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Boerhavia diffusa L.

Sp. pl. 1: 3 (1753).
Chromosome number
2n = 26, 52, 54, 116
Boerhavia africana Lour. (1790).
Vernacular names
Spreading hogweed, red hogweed, tar vine, red spiderling (En). Agarra pinto, tangara, bredo de porco, erva tostão (Po). Mkwakwara, mkwayakwaya (Sw).
Origin and geographic distribution
Boerhavia diffusa has a pantropical distribution, and possibly originates from the Old World tropics. It occurs throughout tropical Africa.
In India Boerhavia diffusa is a very popular medicinal plant, called ‘Punarnava’; especially the roots, leaves and seeds are used and the root is listed in the Indian Pharmacopoeia. Plant parts are applied as a stomachic, cardiotonic, hepatoprotective, laxative, diuretic, anthelmintic, febrifuge, expectorant and, in higher doses, as an emetic and purgative. As a diuretic it is useful in strangury, jaundice, enlarged spleen, gonorrhoea and other internal inflammations. In moderate doses it is successful in asthma. A decoction of the roots is also applied to corneal ulcers and to treat night blindness. Similar uses have been reported for Central America and South-East Asia.
In tropical Africa the boiled roots are applied to ulcers, abscesses and to assist in the extraction of Guinea worm. The boiled roots and leaves are considered expectorant and febrifuge, and in large doses emetic. A decoction of the aerial parts is also taken to treat gastro-intestinal pains, convulsions, intestinal worms and to regulate menstruation. In Mauritania the seeds are ground and made into cakes which are cooked and eaten as a remedy for dysentery. In Côte d’Ivoire the powdered leaves are made into a paste and are applied to the chest to relieve asthma. The leaves are applied to the forehead to treat violent headache and around the ears against earache. Root sap as a lotion for friction is used to treat kidney troubles, rheumatism, generalised pain and sprains. In Ghana the root decoction is also taken to treat anaemia and applied externally to yaws, while the powdered root can be mixed with butter or oil to treat abdominal tumours. A decoction of the root is also taken to treat heart troubles, palpitations and jaundice. In Congo root sap is rubbed on the neck and throat to treat mumps, laryngitis and burns. In water or palm oil, or in a decoction, it is taken to treat spleen troubles, diarrhoea, dysentery, haematuria and gonorrhoea. The root is also considered abortifacient and used to hasten parturition. The roots are also applied as a snakebite antidote, and as an aphrodisiac. A decoction of the leaves is used in DR Congo to treat gonorrhoea and to calm pain. A decoction of the root is taken in Angola to treat jaundice. In Namibia the Bergdamara people chew or boil the root to treat gastro-enteritic problems, while the Damara people take a tea made from the root to treat a prolapsed uterus.
In West and East Africa the leaves are sometimes prepared in a sauce as a vegetable, while the seeds are added to cereals in Senegal and Mali. The leaves are cooked as a vegetable in curries and soups in India as well, and the roots and seeds are added to curries and bread. The leafy stems are widely eaten by sheep and cattle, and may also be cut as a fodder.
Production and international trade
Boerhavia diffusa is mainly used at a local scale, except in India where especially the roots enter in popular medicinal formulations. Indian products are traded worldwide.
The chemistry of the bioactive compounds of Boerhavia diffusa and their pharmacological properties are poorly studied. Most research has focused on extracts. Compounds isolated from the roots of Boerhavia diffusa include the alkaloid punarnavine, punarnavoside (a glucopyranoside), ursolic acid, and the rotenoids boeravinones A1, B1, C2, D, E and F, as well as several minor components.
In India Boerhavia diffusa is included in the Pharmacopoeia as a diuretic, and this action has since been confirmed. The diuretic activity is probably due to depression of tubular excretion, inhibiting kidney succinic dehydrogenase and stimulating D-amino oxidase. An aqueous extract of the dry or fresh plant is useful in cases of oedema and ascites. In India an intravenous injection of punarnavine in cats produced a distinct and persistent rise of blood pressure and a marked diuresis. The high amounts of potassium salts present in the whole plant increase the action of punarnavine. In a clinical trial for treatment of nephrotic syndrome, the extract was found to improve diuresis, to relieve oedema, and to cause an overall improvement of the patient, including a decrease in albuminuria, rise in serum protein and fall in serum cholesterol level.
A decoction of the leaves and the fresh juice both produced a significant analgesic effect in tests with rats, but the fresh juice raised the pain threshold for much longer than the leaf decoction. The alcoholic extract showed anti-inflammatory effects against carrageenan-induced paw oedema and also increased urinary output in rats.
