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Chamaecrista absus (L.) H.S.Irwin & Barneby

Protologue
Mem. New York Bot. Gard. 35: 664 (1982).
Family
Caesalpiniaceae (Leguminosae - Caesalpinioideae)
Chromosome number
2n = 28
Synonyms
Cassia absus L. (1753).
Vernacular names
Four-leaved senna, black grain, pig’s senna, tropical sensitive-pea (En). Casse absus (Fr).
Origin and geographic distribution
Chamaecrista absus occurs naturally throughout the Old World tropics, and has been introduced and naturalized in tropical America.
Uses
Dried and powdered leaves, a leaf extract or occasionally pounded ripe fruits of Chamaecrista absus are widely applied to eczema, ringworm, wounds, sores, abscesses, ulcers and venereal inflammations. A tea of the leaves is considered depurative. In many parts of Africa and Asia the powdered seeds or seed extracts are sprinkled on the eye to treat eye diseases, e.g. conjunctivitis and cataract. In Senegal the powdered seeds are also taken to treat diabetes and chlorosis, and the fresh plant is pounded and mixed with butter for use as a suppository against haemorrhoids. In Ghana a decoction of the roots, combined with palm wine and chillies, is used as a purgative to expel worms. In Congo the leaves mixed with Heterotis rotundifolia (Sm.) Jacq.-Fél. are pulped and diluted with palm wine to promote conception in women. In part the mix is ingested, and in part it is rubbed on the underbelly. Different plant parts are also taken in infusion as an aphrodisiac. In Kenya and Tanzania an infusion of the roots is taken to treat stomach-ache.
Reports on the value of Chamaecrista absus as a pasture plant are contradictory. In the Sahel it is well liked by livestock and is used to make silage. Leaves are retained well into the dry season, which makes it valuable grazing. In Nigeria it is appreciated as it is thought to favour growth of cattle and it has veterinary value, e.g. to cure diarrhoea. Elsewhere in Africa, young plants are eaten by cattle, but older plants are sticky and appear unpalatable. In Malawi Chamaecrista absus is applied as a green manure in maize. The leaves yield a weak yellow dye.
Production and international trade
Seed of Chamaecrista absus is traded in India; no information is available on trade in Africa.
Properties
All plant parts of Chamaecrista absus contain the monoterpenoid imidazole alkaloids chaksine and isochaksine. Chaksine suppresses the respiratory, vasomotor and heat-regulating centres and inhibits muscle activity and the sense of balance. It also has hypotensive and antibacterial activity. In a test for antifungal activity, chaksine iodide at 0.5% inhibited all fungi tested. Isochaksine has similar activities to chaksine but in general at higher doses. Aqueous extracts of the aerial parts have an allelopathic effect on root nodule growth of groundnut and mung bean.
The anthraquinones chrysophanol and emodin were isolated from the roots, and the flavonoids quercetin and rutin were isolated from the leaves. Chrysophanol and emodin have laxative activities.
The seeds of Chamaecrista absus contain about 4.5% oil, 52% of which is 9-ketooctadec-cis-15-enoic acid. The oil also contains 25% linoleic acid, 12% palmitic acid, 7% oleic acid, 2.5% stearic acid and 1.5% arachidic acid. Other analyses have shown the presence of gentisic acid, 5-O-D-glucopyranosyl gentisic acid, ethyl-α-D-galactopyranoside, and the flavonoids apigenin, luteolin, hydnocarpin and iso-hydnocarpin. These flavonoids showed anti-tumour activities in vitro, and some also in vivo. Sugars in the seed include galactomannan, which induces the mucilaginous properties of the endosperm.
Description
Annual herb up to 60(–100) cm tall, branched towards the top, with long rigid glandular hairs on all parts, lemon-scented. Leaves alternate, paripinnate, 3–7 cm long, with 2 pairs of leaflets; stipules linear, up to 8 mm long; petiole without large gland, rachis with gland between each of the leaflet pairs; leaflets almost sessile, elliptical, up to 4.5 cm × 3 cm, largest in the upper pair, apex obtuse. Inflorescence a terminal or axillary raceme, up to 13 cm long, 4– 6-flowered. Flowers bisexual, nearly regular, 5-merous; pedicel 3–5 cm long; sepals obtuse, c. 4 mm long, pubescent; petals obovate, up to 8 mm long, cream to orange-yellow, sometimes red outside; stamens 5, filaments straight; ovary superior, 1-celled, style curved. Fruit a flat pod c. 5 cm × 0.5 cm, splitting into 2 thin, slightly spiralling valves, containing 5–7 seeds. Seeds obovate to slightly rhombic, c. 5 mm long, dark brown to black, glossy.
Other botanical information
Chamaecrista (formerly in Cassia) occurs throughout the tropics and subtropics and comprises about 250 species. It has its largest diversity in tropical Africa and tropical America. In continental Africa about 40 species occur, in Madagascar 10, 6 of them endemic. Chamaecrista has a large morphological variability, rendering a comprehensive taxonomic treatment extremely difficult. Chamaecrista absus is variable in its morphology, which is not surprising considering its wide distribution.
Ecology
Chamaecrista absus occurs in ruderal localities, old farmland, along roadsides, in grassy savanna, in open localities in deciduous bushland, on granite outcrops and on sand dunes, from sea-level up to 1700 m altitude. In Senegal it is abundant near the seashore. It is well adapted to the semi-arid tropics.
Propagation and planting
To increase germination nicking or abrasion of Chamaecrista absus seeds is recommended. A temperature of 24°C is optimum for germination.
