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Chamaecrista nigricans (Vahl) Greene

Pittonia 4: 30 (1899).
Caesalpiniaceae (Leguminosae - Caesalpinioideae)
Chromosome number
2n = 16
Cassia nigricans Vahl (1790).
Vernacular names
Black grain (En). Casse noircissante (Fr). Tintêro, macarra bubel (Po).
Origin and geographic distribution
Chamaecrista nigricans is widely distributed in tropical Africa, and also occurs in western Asia and India. As a spontaneous weed it occurs throughout the tropics and subtropics and is sometimes found even in Australia.
Chamaecrista nigricans has many uses in both human and veterinary medicine. Throughout West and East Africa, an infusion of the leaves or aerial parts is taken against fever and malaria, and to treat stomach-ache, diarrhoea and worms. Externally, an infusion or decoction of the leaves is applied to wounds and abscesses as an antiseptic. The root is pounded with water and taken against diarrhoea, while in decoction it is taken as an anthelmintic. A decoction of the leaves is also taken as cough medicine, and is externally applied for itching. The pounded leaves in water are applied to ticks on humans and horses, while pounded leaves in palm oil are rubbed on the head to kill lice. In Guinea an infusion of the aerial parts is taken as an anti-menstruation agent. In Mali an infusion of the aerial parts is added to a bath to treat haemorrhoids. In Burkina Faso the leaves are rubbed on insect stings. In Niger an infusion of the leaves is taken to treat venereal diseases. In Nigeria a leaf infusion is used to treat peptic ulcers. In Uganda, an infusion of the roots is taken against retained placenta and to promote labour. In Niger and Uganda, an infusion of the root is used for cattle as a vermifuge, as a purgative and to treat diarrhoea. Dried leaves, leaf powder, ash and extracts are used as protective in the storage of pulses and cereals.
The foliage is occasionally grazed by livestock in Senegal. In the Sudan it is eaten by camels only in the rainy season. In Guinea, the bitter mature leaves are added to food as an appetizer.
The leaves of Chamaecrista nigricans contain the anthraquinone emodin and its anthrone. Methanolic extracts have shown analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects and protected rats against ulcers. The anti-ulcer activity may be via histaminergic receptor inhibition. The extract also has a dose-dependent antidiarrhoeal activity, which may be partly due to α-adrenoceptor stimulation. In mice and rats the extract showed contraceptive activity through oestrogenic and anti-implantation activities. Tests with plant extracts have shown significant action against Herpes simplex virus type 1 in vitro. Leaves caused a significant reduction in growth rate in rats when incorporated at 5% in the diet, induced cell hyperplasia in the liver, and reduced the mean weight of the liver and kidneys. Powdered leaves are effective as a storage protectant for pulses, as they inhibit hatching of insect larvae. They are not a health threat if removed before consumption. Ethanolic plant extracts have shown antibacterial activity against Shigella dysenteriae, Staphylococcus aureus, Staphylococcus faecalis, and Vibrio cholerae.
Annual, erect herb or undershrub, up to 1.5 m tall, hairy, pale green. Leaves distichously alternate, paripinnate with 10–18 pairs of leaflets; stipules 5–8 mm long; petiole with a sessile gland 2–4 mm long, rachis channelled; leaflets sessile, narrowly oblong, symmetrical, up to 25 mm × 6 mm, apex rounded, mucronate. Inflorescence a raceme, inserted slightly above the leaf axil, 3–8-flowered. Flowers bisexual, nearly regular, 5-merous; pedicel 1–3 mm long; sepals acute, slightly longer then petals; petals obovate, up to 4.5 mm long, yellow; stamens 8–10; ovary superior, 1-celled. Fruit an erect compressed pod 2–4 cm × 0.5 cm, slightly raised over the seeds, brown to black when ripe, splitting into 2 thin, spiralling valves, finely pubescent, with up to 10 seeds. Seeds obovate or rhombic, up to 4 mm long, smooth.
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 quite difficult.
Chamaecrista nigricans favours waste places, agricultural fields, roadsides and disturbed soil, and also occurs in grassland and wooded savanna, from sea-level up to 1200 m altitude. It is especially common on heavy lateritic soils. Rainfall of 950–1400 mm in 5–6 months as in the Sudano-Guinean zone of West Africa is suitable.
Propagation and planting
Seed of Chamaecrista nigricans germinates easily.
Chamaecrista nigricans is collected from the wild. The whole plant is uprooted by hand and may be subsequently dried.
Genetic resources
Chamaecrista nigricans is not threatened by genetic erosion, because of its wide range of habitats and wide distribution.