In tests with mice, the alkaloidal fraction of the roots inhibited hypersensitivity reactions. Extracts of the whole plant exhibited various pharmacological effects including hepatoprotective, anticonvulsant, hypotensive, myocardial depressant, and skeleton and smooth muscle stimulant activities in rats. No teratogenic effects have been detected in pregnant rats. The root extract showed noticeable reduction of the duration of menstrual flow and iron loss in monkeys. The results of tests with rats suggest that a leaf extract has significant antidiabetic activity. The ethanolic extract of the aerial parts showed protection of guinea pigs with histamine-induced asthma. An ethanolic extract of the roots showed in-vitro and in-vivo antitumour activity. Additionally, extracts showed antiviral, antifungal and allelopathic activities.
In-vitro root cultures were established from leaf segments of Boerhavia diffusa. Roots formed with 0.5 μM IAA contained 15% punarnavine on dry weight basis, while roots formed with higher concentrations of IAA contained less of the compound. In the presence of 2,4-D, leaf segments produced callus with regenerated roots, containing traces of punarnavine.
The nutritional composition of the leaves per 100 g edible portion is: water 82 g, energy 217 kJ (52 kcal), protein 4.5 g, fat 0.5 g, carbohydrate 10.3 g, fibre 2.2 g.
Adulterations and substitutes
Other species of Boerhavia, and also Trianthema portulacastrum L. (Aizoaceae) are sometimes used as a diuretic in the same way as Boerhavia diffusa.
Annual to perennial herb up to 1 m tall, sometimes with thick taproot; stem branching mainly from the base, prostrate when young, ascending to erect when flowering, fleshy, green, often flushed with red, glabrescent to short or long hairy with multicellular hairs, often glandular, especially around the swollen nodes. Leaves opposite, simple, unequal; stipules absent; petiole 1–2.5(–3.5) cm long; blade broadly ovate to elliptical, 1.5–6 cm × 0.5–5 cm, base obtuse, cordate or truncate, apex acute to obtuse, margins sinuate, pale green to whitish beneath, sometimes with red marginal glands. Inflorescence an axillary, small, often congested irregular umbel, (1–)3–5(–7)-flowered, aggregated in a large diffuse panicle up to 40(–60) cm long, by reduction of leaves appearing terminal, elongating greatly after start of flowering; bracts and bracteoles small, fimbriate, caducous. Flowers bisexual, regular; pedicel up to 1 mm long; perianth tubular-campanulate, distinctly constricted halfway, lower part obconical, surrounding the ovary, 5-ribbed, green, upper part 5-lobed, 0.5–1.5 mm × 2 mm, red or purple, soon falling; stamens 1(–3), slightly exserted; ovary superior, seemingly inferior, 1-celled, style slightly exserted, stigma head-shaped. Fruit an achene enclosed by the thickened lower part of perianth (collectively called anthocarp); anthocarp obconical or club-shaped, (2.5–)3–3.5 mm × 1–1.5 mm, apex rounded, 5-ribbed, with rounded ribs, with glandular hairs, 1-seeded. Seed obovoid, pale brown. Seedling with epigeal germination; hypocotyl well developed; cotyledons rounded, with distinct midvein; first leaves alternate, shortly hairy, purplish beneath.
Other botanical information
Boerhavia comprises 5–20 species, depending on the species concept, and includes several variable pantropical weeds with complex nomenclatural histories. Two views have been taken on the application of the name Boerhavia diffusa: a broad view regarding several Boerhavia taxa (including Boerhavia repens L. and Boerhavia coccinea Mill.) as a single very variable species, and a restricted concept in which Boerhavia diffusa is applied to the taxon with an apparently terminal panicle. This last view is followed here, but this implies that some of the literature in which the name Boerhavia diffusa is used may refer to other species.
Growth and development
Boerhavia diffusa can be found flowering and fruiting throughout the year, when sufficient water is available. The first flowers may appear 4 weeks after germination of the seeds.
Boerhavia diffusa occurs in ruderal localities and along roadsides, preferring sunny sites and a slightly seasonal climate, from sea-level up to 1200 m altitude. It is often a weed in cultivated land, usually on sandy soils, and is also found in lawns and grazing pasture.
Propagation and planting
Boerhavia diffusa is propagated by seed, which germinates with the start of the first rains and continues to germinate throughout the rainy season. When the soil of arable fields is turned, pieces of root can sprout as well. Well-drained soils and sunny conditions are required. The mucous coat of the anthocarp shows a distinct sticky swelling when ripe, with which it clings to mammals and birds. Boerhavia diffusa has been successfully propagated by in-vitro induction of adventitious roots on stem explants, leaf or shoot tip cultures.