Management
In Africa Chamaecrista absus is collected from the wild. In Pakistan it is cultivated for its leaves and seeds.
Harvesting
Chamaecrista absus is harvested by pulling up the plants when the pods are mature.
Handling after harvest
As the pods of Chamaecrista absus are dehiscent, drying should be done on a firm clean threshing floor. Dry storage is preferable.
Genetic resources
As a weedy species, Chamaecrista absus faces no risk of genetic erosion. No samples are available in seed banks.
Prospects
Some of the traditional uses of Chamaecrista absus have been validated by research, but more research is needed on antimicrobial and antitumour activities. Chaksine and iso-chaksine seem to be the most interesting chemical compounds for commercialization. A better understanding of the cultivation and its economics could be the basis for further work. The risk of the species becoming a weed should be taken into account in areas where it does not occur naturally.
Major references
• Baerts, M. & Lehmann, J., 2005. Cassia absus. [Internet]. Prelude Medicinal Plants Database. Metafro-Infosys, Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium http://www.metafro.be/ prelude/view_plant?pi=02550 Accessed March 2005.
• Brenan, J.P.M., 1967. Leguminosae, subfamily Caesalpinioideae. In: Milne-Redhead, E. & Polhill, R.M. (Editors). Flora of Tropical East Africa. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. 230 pp.
• Burkill, H.M., 1995. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 3, Families J–L. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 857 pp.
• Harborne, J.B., Boulter, D. & Turner, B.L., 1971. Chemotaxonomy of the Leguminosae. Academic Press, London, United Kingdom. 612 pp.
• Kapoor, V.P. & Mukherjee, S., 1969. Galactomannan from Cassia absus seed. 1. Nature of sugars present, methylation, and periodate oxidation studies. Canadian Journal of Chemistry 47: 2883.
• Lock, J.M., 1990. Cassia sens.lat. (Leguminosae - Caesalpinioideae) in Africa. Kew Bulletin 43(2): 333–342.
• Mahajan, V.M., 1983. Antimycotic activity of different chemicals, chaksine iodide and garlic. Mykosen 26(2): 94–99.
• Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
• Rao, R.V.K., Rao, J.V.L.N.S. & Vimaladevi, M., 1979. Phytochemical investigation of Cassia absus (roots and leaves). Journal of Natural Products 42(3): 299–300.
• Silva, O., Duarte, A., Cabrita, J., Pimentel, M., Diniz, A. & Gomes, E., 1996. Antimicrobial activity of Guinea-Bissau traditional remedies. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 50: 55–59.
Other references
• Bartha, R., 1970. Fodder plants in the Sahel zone of Africa. Weltforum Verlag, München, Germany. 306 pp.
• Berhaut, J., 1975. Flore illustrée du Sénégal. Dicotylédones. Volume 4. Ficoidées à Légumineuses. Gouvernement du Sénégal, Ministère du Développement Rural et de l’Hydraulique, Direction des Eaux et Forêts, Dakar, Senegal. 625 pp.
• du Puy, D.J., Labat, J.N., Rabevohitra, R., Villiers, J.-F., Bosser, J. & Moat, J., 2002. The Leguminosae of Madagascar. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 750 pp.
• Figuière, F., Marnotte, P., Le Bourgeois, T. & Carrara, A., 1998. Clé de détermination de huit espèces du genre Cassia L. (Caesalpiniaceae), adventices d’Afrique de l’Ouest. Agriculture et Développement 19: 28–36.
• Ghisalberti, E.L., Pennacchio, M. & Alexander, E., 1998. Survey of secondary plant metabolites with cardiovascular activity. Pharmaceutical Biology 36(4): 237–279.
• Hegnauer, R. & Hegnauer, M., 1996. Chemotaxonomie der Pflanzen. Band 11b-1. Birkhäuser Verlag, Basel, Switzerland. 500 pp.
• Hosamani, K.M., 1994. A rich source of novel 9-ketooctadec-cis-15-enoic acid from Cassia absus seed oil and its possible industrial utilization. Industrial and Engineering Chemistry Research 33(4): 1058–1061.
• Jansen, P.C.M., 1981. Spices, condiments and medicinal plants in Ethiopia, their taxonomy and agricultural significance. Agricultural Research Reports 906. Centre for Agricultural Publishing and Documentation, Wageningen, Netherlands. 327 pp.
• Kapoor, V.P. & Mukherjee, S., 1969. Galactomannan from Cassia absus seed. 1. Nature of sugars present, methylation, and periodate oxidation studies. Canadian Journal of Chemistry 47: 2883.
• Khonje, T.L.K., 1998. Soil nitrogen and organic matter contribution by some green manures under a maize-based cropping system. BSc thesis, University of Malawi, Bunda College of Agriculture, Bunda, Malawi. 25 pp.
• Nwude, N. & Ibrahim, M.A., 1980. Plants used in traditional veterinary medical practice in Nigeria. Journal of Veterinary Pharmacology and Therapeutics 3: 261–273.
• Watt, J.M. & Breyer-Brandwijk, M.G., 1962. The medicinal and poisonous plants of southern and eastern Africa. 2nd Edition. E. and S. Livingstone, London, United Kingdom. 1457 pp.
Sources of illustration
• Brenan, J.P.M., 1967. Leguminosae, subfamily Caesalpinioideae. In: Milne-Redhead, E. & Polhill, R.M. (Editors). Flora of Tropical East Africa. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. 230 pp.
Author(s)
L.J.G. van der Maesen
Biosystematics Group, Wageningen University, Gen. Foulkesweg 37, 6703 BL Wageningen, Netherlands


Editors
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:
van der Maesen, L.J.G., 2006. Chamaecrista absus (L.) H.S.Irwin & Barneby. 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, plant habit; 2, flower; 3, opened pod.
Redrawn and adapted by Achmad Satiri Nurhaman



plant habit
obtained from
B. Wursten


inflorescence
obtained from
B. Wursten