Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1
Hort. suburb. Calcutt.: 152 (1845).
Euphorbiaceae (APG: Phyllanthaceae)
2n = 26
Flueggea microcarpa Blume (1825), Securinega microcarpa (Blume) Müll.Arg. (1866), Securinega virosa (Roxb. ex Willd.) Baill. (1866).
White-berry bush, snowberry tree, Chinese waterberry, simpleleaf bushweed, common bushweed (En). Balan des savanes (Fr). Mkwamba, mkwamba maji, mteja (Sw).
Origin and geographic distribution
Flueggea virosa occurs naturally throughout tropical Africa from Mauritania east to Somalia and south to South Africa, and also in Madagascar and Réunion. It is also distributed from Egypt, the Arabian Peninsula, through tropical Asia to Japan, Australia and Polynesia.
Flueggea virosa is an important medicinal plant in tropical Africa, used for the treatment of a wide variety of ailments, alone or in combination with other plants. All parts of the plant are used, but the root is considered the most active part. A root decoction or root powder taken in water or as a bath is used to treat liver, bile, kidney, urinary and venereal diseases, and also to treat testicular inflammation, frigidity, sterility, heavy menstruation, rheumatism and arthritis. Root preparations are also widely taken as a tonic, as an aphrodisiac or to treat impotence. Sometimes leaves or leafy twigs are used for this purpose. A root infusion or decoction is commonly taken to treat upper respiratory tract infections, ranging from cough to tuberculosis, and to treat abdominal complaints, including stomach-ache, dysentery, intestinal worms and schistosomiasis. The root or fruit is chewed to treat snakebites and the bite is dabbed with a decoction of them. Root pulp acts as an analgesic and is rubbed on the head to treat headache and on the back to treat backache and hernia. A root decoction or infusion is applied externally to wounds, boils and ulcers and different skin ailments, including itching rash and candidosis. Pulped fruits are also rubbed on the skin to treat itch. Leaves and leafy twigs in decoction or infusion are commonly taken to treat malaria, fever, jaundice, measles, oedema, vertigo, sickle cell anaemia, convulsions, vomiting, stomach-ache, intestinal worms, constipation, dysentery and difficult delivery. Leaf sap is used topically against conjunctivitis and earache, and as nose drops to treat headache, including migraine. It is rubbed on the joints and limbs to treat feverish stiffness and pain. In Niger the aerial parts in decoction are taken as a tonic. In the Central African Republic a decoction of the leaves is used in baths to invigorate the body. In Burundi and Tanzania a leaf decoction is taken to treat lactation disorders and is also given to nursing mothers whose baby is sickly at birth or to women with risk of still-born babies. In Uganda leaf powder is taken for abortion. A decoction of leafy twigs or fresh leaf sap is used as nose drops to cure epilepsy and insanity.
In Tanzania a root decoction is taken to treat epilepsy, convulsions and rectal and uterine prolapse. A root bark infusion is taken to treat HIV-related diseases. In Zimbabwe root powder in porridge is applied to depressed fontanelles, while the Ndebele people commonly eat it before intercourse as a contraceptive. In Madagascar a root decoction is taken to treat toothache. In Mauritania a decoction of the stem bark is mixed with other plant parts and is used to treat intestinal worms in livestock. In Ghana, Nigeria and Sudan a bark extract is used to control vermin (water fleas, rats, and mice) and as a fish poison, but its toxicity seems to be low. In the Central African Republic a decoction made from the root and stem bark is used as poison for ritual judgment. In East Africa a root infusion is taken to treat diseases caused by witchcraft.
