times more expensive than the price of coffee.

The response by the America consul to American companies eager to buy Bahamian Cascarilla was:

(The Miami News, Thursday 22 October 1925)

1940 – The Duke of Windsor Tried To Encourage Agriculture But Tourism Was Now The Economic Growth Model

By the time the Duke of Windsor came to the Bahamas as its Governor, the agricultural model, as an economic model, was slowly dying. Poor Bahamians, both White and Black, wanted to get out of the hot sun of the fields and into offices.

They no longer wanted to be sweaty farm labourers. Bahamians wanted to be educated, have better paying jobs and more opportunities. As politicians began to grow rich, as more American tourists arrived with their fancy clothes and fancy ways, labouring in the hot sun for little return was no longer seen as the way forward for a new generation of Bahamians.

Cascarilla was still being exported but only in small quantities. The plant based medicine movement wouldn’t take off for another seventy years or so. There was little incentive to stay tilling the rough soil.

(The Democrat, July 11, 1940)