Boerhavia diffusa is a weed of cultivated land and wasteland, often in lawns in drier areas. Although common, it is not a weed of importance. After mechanical cultivation the plant resprouts from its roots but relatively few cultivations are needed to exhaust it.
Diseases and pests
In India several host-specific diseases have been identified on Boerhavia diffusa, i.e. Cercospora diffusa causing chlorotic leaf spots, and Colletotrichum boerhaviae causing brown necrotic spots. Also in India Boerhavia diffusa is recorded as a host for the virus causing aubergine mosaic disease (EMV), and in Costa Rica as a host of zucchini yellow mosaic potyvirus (ZYMV). In Cameroon Boerhavia diffusa is an alternative host for the cotton aphid (Aphis gossypii), and in Nigeria caterpillars of Aegocera rectilinea and Hippotion celerio were found feeding almost solely on Boerhavia diffusa.
Handling after harvest
The harvested parts of Boerhavia diffusa are often used fresh, except for the roots, which may be dried in the sun for later use.
Genetic resources
Boerhavia diffusa has a large area of distribution, often as a weed, and is not at risk of genetic erosion. There seems to be a geographical variation in the composition of pharmacological compounds, and more research is needed in order to evaluate the most promising populations. There are no known breeding programmes of Boerhavia diffusa.
Various extracts and purified compounds from Boerhavia diffusa show a range of pharmacological effects (in vitro and in vivo), e.g. diuretic, anti-inflammatory and hepatoprotective activities. Few clinical data, however, are available and this merits further research in order to fully evaluate its potential for future medicinal use.
Major references
• Burkill, H.M., 1997. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 4, Families M–R. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 969 pp.
• Chandan, B.K., Sharma, A.K. & Anand, K.K., 2004. Boerhavia diffusa: study of its hepatoprotective activity. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 31(3): 299–307.
• Gilbert, M.G., 2000. Nyctaginaceae. In: Edwards, S., Mesfin Tadesse, Demissew Sebsebe & Hedberg, I. (Editors). Flora of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Volume 2, part 1. Magnoliaceae to Flacourtiaceae. The National Herbarium, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Department of Systematic Botany, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden. pp. 264–273.
• Hiruma-Lima, C.A., Gracioso, J.S., Bighitti, E.J.B., Germonsén Robineou, L. & Souza Brito, A.R.M., 2000. The juice of fresh leaves of Boerhaavia diffusa L. (Nyctaginaceae) markedly reduces pain in mice. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 71: 267–274.
• Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
• Noba, K. & Ba, A.T., 1992. Réexamen de la systématique de 3 espèces du genre Boerhavia L. (Nyctaginaceae). Webbia 46(2): 327–339.
• Rawat, A.K.S., Mehrotra, S., Tripathi, S.C. & Shome, U., 1997. Hepatoprotective activity of Boerhaavia diffusa L. roots - a popular Indian ethnomedicine. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 56: 61–66.
• Satheesh, M.A. & Pari, L., 2004. Antioxidant effect of Boerhavia diffusa L. in tissues of alloxan-induced diabetic rats. Indian Journal of Experimental Biology 42(10): 989–992.
• Slamet Sutanti Budi Rahayu, 2001. Boerhavia L. In: van Valkenburg, J.L.C.H. & Bunyapraphatsara, N. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 12(2): Medicinal and poisonous plants 2. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 111–116.
• Whitehouse, C., 1996. Nyctaginaceae. In: Polhill, R.M. (Editor). Flora of Tropical East Africa. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, Netherlands. 20 pp.
Other references
• Abo, K.A. & Ashidi, J.S., 1999. Antimicrobial screening of Bridelia micrantha, Alchornea cordifolia and Boerhavia diffusa. African Journal of Medicine and Medical Sciences 28(3–4): 167–169.
• Agrawal, A., Srivastava, S., Srivastava, J.N. & Srivastava, M.M., 2004. Inhibitory effect of the plant Boerhavia diffusa L. against the dermatophytic fungus Microsporum flavum. Journal of Environmental Biology 25(3): 307–311.
• Amoako, A., 1991. A preliminary investigation of the anti-asthmatic properties of the ethanolic extracts of Bidens pilosa and Boerhavia diffusa. BSc thesis, Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, Faculty of Pharmacy, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana. 44 pp.
• Berhaut, J., 1979. Flore illustrée du Sénégal. Dicotylédones. Volume 6. Linacées à Nymphéacées. Gouvernement du Sénégal, Ministère du Développement Rural et de l’Hydraulique, Direction des Eaux et Forêts, Dakar, Senegal. 636 pp.
• Edeoga, H.O. & Ikem, C.I., 2002. Tannins, saponins and calcium oxalate crystals from Nigerian species of Boerhavia L. (Nyctaginaceae). South African Journal of Botany 68: 386–388.