Flueggea virosa has many other uses. The leaves yield a black dye used to dye palm fibres black. In Madagascar the dye is considered of low quality as it gives an irregular colour. A red dye made from the fruit is used as ink. Bark is used for tanning in India. The bushy nature, attractive foliage and white waxy fruits make Flueggea virosa an interesting ornamental. The leaves and fruits are readily browsed by livestock, and are also given as fodder. The fruits are edible when mature. They are juicy and sweet with a slightly bitter taste. They are mainly eaten by children, but are also made into an alcoholic drink. The fruits are also fed to domestic fowl. The wood is commonly used to make beds, fish traps, wicker traps, chair legs, roof structures for granaries and huts, kitchen utensils and storage pots. In Ethiopia the stems are woven into shelves and in Zanzibar they are split for basketry. Twigs are cut to make toothbrushes. Flueggea virosa is widely used for firewood and charcoal production, and in northern Nigeria, Mali and Ghana it is commonly grown as a hedge. In Ghana a gum is obtained from the stems, which has been used for sealing envelopes. The Maasai people of Kenya use the wood ash to clean milk containers. The Gamba people of Kenya apply pounded leaves as an insect repellent. In Madagascar branches are put on roofs for this purpose.
Production and international trade
Despite the popularity of Flueggea virosa in a wide variety of medicinal and other uses, no information on its trade is available. As it is common, it is probably mainly traded locally. Flueggea virosa is traded as an ornamental.
All plant parts of Flueggea virosa contain indolizidine alkaloids, mainly isomers and derivatives of the highly toxic securinine, which is known from the arrow poison plant Securidaca longipedunculata Fresen. The main alkaloids related to securinine are virosecurinine (0.5% in the leaves), viroallosecurinine, norsecurinine, dihydronorsecurinine (virosine); other alkaloids include hordenine and N-methyltetrahydro-β-carboline. Securinine has never been detected in Flueggea virosa. Other compounds isolated from the leaves are the isocoumarine bergenin, gallic acid and ellagic acid, and the flavonoids quercetin and rutin. The stem bark contains the triterpenes friedelin and friedelinol. The twigs contain about 8% tannins. The root bark contains 0.4–0.6% alkaloids, the entire root 0.04%. The root bark of a plant collected in Taiwan contained 1.6% norsecurinine and 0.06% dihydronorsecurinine.
Petroleum spirit, chloroform and ethanol extracts of the root bark were tested for antimicrobial activity against a range of organisms in vitro. The chloroform and the petroleum spirit extracts resulted in a 4-fold and 2-fold potentiation, respectively, of the activity of the antibiotic norfloxacin against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Ethanol and chloroform extracts showed significant antimicrobial activities, and moderate antioxidant and free-radical scavenging activities. A methanol extract of the dried fruit pulp and the ethanolic root extract showed significant antifungal activities against Trichytum mentagrophytes and Candida albicans. Methanol and water extracts of the leaves showed strong antimalarial activity, significantly inhibiting the growth of Plasmodium falciparum in vitro in a dose-dependent manner.
Bergenin from Flueggea virosa showed an inhibitory effect on the growth of the bloodstream form of Trypanosoma brucei with an IC50 value of 1 μM. It also showed significant anti-arrhythmic activity in rats and has good potential for treating cardiac arrhythmias. Bergenin also showed a significant lipid-lowering and atherogenic index decrease in hyperlipidaemic rats. Bergenin is also extracted from other plant species; in Asia especially it is used for many pharmacological purposes, several of which are in line with traditional uses of Flueggea virosa in Africa. Furthermore, oral administration of bergenin showed significant protection against pylorus-ligated and aspirin-induced gastric ulcers in rats and cold restraint stress-induced gastric ulcers in rats and guinea pigs. The alkaloid virosecurinine is mildly toxic to mice with an LD50 of 73 mg/kg body weight. Death results from violent tonic convulsions and paralysis similar to those observed with strychnine poisoning. Alcoholic leaf extracts showed significant cytotoxicity in different tumour cell lines in vitro. Virosecurinine was primarily responsible for the cytotoxicity; viroallosecurinine was only cytotoxic to one of the cell lines.
A root bark extract and a total alkaloid preparation caused a transient fall in arterial blood pressure in dogs. Extracts of roots and root bark had a slightly depressive action on the isolated intestine of rabbits, which rapidly normalized. The extracts showed weak haemolytic activity. An aqueous root extract showed a slight activity in the oral glucose tolerance test in rabbits, but did not lower blood glucose below fasting levels in either the fed or fasted state.
