Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1
Rev. Int. Bot. Appl. Agric. Trop. 13: 556 (1933).
Origin and geographic distribution
Euphorbia paganorum occurs from Senegal east to northern Nigeria, in Gabon and possibly also in southern Sudan. It is confused with Euphorbia sudanica A.Chev. and part of its distribution area may need to be attributed to this last species.
The uses of Euphorbia paganorum also apply to Euphorbia sudanica, a very similar species. In Senegal and northern Côte d’Ivoire a decoction of the stem ash, together with leaves of Sarcocephalus latifolius (Sm.) E.A.Bruce, is used to wash the body to treat leprosy. Stem or root decoctions or latex are applied to wounds and sores, but in general Euphorbia paganorum is considered too poisonous for medicinal use. The very caustic latex is used as an ingredient of arrow poison and in bait for trapping animal pests.
In Mali Euphorbia paganorum is planted in villages as a fetish plant. The flowers are much-visited by bees.
A preliminary test of the latex showed the presence of diterpene esters of the alcohol 12-deoxyphorbol.
Monoecious, deciduous, succulent shrub up to 1.5(–2) m tall, much-branching from the base; stem cylindrical, 2–5 cm in diameter, green to grey, smooth, with abundant latex; spine shields triangular on small tubercles, with 1 pair of spines 5–12 mm long, sturdy, fewer on old stems. Leaves arranged spirally at the end of branches, sessile; stipules a pair of tiny spines or absent; blade obovate to obtriangular, 2–8 cm × 1–5 cm, fleshy, base tapering, apex acute and toothed. Inflorescence an axillary, simple cyme, consisting of clusters of flowers, each cluster called a ‘cyathium’, at the end of branches; peduncle c. 3 mm long, branches 2, often aborting; bracts 2, tiny; cyathia c. 5 mm in diameter, with a shortly cup-shaped involucre, green, 5-lobed, glands 5, oblong, yellow, each involucre containing 1 female flower surrounded by many male flowers. Flowers unisexual; male flowers sessile, perianth absent, stamen 1; female flowers with pedicel 4–6 mm long in fruit, perianth 3-lobed, ovary superior, glabrous, 3-celled, styles 3, fused at base. Fruit a 3-lobed capsule c. 15 mm × 12 mm, glabrous, grey to pale brown, 3-seeded. Seeds oblong, c. 8 mm × 3 mm.
Leaves are only present for about 3 months, during the rainy season; flowers appear at the end of the dry season, on bare branches.
Euphorbia comprises about 2000 species and has a worldwide distribution, with at least 750 species occurring in continental Africa and about 150 in Madagascar and the Indian Ocean islands. Euphorbia paganorum belongs to section Euphorbia, a large group which is characterized by succulent, usually angular stems, stipules modified into small spines (or absent), a spine shield with an additional pair of spines (sometimes fused into a single spine), axillary inflorescences and seeds without a caruncle. Euphorbia paganorum and the following species belong to a group of much-branched, succulent shrubs up to 3 m tall, with branches more than 1.5 cm in diameter and with (2–)4 spines per spine shield.
Euphorbia sudanica occurs from Senegal east to Sudan. The main difference with Euphorbia paganorum is that it has thinner branches, 1–2 cm in diameter. It has similar uses as Euphorbia paganorum. The caustic latex is applied to peanuts to prevent them being eaten by monkeys and birds. In Niger Euphorbia sudanica is planted as a boundary marker. Euphorbia breviarticulata Pax occurs from Ethiopia and Somalia south to Tanzania. In Tanzania latex is applied topically to treat haemorrhoids. Latex mixed with ground fresh leaves of Acacia edgeworthii T.Anderson and honey is applied to wounds and sores caused by filariasis. Euphorbia heterochroma Pax occurs in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. A latex infusion or root decoction is taken to treat venereal diseases. In Uganda latex mixed with clay is applied to the skin or in incisions to treat syphilis. In Kenya an infusion of the latex or of the roasted stems is taken to treat fever, diarrhoea, cough, tuberculosis and pneumonia. A leaf decoction is taken to treat stomach-ache. In Uganda the latex is applied to incisions to treat pyomyositis. Latex is used as nose drops to treat migraine and insanity. In Kenya a root or stem infusion is given to camels to drink to treat persistent cough and haemorrhagic septicaemia. The boiled stem of Euphorbia heterospina S.Carter from Kenya and Uganda is drunk with soup or milk to treat diarrhoea. Euphorbia polyacantha Boiss. (synonym: Euphorbia thi Schweinf.) occurs from Sudan to Eritrea, Somalia and Yemen. In Eritrea the stem is crushed in water and applied to crops as an insecticide. Euphorbia polyacantha is planted as an ornamental in home gardens, as a live fence and for soil conservation purposes. In Sudan the crushed stems are applied to scorpion stings. Euphorbia quadrangularis Pax is endemic to Tanzania. Latex is rubbed into scarifications on the eyebrows to treat headache, and the roots are used to ease backache and chest and rib pain.
Euphorbia paganorum occurs on rocky soils in arid savanna, often gregarious, up to 600 m altitude.
Euphorbia paganorum is easily and quickly propagated by stem cuttings, which should be at least 20 cm long and preferably cut from the woody base of a branch. After cutting they need to dry in the shade for at least two weeks for callus to form on the cut end. Euphorbia paganorum can also be grown from seed.
Genetic resources and breeding
There are no indications that Euphorbia paganorum is threatened by genetic erosion. As a succulent Euphorbia species, its trade is controlled under CITES appendix 2.
As almost no chemical or pharmacological research has been done on Euphorbia paganorum, it is not clear whether the latex contains pharmacologically important compounds. Other Euphorbia spp. containing diterpenes of the tigliane type show promising results, thus more research is warranted. As it is not clear whether Euphorbia paganorum and Euphorbia sudanica are really different species, taxonomical research is needed to elucidate their status.
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Correct citation of this article:
Newton, L.E., 2008. Euphorbia paganorum A.Chev. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
planted as fetish