Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1
Fl. aegypt.-arab.: 161 (1775).
2n = 20
Gonasokola, mchacha, mnukovunda (Sw).
Origin and geographic distribution
Acalypha fruticosa occurs from Sudan east to Somalia and south through East Africa and DR Congo to southern Africa, avoiding the humid Congo Basin. It is also found in Yemen, southern India, Sri Lanka and Myanmar.
The Suiei hunter-gatherers of northern Kenya boil the root in goat bone soup and drink the soup to treat liver problems, and stomach-ache caused by eating too much honey. A root decoction is drunk to treat convulsions, fever, colds and swellings of the scrotum. A root infusion is taken to treat whooping cough. The filtrate of the macerated leaves in water or milk is taken to treat constipation. The stem and root are chewed to treat toothache. In southern Africa a root decoction is taken to treat snakebites, fever and ulcers of venereal origin. In Tanzania a leaf decoction is drunk to treat epilepsy. A leaf infusion is taken to treat stomach problems and swellings of the body. A leaf maceration is used as eye-drops to treat eye infections. Leaf sap is swallowed or used as nose drops to treat cough and chest problems. Ground leaves are applied as a paste to scabies and sores. Ground fresh leaves mixed with water are rubbed in and inhaled as a sedative. Stems ground in water are applied to wounds of animals.
The Suiei people of northern Kenya use the stem to make arrow shafts, and beehive lids. In Tanzania the leafy shoots of Acalypha fruticosa are eaten as a vegetable. In East Africa Acalypha fruticosa is an important browse plant of sheep. In Ethiopia the dried leaves are used as a substitute for tea.
An aqueous leaf extract showed significant antibacterial activity against Staphylococcus aureus and Enterococcus faecalis in vitro. The root extract did not show any antifungal activity. The methanol leaf extract showed antioxidant activity in vitro and anti-inflammatory activity in rats. In laboratory experiments larvae of several species of livestock ticks were particularly attracted to Acalypha fruticosa because of the odour of the plant. In the wild, larvae of especially Rhipicephalus appendiculatus are commonly found on Acalypha fruticosa.
Monoecious, much-branched, aromatic shrub up to 4 m tall; stems hairy and green at first, later almost glabrous and reddish brown. Leaves arranged spirally, simple; stipules narrowly lanceolate, 3–4 mm long, brown; petiole 0.5–4.5(–7) cm long; blade broadly ovate to rhombic-ovate, (1–)3–7(–9) cm × 1–5 cm, base cuneate to rounded, apex acuminate, margins toothed, sparingly to evenly shortly hairy on both surfaces, sparingly to evenly yellowish gland-dotted beneath, membranous, 5(–7)-veined at base and with (2–)4–5 pairs of lateral veins. Inflorescence an axillary, solitary spike up to 5 cm long, the lower part interrupted, with 1–4(–7) female flowers, the upper part with densely congested male flowers, terminated by a female flower; peduncle hairy; bracts in female flowers broadly ovate to kidney-shaped, c. 1 cm × 1–1.5 cm, toothed, sparingly yellow gland-dotted, prominently ribbed. Flowers unisexual, sessile, petals absent; male flowers with 4-lobed, minute, densely white hairy calyx, stamens 8; female flowers with 3 ovate-lanceolate, c. 1 mm long, ciliate sepals, ovary superior, c. 0.5 mm in diameter, 3-celled, 3-lobed to almost globose, densely shortly hairy, styles 3, free, c. 4 mm long, fringed, pink or red. Fruit a 3-lobed capsule c. 2 mm × 3 mm, yellow gland-dotted, densely shortly hairy, splitting into 3 cocci, each 2-valved and 1-seeded. Seeds ellipsoid-ovoid, 1.5–2 mm × 1–1.5 mm, smooth, brown, caruncle elliptical.
The ratio of male to female flowers per inflorescence increases from bottom to top inflorescences and also increases with altitude.
Acalypha comprises about 460 species and occurs throughout the tropics, subtropics and warm temperate regions, excluding Europe. In tropical Africa about 65 species occur and in Madagascar and other Indian Ocean islands about 35 species. Several other perennial Acalypha species with male and female flowers on the same inflorescence have medicinal uses. A root decoction of Acalypha engleri Pax & K.Hoffm. from south-eastern Kenya and Tanzania is taken to treat back-ache. The head is rubbed with a leaf extract to treat headache. In East Africa a root decoction of Acalypha neptunica Müll.Arg., occurring from Ghana to East Africa, is taken as a diuretic. The twigs are used as arrow shafts. A root decoction of Acalypha volkensii Pax from East Africa is taken in milk to treat gonorrhoea. The ground whole plant is applied to scabies, and the root juice to sores. Ground leaves are inhaled to treat severe cough. A root infusion is taken as a purgative. The branches are used to make arrows.
Acalypha fruticosa occurs in coastal and deciduous bushland and thickets, wooded grassland, riverine grassland, on rocky shores or outcrops, and in humid localities, from sea-level up to 1400 m altitude. It is common in overgrazed areas.
Genetic resources and breeding
Acalypha fruticosa is relatively common in its distribution area and not threatened by genetic erosion.
Acalypha fruticosa has several interesting medicinal uses, but information concerning the chemical compounds responsible for these activities is lacking. Information concerning the antibacterial activities is incomplete; more research is therefore warranted.
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Correct citation of this article:
Schmelzer, G.H., 2007. Acalypha fruticosa Forssk. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.