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Euphorbia prostrata Aiton

Hort. kew. 2 : 139 (1789).
Chromosome number
2n = 18, 20
Chamaesyce prostrata (Aiton) Small (1903).
Vernacular names
Prostrate spurge, prostrate sandmat, trailing red spurge (En). Rougette, rosette, petit trèfle, petite teigne noire (Fr).
Origin and geographic distribution
Euphorbia prostrata is native to the West Indies, but is now widely distributed throughout the tropics and subtropics. It occurs throughout tropical Africa and the Indian Ocean islands.
All parts of Euphorbia prostrata are widely used in African traditional medicine. In Burkina Faso the leaves are rubbed onto wasp stings and scorpion stings. In Togo a leaf decoction is drunk to treat threatened abortion. Small balls of ground plants are inserted into the vagina to treat female sterility and painful menstruation. In Benin the pounded aerial parts with pounded shells are taken to treat irregular menstruation. Ground leaves in water are administered against difficult childbirth. In Nigeria a plant decoction is taken for its astringent, vulnerary and anthelmintic properties, and crushed plants are used by the Igbo people as a poultice for broken arms. In Cameroon crushed leaves are eaten to treat amoebic dysentery. In Gabon a leaf extract is applied as an enema to treat inflammations. Leaf powder mixed with palm oil is rubbed on the head to treat headache. In DR Congo the whole plant or only the leaves are warmed over a fire, crushed and squeezed on the body to cure insect bites and fungal infection. An infusion or decoction of the leaves is also taken orally to treat fungal infections. The crushed whole plant is eaten with bread against kidney stones. In Kenya Maasai people chew the plant to treat gonorrhoea. In Uganda crushed fresh leaves in water are used as a mouthwash and gargle to treat oral sores. Pregnant women eat the boiled shoots, mixed with sesame, to reduce the risk of miscarriage. Plant juice is taken to induce labour during childbirth. A bath of the plant infusion is recommended to treat insanity. In Angola a vapour bath of the whole plant is taken to treat scabies; the plant is also crushed and applied on the affected spots. Throughout the Indian Ocean islands an infusion of the leaves or aerial parts is taken either alone or combined with other plants to treat diarrhoea, dysentery and stomach-ache. In the Comoros, the plant is used in association with other plants to treat deformations of the spinal column. In Réunion a bath with the whole plant is taken to facilitate healing of measles and other skin eruptions. In Mauritius a decoction of the whole plant is taken orally to treat painful menstruation and used as an eye wash against conjunctivitis.
The latex is applied to warts and abscesses. It is also used as an arrow poison.
Similar uses as above have been reported from other parts of the world. In the United States the latex is applied to snakebites, in Mexico and Venezuela to tumours and in India the latex is used to treat diabetes, as it is considered to have hypoglycaemic and anti-inflammatory activities. The plant is also used to treat asthma and an infusion is taken as a blood purifier. In French Guyana the aerial parts in decoction are taken as a bitter diuretic. Crushed fresh plants are applied as an embrocation to heal sprains and strains.
The latex is irritant and blistering to the skin and mucous membranes and is reported to cause blindness. From different fractions of extracts of the dried leaves a range of hydrolyzable ellagitannins were isolated, including prostratins A, B and C, euphorbins G and H, tellimagradin I and II, and rugosins A, D, E and G. Flavonoids isolated from the aerial parts include: kaempferol, cosmosiin (apigenin-7-glucoside), rhamnetin-3-galactoside, quercetin and quercetin-3-rhamnoside. Other constituents of the aerial parts include the sterols β-amyrine acetate, β-sitosterol, campesterol, stigmasterol and cholesterol. The aerial parts also contain the terpene alcohol β-terpineol, gallic acid, corilagin, 1,2,3-tri-O-galloyl-D-glucose, geraniin, and various amino acids, including n-valeramide and N,N-dimethyl-4-benzoxybutylamine. From the roots a myricylic alcohol and two triterpenes, taraxerol and tirucallol, have been isolated. Both flavonoids and tannins have been reported to have anti-inflammatory, analgesic, haemostatic, antithrombic and vasoprotective actions. The flavonoids furthermore have antiviral, anti-allergic, antiplatelet, anti-tumour and antioxidant properties.
