Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1
Linnaea 34: 68 (1865).
Euphorbiaceae (APG: Phyllanthaceae)
Antidesma venosum E.Mey. ex Tul. subsp. membranaceum (Müll.Arg) Lye (1998).
Pink tassle-berry (En). Mziwaziwa (Sw).
Origin and geographic distribution
Antidesma membranaceum occurs from Senegal east to Sudan and south to northern South Africa.
In Liberia a leaf decoction is used as a bath to prevent miscarriage. In Côte d’Ivoire a bark extract is widely taken as an aphrodisiac. In DR Congo a root decoction is taken to treat stomach-ache, colic, cough and snakebites. In Tanzania the Digo people drink a decoction of the roots to treat kwashiorkor and pneumonia. Scrapings of the roots are chewed to treat mouth ulcers in children. The powdered stem bark is sprinkled on wounds. The powdered seeds are eaten to expel roundworms. In Zimbabwe an infusion of leaves and roots is drunk to treat cough and chest problems.
The wood is white and hard and used in construction, and for making tool handles, knife sheaths and spoons. It is also used as firewood. The tree is planted for shade in home gardens. Edible caterpillars (Imbrasia petiveri) feed on the leaves.
From different extracts of the root, leaves and stem bark several 2-alkylated benzopyranones, several amide derivatives of ferulic acid (4-hydroxy-3-methoxy-benzoic acid), a diferuloyate and syringaresinol were isolated. Antidesmone, an unusual hydroquinolone or glycine-derived alkaloid was isolated from the leaves and bark. A butanol extract of the leaves and bark also yielded several alkaloidal, megastigmane and lignan glucosides.
Antidesmone has potent and highly selective antitrypanosomal activity against Trypanosoma cruzi, the pathogenic agent of Chagas’ disease.
Dioecious shrub or small tree up to 8(–20) m tall; crown dense, branches drooping; bark smooth, pale yellowish brown to dark grey; young parts densely short-hairy. Leaves alternate, simple and entire; stipules lanceolate, 2–8(–15) mm long, fairly persistent; petiole up to 1 cm long; blade elliptical-oblong, 2–12(–20) cm × 1–7 cm, base rounded to cuneate, apex acuminate, glossy and dark green above, sparsely hairy and yellowish beneath. Inflorescence a terminal spike on a short lateral shoot, 4–10(–25) cm long, with 1–4 lateral spikes at base. Flowers unisexual, regular, sessile, petals absent, with unpleasant smell; male flowers with 4-lobed calyx, lobes c. 1 mm long, unequal, rounded, short-hairy, yellowish green, disk irregular, stamens mostly 4, c. 2.5 mm long; female flowers with cup-shaped calyx, 3–4-lobed, lobes c. 1 mm long, unequal, rounded, short-hairy, yellowish green, disk cup-shaped, ovary superior, compressed-ellipsoid, c. 1 mm long, glabrous, 1(–2)-celled, styles 2–4, short, 2-fid, strongly recurved. Fruit a laterally compressed ellipsoid to ovoid drupe up to 8 mm long, green becoming pink, purple or black, 1-seeded. Seed ellipsoid.
Antidesma comprises about 155 species and occurs in the Old World tropics, from tropical Africa and the Indian Ocean islands through Asia to Australia and the Pacific islands. In continental Africa 7 species occur and in the Indian Ocean islands 1 species. Antidesma membranaceum is often confused with Antidesma venosum E.Mey. ex Tul., which is used medicinally as well, but is better known for its edible fruits, which taste of mulberries. Compared to Antidesma venosum, the leaves of Antidesma membranaceum are more narrowly elliptical-oblong and more acutely acuminate, the female inflorescence never galled. In Namibia an extract of the crushed fruit, leaves and twigs of Antidesma rufescens Tul. is taken to treat abdominal pain. A root extract is added to a bath as an analgesic in case of body pain. In southern Nigeria a root decoction of Antidesma vogeliana Müll.Arg. with or without the seeds of Aframomum melegueta K.Schum. is taken as an aphrodisiac. In DR Congo a root decoction is drunk to treat worm infections and other intestinal problems, and it is gargled as a mouthwash to treat toothache. The crushed stem is used as fuel in lamps.
Antidesma membranaceum occurs in mixed woodland, humid woodland and evergreen forest, also in riverine vegetation and ravines, along lakeshores and in coastal forest, from sea-level up to 1850 m altitude.
Genetic resources and breeding
Antidesma membranaceum is common in its large distribution area and therefore not threatened by genetic erosion.
Antidesma membranaceum is locally used against a range of bacterial diseases. Chemical analyses have yielded several complex chemical constituents of the roots, leaves and bark, the unusual alkaloid antidesmone being the most important compound. It exhibits potent antitrypanosomal activity and deserves further testing. More research is needed to elucidate the pharmacology of the other isolated compounds to evaluate the potential of the plant.
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Correct citation of this article:
Schmelzer, G.H., 2007. Antidesma membranaceum Müll.Arg. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
leafy twig and infructescences