About 92% of the fresh fruit is pulp; the composition of the fruit pulp per 100 g is approximately: water 84 g, soluble carbohydrate 12 g, protein 0.5 g and fat 0.3 g. The wood has a fine texture, reddish yellow, and is very strong, elastic and durable.
Dioecious, deciduous, much-branched shrub or small tree up to 4(–6) m tall; bark grey-brown, smooth, fissured or rough; branches erect or arching, lower branches often with thorny end. Leaves distichously alternate, simple and entire; stipules lanceolate, 1.5–2 mm long, acute, fringed, deciduous; petiole 3–6 mm long, grooved above, narrowly winged; blade almost orbicular to obovate or elliptical, (1–)2–4(–6) cm × (0.5–)1–2(–3) cm, base cuneate to rounded, apex obtuse, rounded or notched, thinly papery, pinnately veined with 5–9 pairs of lateral veins. Inflorescence an axillary fascicle, many-flowered in male plants, few-flowered in female plants. Flowers unisexual, regular, 5-merous, sweet-scented; pedicel up to 9 mm long; sepals slightly unequal, obovate to lanceolate, fringed, pale greenish yellow; petals absent; male flowers with free stamens, exserted, filaments 2–3 mm long, disk glands fleshy, yellow, rudimentary ovary with 3 styles, up to 2 mm long, fused at base; female flowers with annular disk, shallowly 5-lobed, ovary superior, ovoid, 3-celled, styles 3, fused, stigmas 2-fid, spread horizontally. Fruit a somewhat fleshy slightly 3-lobed, globose capsule, 3–5 mm in diameter, tardily dehiscent, smooth, glabrous, white, up to 6-seeded. Seeds ovoid, 2–3 mm long, shiny, yellowish brown.
Other botanical information
Flueggea comprises 15 species and occurs in the tropics and subtropics of both hemispheres, extending into warm temperate zones. Only Flueggea virosa occurs in tropical Africa. Flueggea was included in Securinega, but important differences exist between the two genera in seed morphology, pollen sculpture and wood anatomy. Securinega now comprises 5 species and is restricted to Madagascar and the Mascarene islands.
Growth and development
Flueggea virosa usually flowers at the end of the dry season and during the rainy season. In Kenya fruits are available in June and July, while in Tanzania they are mature between April and June. Seeds are dispersed by birds.
Flueggea virosa is common in a wide variety of habitats, in forest edges, bushland, grassland, woodland and thickets. In drier areas it occurs mainly along water courses, and in swampy habitats, sometimes on termite mounds and rocky slopes; it is also common in disturbed localities and fallow land, from sea-level up to 2300 m altitude.
Flueggea virosa is collected from the wild and is only cultivated as an ornamental. It is commonly spared when clearing land or at weeding operations. It is a fast growing hardy shrub suitable for planting under various conditions.
All plant parts harvested are either used fresh or dried and stored for future use.
Flueggea virosa is widely distributed in diverse ecological habitats and therefore not threatened by genetic erosion. International Livestock Research Institute, Kenya holds a single accession. It is listed as an invasive species in Florida, United States.
Flueggea virosa is a very important medicinal plant in local medicine. Much research has been done on the chemistry and pharmacological activities of the different compounds and preparations. Different plant parts show significant activity against a variety of bacteria and fungi including human pathogens. More research is needed to fully evaluate its other uses, e.g. for female infertility, as snake venom antidote, analgesic, for increased sexual desire, against diarrhoea, abdominal pains and venereal diseases. The bushy nature, attractive foliage and white waxy fruits of Flueggea virosa make it an interesting ornamental.
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Correct citation of this article:
Tabuti, J.R.S., 2007. Flueggea virosa (Roxb. ex Willd.) Voigt. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
1, part of male flowering branch; 2, male flower; 3, part of fruiting branch; 4, fruit.
Redrawn and adapted by Achmad Satiri Nurhaman
branch with some fruits