The ethanol and water extracts of the whole plant showed significant antifungal activity against the dermatophytes Trichophyton mentagrophytes, Trichophyton simii and Microsporum gypseum in vitro and in vivo in goats and rabbits. The extracts cured the lesions caused by these fungi in 3–4 weeks and were as effective as benzoic acid. A water extract inhibited growth, spore formation, and enterotoxin production of Clostridium perfringens type A. Ethanolic extracts from the aerial parts showed significant antibacterial activity against Escherichia coli and Bacillus subtilis. An aqueous ethanol extract showed significant antibacterial activity in vivo against Shigella dysenteriae in tests with rats. A methanol extract of the leaves showed considerable inhibitory effects against HIV-1 protease, and a water extract against hepatitis C virus protease.
The ethyl acetate fraction of the ethanol extract administered orally to rats at 200 mg/kg inhibited 76% of acute carrageenin-induced paw oedema and showed significant anti-inflammatory activity when applied topically in carrageenin-induced paw oedema in mice.
Various doses of powdered plants as well as methanol extracts administered orally to rabbits produced significant hypoglycaemic effects in normal rabbits, but had no effect in alloxan-diabetic rabbits.
Euphorbia prostrata shows strong seed germination inhibiting effects on wheat and a range of horticultural crops, including carrot, tomato, lettuce and onion.
Adulterations and substitutes
Euphorbia prostrata resembles Euphorbia thymifolia L. and has similar medicinal uses.
Monoecious, prostrate, annual herb with branches up to 20 cm long, tinged purplish, with numerous adventitious roots; stems with latex. Leaves opposite, distichous, simple; stipules triangular, c. 1 mm long, 2-toothed; petiole up to 1 mm long; blade ovate, up to 8 mm × 5 mm, base unequal, one side cuneate, the other side rounded, apex rounded, margins shallowly toothed, glabrous above, sparsely hairy beneath. Inflorescence a terminal or axillary cluster of flowers, called a ‘cyathium’, on short leafy shoots; cyathia almost sessile, c. 1 mm × 0.5 mm, with a barrel-shaped involucre, lobes triangular, minute, margin hairy; glands 4, minute, transversely elliptical, red, with very small pink or white appendages, each involucre containing 1 female flower surrounded by few male flowers. Flowers unisexual; male flowers sessile, bracteoles hair-like, perianth absent, stamen c. 1 mm long; female flowers with pedicel c. 1.5 mm long and reflexed in fruit, perianth a rim, ovary superior, glabrous, 3-celled, styles 3, minute, 2-fid. Fruit an acutely 3-lobed capsule c. 1.5 mm × 1.5 mm, base truncate, sutures purplish and hairy, 3-seeded. Seeds oblong-conical, c. 1 mm × 0.5 mm, acutely 4-angled, transversely wrinkled, grey-brown, without caruncle.
Other botanical information
Euphorbia comprises about 2000 species and has a worldwide distribution, with at least 750 species occurring in continental Africa and about 150 species in Madagascar and the Indian Ocean islands. Euphorbia prostrata belongs to subgenus Chamaesyce section Chamaesyce, a group of annual or sometimes perennial herbs with obvious stipules, further characterized by a main stem aborting at the seedling stage. The plant thus consists of an expanded, dichotomously branching umbel-like inflorescence, with the floral bracts appearing as normal leaves, cyathia solitary or up to 5 together in congested leafy cymes, 4 involucral glands with petal-like appendages or entire and conical seeds without a caruncle.
Several other Euphorbia spp. belonging to section Chamaesyce are medicinally used. Euphorbia inaequilatera Sond. occurs from Mauritania and Senegal east to Eritrea and Somalia and south to South Africa. It also occurs in the Arabian Peninsula and Pakistan. In DR Congo the pounded plant is applied to wounds and burns. In Rwanda an extract of the plant is used as eye bath to treat eye infections. In East Africa plant powder is applied to wounds. The aerial parts are chewed to treat gonorrhoea. In Namibia leaf sap is applied to wounds. Tea from the leaves is drunk as a blood purifier. Leaf pulp is applied to skin rashes. A leaf and root infusion is drunk to accelerate birth giving. Powdered dried plants are eaten as a cardiac medicine. The roots are used as a fish poison. The plant is browsed by camels, goats and sheep.