• Gupta, J. & Ali, M., 1998. Chemical constituents of Boerhavia diffusa Linn. roots. Indian Journal of Chemistry 37B: 912–917.
• Kibungu Kembelo, A.O., 2004. Quelques plantes medicinales du Bas-Congo et leurs usages. DFID, London, United Kingdom. 197 pp.
• Lami, N., Kadota, S. & Kikuchi, T., 1991. Constituents of the roots of Boerhaavia diffusa L. 4. Isolation and structure determination of boeravinones D, E, and F. Chemical & Pharmaceutical Bulletin 39(7): 1863–1865.
• Latham, P., 2004. Useful plants of Bas-Congo province, Democratic Republic of the Congo. DFID, London, United Kingdom. 320 pp.
• Leung, W.-T.W., Busson, F. & Jardin, C., 1968. Food composition table for use in Africa. FAO, Rome, Italy. 306 pp.
• Mehrotra, S., Mishra, K.P., Maurya, R., Srimal, R.C. & Singh, V.K., 2002. Immunomodulation by ethanolic extract of Boerhavia diffusa roots. International Immunopharmacology 2(7): 987–996.
• Mehrotra, S., Singh, V.K., Agarwal, S.S., Maurya, R. & Shrimal, R.C., 2002. Antilymphoproliferative activity of ethanolic extract of Boerhavia diffusa roots. Experiments in Molecular Pathology 72: 236–242.
• Mungantiwar, A.A., Nair, A.M., Shinde, U.A., Dikshit, V.J., Saraf, M.N., Thakur, V.S. & Sainis, K.B., 1999. Studies on the immunomodulatory effects of Boerhaavia diffusa alkaloidal fraction. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 65: 125–131.
• Pari, L. & Amarnath, S.M., 2004. Antidiabetic effect of Boerhavia diffusa: effect on serum and tissue lipids in experimental diabetes. Journal of Medicine and Food 7(4): 472–476.
• Pari, L. & Amarnath, S.M., 2004. Antidiabetic activity of Boerhavia diffusa L.: effect on hepatic key enzymes in experimental diabetes. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 91: 109–113.
• Shrivastava, N. & Padhya, M.A., 1995. ‘Punarnavine’ profile in the regenerated roots of Boerhaavia diffusa L. from leaf segments. Current Science 68(6): 653–656.
• Singh, A., Singh, R.G., Singh, R.H., Mishra, N. & Singh, N., 1991. An experimental evaluation of possible teratogenic potential in Boerhavia diffusa in albino rats. Planta Medica 57(4): 315–316.
• Smith, G.C., Clegg, M.S., Keen, C.L. & Grivetti, L.E., 1996. Mineral values of selected plant foods common to southern Burkina Faso and to Niamey, Niger, West Africa. International Journal of Food Science and Nutrition 47(1): 41–53.
• Thulin, M., 1993. Nyctaginaceae. In: Thulin, M. (Editor). Flora of Somalia. Volume 1. Pteridophyta; Gymnospermae; Angiospermae (Annonaceae-Fabaceae). Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. pp. 168–175.
• von Koenen, E., 2001. Medicinal, poisonous and edible plants in Namibia. Klaus Hess Verlag, Göttingen, Germany. 336 pp.
Sources of illustration
• Adjanohoun, E.J., Aké Assi, L., Ali Ahmed, Eymé, J., Guinko, S., Kayonga, A., Keita, A. & Lebras, M. (Editors), 1982. Médecine traditionelle et pharmacopée - Contribution aux études ethnobotaniques et floristiques aux Comores. Agence de Coopération Culturelle et Technique, Paris, France. 217 pp.
M. Muzila
Herbarium (UCBG), Department of Biological Sciences, University of Botswana, Private Bag UB00704, Gaborone, Botswana

G.H. Schmelzer
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
A. Gurib-Fakim
Faculty of Science, University of Mauritius, Réduit, Mauritius
Associate editors
C.H. Bosch
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
M.S.J. Simmonds
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 3AB, United Kingdom
R. Arroo
Leicester School of Pharmacy, Natural Products Research, De Montfort University, The Gateway, Leicester LE1 9BH, United Kingdom
A. de Ruijter
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
General editors
R.H.M.J. Lemmens
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
L.P.A. Oyen
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
Photo editor
A. de Ruijter
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article:
Muzila, M., 2006. Boerhavia diffusa L. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
Distribution Map wild

1, flowering and fruiting stem; 2, root.
Redrawn and adapted by Achmad Satiri Nurhaman

flowering plants

flowering plant

flowering branches