Chamaecrista nigricans shows very interesting pharmacological actions: the anti-ulcer, anticonceptive and antibacteriological activities are especially promising. Further research on the medicinal actions of leaves and roots of Chamaecrista nigricans is warranted. Formulations for using the leaves against storage pests need to be developed.
Major references
• Akah, P.A., Orisakwe, O.E., Gamaniel, K.S. & Shittu, A., 1998. Evaluation of Nigerian traditional medicines 2: effects of some Nigerian folk remedies on peptic ulcer. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 62(2): 123–127.
• Baerts, M. & Lehmann, J., 2002. Cassia nigricans. [Internet]. Prelude Medicinal Plants Database. Metafro-Infosys, Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium prelude/view_plant?pi=02630 Accessed September 2004.
• Belmain, S.R., Neal, G.E., Ray, D.E. & Golob, P., 2001. Insecticidal and vertebrate toxicity associated with ethnobotanicals used as post-harvest protectants in Ghana. Food and Chemical Toxicology 39(3): 287–291.
• 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.
• Chidume, F.C., Gamaniel, K., Amos, S., Akah, P., Obodozie, O. & Wambebe, C.W., 2001. Pharmacological activity of the methanolic extract of Cassia nigricans leaves. Indian Journal of Pharmacology 33: 350–356.
• Diallo, D., Sogn, C., Samaké, F.B., Paulsen, B.S., Michaelsen, T. E. & Keita, A., 2002. Wound healing plants in Mali, the Bamako Region: an ethnobotanical survey and complement fixation of water extracts from selected plants. Pharmaceutical Biology 40(2): 117–128.
• Lock, J.M., 1990. Cassia (Leguminosae - Caesalpinioideae) in Africa. Kew Bulletin 43(2): 333–342.
• Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
• Nwafor, P.A. & Okwuasaba, F.K., 2001. Contraceptive and estrogenic effect of a methanol extract of Cassia nigricans leaves in experimental animals. Pharmaceutical Biology 39(6): 424–428.
• Nwafor, P.A. & Okwuasaba, F.K., 2001. Effect of methanolic extract of Cassia nigricans leaves on rat gastrointestinal tract. Fitoterapia 72(3): 206–214.
Other references
• Adam, J.G., Echard, N. & Lescot, M., 1972. Plantes médicinales Hausa de l’Ader. Journal d’Agriculture Tropicale et de Botanique Appliquée 19(8–9): 259–399.
• 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.
• 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.
• Benz, B. (Editor), 2001. Résumé des mémoires de stage des étudiants du CNEARC, soutenues en 2000. Etudes et Travaux No 21. Centre National d’Etudes Agronomiques des Régions Chaudes. Montpellier, France. 115 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.
• Geissler, P.W., Harris, S.A., Prince, R.J., Olsen, A., Achieng’ Odhiambo, R., Oketch-Rabah, H., Madiega, P.A., Andersen, A. & Mølgaard, P., 2002. Medicinal plants used by Luo mothers and children in Bondo district, Kenya. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 83: 39–54.
• Golob, P., Moss, C., Dales, M., Fidgen, A., Evans, J. & Gudrups, I., 1999. The use of spices and medicinals as bioactive protectants for grains. FAO Agricultural Services Bulletin No 137. FAO, Rome, Italy. 239 pp.
• Harborne, J.B., Boulter, D. & Turner, B.L., 1971. Chemotaxonomy of the Leguminosae. Academic Press, London, United Kingdom. 612 pp.
• Hegnauer, R. & Hegnauer, M., 1996. Chemotaxonomie der Pflanzen. Band 11b-1. Birkhäuser Verlag, Basel, Switzerland. 500 pp.
• Mahmoud, M.A., Khidir, M.O., Khalifa, M.A., Bashir el Amadi, A.M., Musnad, H.A.R. & Mohamed, E.T.I., 1995. Sudan: Country Report to the FAO International Technical Conference on Plant Genetic Resources (Leipzig 1996). Khartoum, Sudan. 86 pp.
• 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.
• Tabuti, J.R.S., Lye, K.A. & Dhillion, S.S., 2003. Traditional herbal drugs of Bulamogi, Uganda: plants, use and administration. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 88: 19–44.
• Velayaudham, K., Rajendran, P., Radhamani, S. & Krishnarajan, J., 2000. Decomposition and nitrogen release of Kattavarai (Cassia nigricans Vahl.). Madras Agricultural Journal 86(10–12): 670–672.
• Vidigal, M.P., 2002. Caesalpiniaceae. In: Martins, E.S., Diniz, M.A., Paiva, J., Gomes, I. & Gomes, S. (Editors). Flora de Cabo Verde: Plantas vasculares. No 44. Instituto de Investigação Científica Tropical, Lisbon, Portugal & Instituto Nacional de Investigação e Desenvolvimento Agrário, Praia, Cape Verde. 44 pp.
Sources of illustration
• Thulin, M., 1983. Leguminosae of Ethiopia. Opera Botanica 68: 1–223.
L.J.G. van der Maesen
Biosystematics Group, Wageningen University, Gen. Foulkesweg 37, 6703 BL Wageningen, Netherlands

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

Correct citation of this article:
van der Maesen, L.J.G., 2006. Chamaecrista nigricans (Vahl) Greene. 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 branch; 2, branch with pods.
Redrawn and adapted by Iskak Syamsudin