Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1
Flora 47: 435 (1864).
2n = 18
Niando (En). Alchornée fleurie, niando (Fr). Ilondo (Po).
Origin and geographic distribution
Alchornea floribunda occurs from Guinea east through the forest zone of West and Central Africa to Sudan and Uganda. In DR Congo it is cultivated in home gardens for its medicinal use.
In West and Central Africa, especially in Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon and DR Congo, the root of Alchornea floribunda has a great reputation as a stimulating intoxicant and aphrodisiac. The powdered dried roots or root bark scrapings are either mixed with food or macerated for several days in palm wine, banana beer or other local beers and consumed as a tonic to provide energy during festivals and, formerly, for warfare. It provides a state of intense excitement followed by a deep, sometimes fatal, depression depending on dosage, individual temperament and habit. Similar effects have been observed in gorillas and chimpanzees that had eaten the root. In Gabon the roots are sometimes mixed with or used as a substitute for those of Tabernanthe iboga Baill. and taken in water as an aphrodisiac and stimulant in initiation ceremonies.
In Côte d’Ivoire, Congo and DR Congo leaf or root sap is rubbed over the affected area to treat wounds, circumcision wounds, ringworm and eczema. A leaf decoction is drunk or the leaves are eaten as a vegetable to treat ovarian problems, stomach problems and intestinal disorders. In Nigeria and Gabon the root sap is used as eye drops to treat ophthalmia and conjunctivitis. In Cameroon the ash of burnt roots mixed with palm oil is applied to scarifications to treat chest pain and headache. One teaspoon of root bark powder is eaten daily to cure impotence. In Equatorial Guinea the leaf pulp is applied to wounds. In Congo the leaves are eaten as a vegetable with meat or fish as an antidote to poison. The roots and fruits are taken for urinary, respiratory and intestinal problems. In DR Congo a leaf maceration is taken against pains in the heart. A decoction of the young leaves is taken to treat diarrhoea.
In DR Congo the thin branches are used to make the framework of round huts. The root scrapings or dried leaves are smoked as a substitute of tobacco.
Production and international trade
Dried root bark of Alchornea floribunda is traded on the internet for its stimulating (and supposedly hallucinogenic) properties at c. US$ 15 per 100 g, but its trade name ‘niando’ is confused with that of the South American Alchornea castaneifolia (Humb. & Bonpl. ex Willd.) A.Juss., mainly known as ‘iporuru’, which has similar properties.
The stem bark contains 0.1 mg/g crude alkaloids, the root bark 1.9 mg/g and the leaves 4.8 mg/g. The imidazopyrimidine alkaloid alchorneine is the major alkaloid present in the stem bark and root bark. The root bark and leaves also contain isoalchorneine, and the leaves also alchorneinone. Some reports have mentioned the presence of yohimbine, an indole alkaloid present in Tabernanthe iboga. However, more recent evaluations did not confirm the presence of this compound in Alchornea floribunda. The leaves and bark contain about 10% tannins.
The root extract has sympatholytic action and increases significantly the sensitivity of the nervous system to adrenalin. In dogs, small doses produced slight hypotension followed by hypertension; larger doses produced an increase of blood pressure followed by a strong decrease with only slow recovery. A patent has been obtained for the use of the leaf alkaloid as a spasmolytic. Positive results have been reported in clinical experiments with root and leafy stem extracts in the treatment of hepatitis.
Laxly branched monoecious shrub or small tree up to 4.5(–7) m tall; young shoots shortly hairy. Leaves alternate, simple, crowded at the end of shoots; stipules 3–9 mm long, shortly hairy; petiole 0.5–2.5 cm long; blade oblanceolate to oblong-lanceolate, 14–37 cm × 6–13.5 cm, base cuneate, apex shortly acuminate to obtuse, margins remotely and shallowly glandular-toothed, glandular at base, glabrous above, minutely hairy beneath, pinnately veined. Male inflorescence an axillary panicle up to 20 cm long, bracts minute; female inflorescence a terminal spike or lax panicle, up to 25 cm long; bracts 2–3 mm long, acuminate, with 2 sessile glands at the base. Flowers unisexual, sessile; male flowers with 3 almost orbicular sepals, petals absent, stamens 8; female flowers with 5 triangular-ovate sepals, c. 1.5 mm long, acute, glandular-toothed, shortly hairy, petals absent, ovary superior, 3-lobed, 1–1.5 mm × 1.5–2 mm, smooth, densely silky hairy, styles 3, 1–2.5 cm long, free, dark red. Fruit a 3-lobed capsule c. 6 mm × 10 mm, smooth, shortly hairy, 3-seeded. Seeds almost globose, c. 4 mm long, smooth, shiny, pale brown.
Alchornea is pantropical and comprises about 50 species, of which 6 occur in tropical Africa.
Alchornea floribunda grows in the understorey and clearings of rainforest and swamp forest, from sea-level up to 1200 m altitude.
The roots and leaves are harvested from the wild or home gardens, and can be used fresh or dried and powdered for future use.
Genetic resources and breeding
Alchornea floribunda is widespread and common in the forest understorey and therefore not in danger of genetic erosion.
Alchornea floribunda has quite a reputation as a stimulating intoxicant and aphrodisiac. The presence of the alkaloid alchorneine seems partly responsible for these activities, but more research is needed to corroborate the findings.
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Correct citation of this article:
Mosango, D.M., 2007. Alchornea floribunda Müll.Arg. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.