Growth and development
Euphorbia prostrata grows rapidly and flowers and fruits 12–14 weeks after germination. It can be found flowering and fruiting throughout the year if enough water is available.
Euphorbia prostrata grows in gardens, on disturbed ground, in cultivated land and roadsides, especially in sandy soils, from sea-level up to 2050 m altitude.
Propagation and planting
Euphorbia prostrata is a prolific seed producer. Most seeds will germinate at the same time when ecological conditions are favourable, especially during the rainy season.
Euphorbia prostrata is considered a weed, and can be a nuisance in crops due to the large number of seedlings. It is known to accumulate heavy metals from the soil.
Diseases and pests
Euphorbia prostrata is a host of the root-knot nematodes Meloidogyne incognita and Meloidogyne javanica.
Handling after harvest
Euphorbia prostrata is usually used fresh for medicinal purposes.
Genetic resources
Euphorbia prostrata has a very large area of distribution and is weedy, and is thus not at risk of genetic erosion.
Euphorbia prostrata has many local medicinal use and showed antibacterial activities as well as inhibitory effects against HIV-1 protease and hepatitis C virus protease. Although considerable chemical and pharmacological research has been done, more research is still needed to evaluate its potential.
Major references
• Alarcon-Aguilara, F.J., Roman-Ramos, R., Perez-Gutierrez, S., Aguilar-Contreras, A., Contreras-Weber, C.C. & Flores-Saenz., J.L., 1998. Study of the anti-hyperglycemic effect of plants used as antidiabetics. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 61: 101–110.
• Bouquet, A. & Debray, M., 1974. Plantes médicinales de la Côte d’Ivoire. Travaux et Documents No 32. ORSTOM, Paris, France. 231 pp.
• Carter, S. & Leach, L.C., 2001. Euphorbiaceae, subfamily Euphorbioideae, tribe Euphorbieae. In: Pope, G.V. (Editor). Flora Zambesiaca. Volume 9, part 5. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. pp. 339–465.
• Gurib-Fakim, A., Guého, J. & Bissoondoyal, M.D., 1996. Plantes médicinales de Maurice, tome 2. Editions de l’Océan Indien, Rose-Hill, Mauritius. 532 pp.
• Hussein, G., Miyashiro, H., Nakamura, N., Hattori, M., Kakiuchi, N. & Shimotohno, K., 2000. Inhibitory effects of Sudanese medicinal plant extracts on hepatitis C virus (HCV) protease. Phytotherapy Research 14: 510–516.
• Hussein, G., Miyashiro, H., Nakamura, N., Hattori, M., Kawahata, T., Otake, T., Kakiuchi, N. & Shimotohno, K., 1999. Inhibitory effects of Sudanese plant extracts on HIV-1 replication and HIV-1 protease. Phytotherapy Research 13(1): 31–36.
• Kamgang, R., Gonsu Kamga, H., Wafo, P., Mbungi, N.J.A., Pouokam, E.V., Fokam, T.M.A. & Fonkoua, M.C., 2007. Activity of aqueous ethanol extract of Euphorbia prostrata Ait. on Shigella dysenteriae type 1-induced diarrhea in rats. Indian Journal of Pharmacology 39(5): 240–244.
• Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
• Nguyen Nghia Thin & Sosef, M.S.M., 1999. Euphorbia L. In: de Padua, L.S., Bunyapraphatsara, N. & Lemmens, R.H.M.J. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 12(1). Medicinal and poisonous plants 1. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 263–272.
• Singla, A.K. & Pathak, K., 1989. Anti-inflammatory studies on Euphorbia prostrata. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 27(1–2): 55–61.
Other references
• Akhtar, M.S., Khan, Q.M. & Khaliq, T., 1984. Effects of Euphorbia prostrata and Fumaria parviflora in normoglycemic and alloxan-treated hyperglycemic rabbits. Planta Medica 50(2): 138–142.
• Burkill, H.M., 1994. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 2, Families E–I. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 636 pp.
• El Mahy, S.A., 2004. Chemical constituents of Euphorbia prostrata Ait. extract with reference to its biological effect on some crops. Bulletin of Faculty of Agriculture, Cairo University 55(4): 645–659.
