Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1
Bull. Misc. Inform. Kew 1906: 81 (1906).
Sapium grahamii (Stapf) Prain (1913).
Origin and geographic distribution
Excoecaria grahamii occurs from Guinea east to Nigeria.
The plant is very toxic. A decoction of the whole plant is used as a bath to treat skin affections and oedema, and is taken internally to treat skin affections, including leprosy and ascites, which require drastic purging. An extract of the pounded leaves is applied to guinea worm sores or a few drops of the latex are applied to the sore to help extract the parasite. In Côte d’Ivoire the smoke of burnt and ground fresh roots together with those of Gnidia kraussiana Meisn. is inhaled to treat hallucinations. In Burkina Faso a leaf decoction is taken to induce abortion.
The latex from the root is a powerful caustic; ground up with a little water it is applied on a stick to produce red or black marks on the face, causing swelling and finally a tattoo. It is sometimes used for ritual scarifications, as are the crushed leaves. The root is sometimes an ingredient of arrow poison. It is also used for criminal purposes.
The alcoholic leaf extract, intravenously injected in the heart muscle of rabbits in vivo, has a short stimulatory effect, resembling that of cardiotonic compounds.
Monoecious small, unbranched, glabrous shrub up to 60(–90) cm tall with milky, sticky latex and deep, creeping rhizomes. Leaves alternate, simple; stipules small, soon falling; petiole up to 1.5 cm long; blade elliptical, elliptical-oblong to elliptical-obovate, 4–15 cm × 3–5 cm, base rounded or cuneate, with 2 glands, apex obtuse to acute, margins minutely toothed, pale green beneath. Inflorescence a slender, terminal spike up to 5 cm long, mostly with many male flowers and 1–2 female flowers at base. Flowers unisexual, regular, sessile, petals absent, disk absent; male flowers with 3 elliptical sepals, reddish, stamens 3; female flowers with 3 rounded to ovate sepals, obtuse, toothed to entire, ovary superior, smooth, 3-celled, styles 3, almost free. Fruit a 3-lobed capsule 2–2.5 cm in diameter, hard, pale brown to pinkish, dehiscing explosively, 3-seeded. Seeds almost globose, c. 5 mm long, brown to yellow.
Excoecaria occurs in the Old World tropics and Pacific islands and comprises 35 species; about 6 species occur in continental Africa and about 5 in Madagascar. Formerly, many Excoecaria species were included in Sapium, which is now considered to be native only to the New World. Excoecaria guineensis (Benth.) Müll.Arg occurs in West and Central Africa. In Nigeria a decoction of its root bark or stem bark is taken in small doses as a purgative in case of constipation and also to treat kidney diseases. A decoction of the stem bark is also used as an emetic. In DR Congo the leaf sap is applied to sores. The sap is acrid and poisonous.
Excoecaria grahamii occurs in savanna and at forest edges, usually on moist soil. It flowers and fruits from June to March.
Genetic resources and breeding
Excoecaria grahamii is relatively common in its fairly large distribution area and therefore not likely to be threatened by genetic erosion.
Excoecaria grahamii is very poisonous, and will therefore remain of limited use in local medicine. It would be interesting to evaluate its pharmacological properties as other Excoecaria spp. yield compounds with interesting anti-HIV activities.
• Belemtougri, R.G., Samate, D.A. & Millogo-Rasolodimby, J., 1995. Sapium grahamii (Stapf) Prain: plante cardiotonique. Revue de Médecines et Pharmacopées Africaines 9(2): 21–30.
• 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.
• Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
• Neuwinger, H.D., 1998. Afrikanische Arzneipflanzen und Jagdgifte. Chemie, Pharmakologie, Toxikologie. 2nd Edition. Wissenschaftliche Verlagsgesellschaft mbH, Stuttgart, Germany. 960 pp.
• Adjanohoun, E.J., Adjakidjè, V., Ahyi, M.R.A., Aké Assi, L., Akoègninou, A., d’Almeida, J., Apovo, F., Boukef, K., Chadare, M., Cusset, G., Dramane, K., Eyme, J., Gassita, J.N., Gbaguidi, N., Goudote, E., Guinko, S., Houngnon, P., Lo, I., Keita, A., Kiniffo, H.V., Kone-Bamba, D., Musampa Nseyya, A., Saadou, M., Sodogandji, T., De Souza, S., Tchabi, A., Zinsou Dossa, C. & Zohoun, T., 1989. Contribution aux études ethnobotaniques et floristiques en République Populaire du Bénin. Agence de Coopération Culturelle et Technique, Paris, France. 895 pp.
• Brown, N.E., Hutchinson, J. & Prain, D., 1909–1913. Euphorbiaceae. In: Thiselton-Dyer, W.T. (Editor). Flora of tropical Africa. Volume 6(1). Lovell Reeve & Co., London, United Kingdom. pp. 441–1020.
• Léonard, J., 1962. Euphorbiaceae. In: Robyns, W., Staner, P., Demaret, F., Germain, R., Gilbert, G., Hauman, L., Homès, M., Jurion, F., Lebrun, J., Vanden Abeele, M. & Boutique, R. (Editors). Flore du Congo belge et du Ruanda-Urundi. Spermatophytes. Volume 8, 1. Institut National pour l’Étude Agronomique du Congo belge, Brussels, Belgium. 214 pp.
• Stäuble, N., 1986. Etude ethnobotanique des Euphorbiacées d’Afrique de l’Ouest. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 16: 23–103.
Sources of illustration
• Akoègninou, A., van der Burg, W.J. & van der Maesen, L.J.G. (Editors), 2006. Flore analytique du Bénin. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. 1034 pp.
Correct citation of this article:
Schmelzer, G.H., 2007. Excoecaria grahamii Stapf. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
1, flowering twig; 2, part of inflorescence; 3, fruit.
Source: Flore analytique du Bénin
flowering and fruiting plants
obtained from P. Ekpe NSBP