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Cissampelos capensis L.f.

Suppl. pl.: 432 (1782).
Origin and geographic distribution
The distribution of Cissampelos capensis is limited to Namibia and the Cape Provinces of South Africa.
In South Africa, where the plant is called ‘dawidjie’, a tincture of the rhizome in alcohol or brandy or a decoction of the rhizome is taken as a blood purifier to treat boils and glandular swellings, syphilis, cholera, colic, diarrhoea, diabetes and several cancers. It is given against bladder ailments, bilious problems and gallstones and is applied externally and internally against erysipelas. The extract is also used to prevent miscarriage and difficult labour, and to expel retained placenta. A paste made of the leaves is applied to sores and boils. Stems are burnt as incense against evil spirits, while a stem infusion is used as a ritual wash for the same purpose.
Production and international trade
Bundles of fresh or dried leaves and rhizomes are sold in local markets in South Africa.
All plant parts are rich in alkaloids. Major components of the leaves are the morphinane alkaloid salutaridine and the aporphine alkaloids dicentrine and bulbocapnine, and as minor components the aporphine alkaloid lauroscholtzine, the proaporphine alkaloids crotsparine and glaziovine and the bisbenzyltetrahydroisoquinoline alkaloid cycleanine. The alkaloid yield varies from 4.7–19 mg/g dry weight. In the stems the major alkaloids are the aporphine alkaloids bulbocapnine and dicentrine and the bisbenzyltetrahydroisoquinoline alkaloids cissacapine, cycleanine and insularine. Minor alkaloids are the bisbenzyltetrahydroisoquinoline alkaloids 12-O-methylcurine and insulanoline and the benzyltetrahydroisoquinoline alkaloid reticuline. Main components of the rhizomes are the bisbenzyltetrahydroisoquinoline alkaloids 12-O-methylcurine, cycleanine and cissacarpine, and as minor components the aporphine alkaloids bulbocapnine and dicentrine, the proaporphine alkaloids glaziovine and pronuciferine and the bisbenzyltetrahydroisoquinoline alkaloid insularine. The alkaloid yield of both stem and rhizome samples varies from 0.5–2.3 mg/g dry weight. The alkaloid composition also varies among plants, the difference being largest between plants from inland localities and plants from coastal localities.
In pharmacological tests dicentrine, cycleanine and salutaridine showed significant anticancer activities against several cancer cell lines, but this was coupled with a high cytotoxicity. Cycleanine has shown selective antiplasmodial and antiprotozoal activities as well as spasmolytic activity in vitro. Cycleanine furthermore showed antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and analgesic activities, and dicentrine antibacterial and antifungal activities in vitro. A methanol extract of the leaves, as well as isolated dicentrine and another isolated alkaloid, neolitsine, showed significant anthelmintic activity against larvae of the stomach parasite Haemonchus contortus. In an in-vivo essay, oral administration of dicentrine resulted in 67% reduction of worm counts in mice at a dose of 25 mg/kg.
Dioecious shrub up to 1 m tall, with rhizome; stems glabrous or short-hairy, with longitudinal ridges. Leaves arranged spirally, simple; stipules absent; petiole up to 2.5 cm long, glabrous; blade ovate to deltoid, up to 4 cm × 3.5 cm, base cuneate to truncate, apex obtuse to retuse, often with mucro, margin entire to slightly undulate, leathery, glabrous to hairy, greyish to bright green, palmately 3–5-veined. Inflorescence an axillary, umbel-like cyme, solitary or clustered; male inflorescence solitary or paired, female inflorescence arranged in a short false raceme; bracts linear, tiny. Flowers unisexual; male flowers with pedicel up to 2.5 mm long, sepals 4, elliptical to obovate, 0.5–1.5 mm × 0.5–1 mm, fleshy, outer two thicker than inner two, short-hairy outside, corolla cup-shaped, 4-lobed, 0.5–1 mm in diameter, greenish, stamens 4, filaments fused; female flower with pedicel up to 3 mm long, sepals 2, orbicular to rhomboid, c. 1 mm × 1.5 mm, short-hairy outside, petals 2, elliptical to ovate, 0.5–1 mm × 0.5–1 mm, glabrous, ovary superior, striped, glabrous, 1-celled, style short, stigma u-shaped, 3-lobed. Fruit a compressed obovoid drupe up to 7 mm long, orange when mature, stone bony, horseshoe-shaped, 1-seeded. Seed with sparse endosperm and curved embryo.
Cissampelos capensis can be found flowering throughout the year.
Cissampelos comprises about 20 species, 7 in tropical America and 13 in tropical Africa. Cissampelos pareira L. is the only species with a pantropical distribution. Cissampelos capensis should not be confused with Zehneria scabra (L.f.) Sond. (Cucurbitaceae), known as ‘dawidjies’ in South Africa and also used medicinally.
Cissampelos capensis occurs in open localities on well-drained sandy or granite-derived soils, up to 1900 m altitude.
Leaves and rhizomes are only collected from the wild.
Genetic resources and breeding
Cissampelos capensis occurs in a fairly large area; there are no indications that it is threatened by genetic erosion.
Cissampelos capensis contains some alkaloids with interesting pharmacological properties, some of which act against several cancer cell lines. Therefore more research is warranted.
Major references
• Ayers, S., Zink, D.L., Mohn, K., Staats-Powell, J., Brown, C.M., Murphy, T., Brand, R., Pretorius, S., Stevenson, D., Thompson, D. & Singh, S.B., 2007. Anthelmintic activity of aporphine alkaloids from Cissampelos capensis. Planta Medica 73(3): 296–297.
• Cocks, M.L. & Dold, A.P., 2006. Cultural significance of biodiversity: the role of medicinal plants in urban African cultural practices in the eastern Cape, South Africa. Journal of Ethnobiology 26(1): 60–81.
• de Wet, H., 2005. An ethnobotanical and chemotaxonomic study of South African Menispermaceae. PhD Thesis, Faculty of Science, University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg, South Africa. 450 pp.
• de Wet, H. & van Wyk, B.E., 2008. An ethnobotanical survey of southern African Menispermaceae. South African Journal of Botany 74(1): 2–9.
• Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
Other references
• Cocks, M., 1995. The commercialisation of medicinal plants in the eastern Cape. A leaf from the Herbarium. Notes from the Selmar Schonland Herbarium, Albany Museum 2: 2–4.
• Dold, A.P. & Cocks, M.L., 2002. The trade in medicinal plants in the Eastern Cape Province, South Africa. South African Journal of Science 98: 589–597.
• Friedrich-Holzhammer, M., 1968. Menispermaceae. Prodromus einer Flora von Südwestafrika. No 38. J. Cramer, Germany. 4 pp.
• SA Health Info, 2007. Cissampelos capensis Herba. [Internet] South African Medical Research Council, South Africa. traditionalmeds/monographs/ cissampelos.htm. Accessed November 2007.
• 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.
L.P.A. Oyen
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH 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:
Oyen, L.P.A., 2008. Cissampelos capensis L.f. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.