• Garcia, S., Araiza, M., Gomez, M. & Heredia, N., 2002. Inhibition of growth, enterotoxin production, and spore formation of Clostridium perfringens by extracts of medicinal plants. Journal of Food Protection 65(10): 1667–1669.
• Holm, L.G., Plucknett, D.L., Pancho, J.V. & Herberger, J.P., 1977. The world’s worst weeds. Distribution and biology. University Press of Hawaii, Honolulu, United States. 609 pp.
• Ivens, G.W., 1967. East African weeds and their control. Oxford University Press, Nairobi, Kenya. 244 pp.
• Kamatenesi-Mugisha, M. & Oryem-Origa, H., 2007. Medicinal plants used to induce labour during childbirth in western Uganda. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 109: 1–9.
• Kokwaro, J.O., 1993. Medicinal plants of East Africa. 2nd Edition. Kenya Literature Bureau, Nairobi, Kenya. 401 pp.
• Lavergne, R. & Véra, R., 1989. Médecine traditionelle et pharmacopée - Contribution aux études ethnobotaniques et floristiques à la Réunion. Agence de Coopération Culturelle et Technique, Paris, France. 236 pp.
• Nacoulma-Ouédraogo, O., Millogo-Rasolodimby, J. & Guinko, S., 1998. Les plantes herbacées dans la thérapie des piqûres d’insectes. Revue de médecines et pharmacopées africaines 11–12: 165–175.
• Noumi, E. & Yomi, A., 2001. Medicinal plants used for intestinal diseases in Mbalmayo Region, Central Province, Cameroon. Fitoterapia 72(3): 246–254.
• Ogwal, E.N.K., 1996. Medicinal plants used during ante- and post-natal periods and in early infant care in Busoga. In: van der Maesen, L.J.G., van der Burgt, X.M. & van Medenbach de Rooy, J.M. (Editors), 1996. The biodiversity of African plants. Proceedings XIVth AETFAT Congress, 22–27 August 1994, Wageningen, the Netherlands. pp. 768–770.
• Pal, S. & Gupta, I., 1979. Antifungal activity of ‘Choti dudhi plant’ (Euphorbia prostrata Ait. and Euphorbia thymifolia Linn.) against certain dermatophytes. II. In vivo studies in experimentally infected animals. Indian Veterinary Journal 56(5): 367–369.
• SEPASAL, 2008. Euphorbia inaequilatera. [Internet] Survey of Economic Plants for Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (SEPASAL) database. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. ceb/sepasal/. Accessed March 2008.
• Singla, A.K. & Pathak, K., 1990. Topical antiinflammatory effects of Euphorbia prostrata on carrageenan-induced footpad oedema in mice. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 29(3): 291–294.
• Singla, A.K. & Pathak, K., 1991. Constituents of Euphorbia prostrata. Fitoterapia 62(5): 453–454.
• 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.
• 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.
• Wome, B., 1985. Recherches ethnopharmacognosiques sur les plantes médicinales utilisées en médecine traditionnelle à Kisangani (Haut-Zaïre). PhD thesis, Faculty of Sciences, University of Brussels, Brussels, Belgium. 561 pp.
• Yoshida, T., Namba, O., Chen, L., Liu, Y.Z. & Okuda, T., 1990. Ellagitannin monomers and oligomers from Euphorbia prostrata Ait. and oligomers from Loropetalum chinense Oliv. Chemical and Pharmaceutical Bulletin 38(12): 3296–3302.
Sources of illustration
• Berhaut, J., 1975. Flore illustrée du Sénégal. Dicotylédones. Volume 3. Connaracées à Euphorbiacées. Gouvernement du Sénégal, Ministère du Développement Rural et de l’Hydraulique, Direction des Eaux et Forêts, Dakar, Senegal. 634 pp.
D.M. Mosango
c/o Laboratory of Natural Sciences, Lycée Français Jean Monnet de Bruxelles (LFB), Avenue du Lycée Français 9, 1180 Brussels, Belgium

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:
Mosango, D.M., 2008. Euphorbia prostrata Aiton. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
Distribution Map naturalized

1, plant habit; 2, fruit.
Redrawn and adapted by Achmad Satiri Nurhaman

plant habit CopyLeft EcoPort

plant habit CopyLeft EcoPort

obtained from
C. Ritchie