The boxwood’s trunk bark is gray, and its branch bark is a yellow colour and is native to southern and western Europe (particularly the Mediterranean countries), West Asia and North Africa, but the plant is now cultivated worldwide.
The bark is the primary substance used for medicinal treatment, and it contains tannic and Gallic acids, resin, phosphates of lime, iron, silica and sulphates of potassium and lime. It can be toxic if eaten in excess, and leaf extract should be used in place of the whole leaf.
The whole leaf is known to cause vomiting, convulsions, seizures, paralysis and death, because it works like a poison. Consumption of the leaves can result in nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea and the exuded tree sap cause dermatitis, or skin irritation.
There are no records of human mortality due to the ingestion of box tree leaves; however, animals tend to avoid the plant as it has an unpleasant odour and a pungent taste. Boxwood extract (SPV 30) is not usually found on store shelves.
The bark is shredded up and dried for use in decoction. Boxwood was previously used to treat persistent and recurring fever (malaria), gout, rheumatism, urinary tract infections, intestinal worms, chronic skin problems, syphilis and haemorrhoids.
A tincture from the herb was formerly used as a bitter tonic and antiperiodic and had the reputation of curing leprosy. Boxwood has cosmetic uses as well.
Various perfumes were made from the leaves and bark, and the decoction was recommended to promote hair growth. An auburn hair dye was created by boiling the leaves and sawdust in lye.
On the farm the dried and powdered leaves were used to improve the coats of horses, and some English farmers still use the old-fashioned remedy of using powdered leaves to treat intestinal worms in horses.