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Harrisonia abyssinica Oliv.

Fl. trop. Afr. 1: 311 (1868).
Chromosome number
2n = 16
Harrisonia occidentalis Engl. (1895).
Vernacular names
Baingou (Fr). Msamburini, mkidori, mpapuradoko, mkusu, mkoromando, msoma (Sw).
Origin and geographic distribution
Harrisonia abyssinica is widespread in tropical Africa.
Throughout tropical Africa the root powder or a root decoction or infusion is taken to treat venereal diseases, fever and malaria, diarrhoea, urinary problems and intestinal worms. Less often a leaf and twig decoction is used for these purposes. In Ghana pounded and boiled root is taken to treat cough and whooping cough. In Ethiopia the Shinasha (Boro) people use a decoction of roots to treat dysmenorrhoea. In Kenya a root decoction is drunk as a remedy for dizziness, insomnia, nausea, vomiting, bubonic plague, swollen testicles and tuberculosis. It is also taken to induce abortion. The Nyamwezi people swallow the smoke from burning root bark to treat hookworm infections. The roots and bark are crushed and soaked in water and drunk to purify and strengthen the body. In Kenya and Tanzania a root decoction is drunk in the treatment of cancer. The root is also used as a rubefacient. In Uganda a root infusion is drunk to treat snakebites, hernia and is used as nose drops to treat insanity. The root powder is applied to incisions to treat migraine.
Throughout tropical Africa crushed leaves, a leaf decoction or infusion are used as a wash to disinfect wounds and abscesses. A root decoction is used for this purpose by the Shinasha people of Ethiopia. In Togo a leaf decoction is drunk to treat diabetes. In Kenya a decoction of leaves and twigs is drunk to treat haemorrhoids. The Nyamwezi people apply the pulped leaves to snakebites. Leaf sap is drunk to treat general body pain. In Tanzania a hot leaf decoction is prepared as an inhalation to treat headache. In Uganda a root decoction is used in the treatment of livestock against east coast fever and lumpy skin disease.
The fruits are edible. The wood is easy to work, durable and resistant to fungi, termites and wood borers and used for making stools, bows, in house construction and as firewood. In Ghana the stems with the bark removed are used to make state umbrellas and as the supports of chiefs’ palanquins. The leaves are an important fodder throughout tropical Africa. In Kenya pruned shrubs are used as a living fence for cattle kraals. In Uganda Harrisonia abyssinica is planted to protect the garden and house against bad spirits.
Production and international trade
A root decoction of Harrisonia abyssinica is sold in many traditional markets in Kenya, in bottles of 300–500 ml.
From the root bark and stem bark of Harrisonia abyssinica many pharmacologically active compounds have been isolated, mainly limonoids, which are highly oxygenated terpenoids, several other terpenoids, steroids and chromone derivatives. The most important limonoids isolated are atalantolide, obacunone, harrisonin, 12β-acetoxyharrisonin and deoxyobacunone. Terpenoids isolated are the triterpenoids 5-dehydrooriciopsin, 11β,12β-diacetoxyharrisonin and 3-friedelanone, and the cycloterpene cycloabyssinone (stem bark), the spiro-tetranortriterpenoid pedonin (root bark), and the quassinoid perforaquassin A. Sterols and ketosteroids isolated are β-sitosterol, stigmasterol and derivatives, campesterol, β-sitostenone, stigmastenone and campestenone. Fractionation of the n-hexane extract of the leaves afforded several unusual prenylated polyketides: oumarone, bissaone and aissatone.
The methanolic root extract showed significant antiplasmodial activity against chloroquine-sensitive and chloroquine-resistant strains of Plasmodium falciparum. The methanolic and water extracts from the stem bark showed moderate antiplasmodial activity in vitro, and low toxicity in the brine shrimp toxicity test.
Crude and methanolic root extracts showed significant in-vitro antibacterial activity against different strains of Helicobacter pylori, but the effect on a large number of strains of other bacteria was very small. Methanolic root and stem bark extracts showed significant control of Giardia lamblia (a parasite causing gastroenteritis) in vitro. Methanolic root extracts showed significant cytotoxic activity against several human cell lines. A methanolic leaf extract showed no cytotoxicity, but significant antibacterial activity against Staphylococcus aureus, Bacillus subtilis, Escherichia coli and Mycobacterium phlei, as well as moderate antiviral activity against Herpes simplex. The antibacterial activities are mainly due to the limonoids. Ethanolic leaf extracts did not show significant antibacterial, antitrypanosomal or antiplasmodial activities.
Root bark and twig extract showed significant antibacterial activity against Staphylococcus aureus in vitro and moderate activity against Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the bacteria responsible for the disease gonorrhoea. A methanol extract of dried root bark showed significant antifungal activity against Trichophyton mentagrophyte and Candida albicans.
Atalantolide has shown significant immunosuppressant activities, and has been patented for this purpose in the United States. Obacunone was found to inhibit azoxymethane-induced colon carcinogenesis in rats.
Crude root extracts showed strong insect antifeedant activities. Pedonin showed antifeedant activity against larvae of the African sugarcane borer Eldana saccharina and the bean pod borer Maruca vitrata. Obacunone and harrisonin showed antifeedant activity against larvae of the African armyworm Spodoptera exempta, Maruca vitrata and Eldana saccharina.
Deoxyobacunone, obacunone, harrisonin, 12β-acetoxyharrisonin and pedonin exhibited significant stimulatory activity (up to 98%) on the germination of conditioned Striga hermonthica seeds.
The leaves of Harrisonia abyssinica are rich in protein, but their utilization as a fodder is hampered by the high tannin content.
Evergreen, much-branched shrub or small tree, sometimes climbing, up to 6(–13) m tall; bole and larger branches with up to 2 cm long thorns on conical corky outgrowths; bark pale brown to grey; branches long and flexible. Leaves alternate, imparipinnately compound with 2–7 pairs of leaflets, up to 25 cm long, glabrous or hairy; stipules absent; petiole up to 3 cm long, with 2 recurved spines at base, petiole and rachis with 1–3 mm wide wings; petiolules 0–2 mm long; leaflets elliptical or broadly obovate to almost circular, 0.5–9 cm × 0.5–4 cm, base asymmetrical, cuneate to rounded, apex rounded to acuminate, margins variably toothed or entire. Inflorescence an axillary or terminal, erect panicle 2–14 cm long, glabrous to hairy. Flowers bisexual, regular, 4–5(–6)-merous; pedicel variable in length; sepals almost free, triangular to ovate, c. 1 mm long, glabrous or hairy; petals ovate to lanceolate, 2–5.5 mm × 1–2 mm, glabrous or hairy; stamens 8–10, up to 4 mm long; ovary superior, 4–5(–6)-lobed, c. 2 mm long, styles united, up to 1 mm long, stigma 4–5(–6)-lobed, head-shaped. Fruit a 4–8-lobed, depressed globose berry 4–9 mm in diameter, red to black when ripe, glabrous, fleshy, 4– 8-seeded. Seeds ovoid, 3.5–5 mm × 2.5–3 mm, smooth.
Other botanical information
Harrisonia comprises 3 species, 2 of which occur in tropical Asia. Molecular analyses have shown that Harrisonia seems to be more closely related to the Rutaceae than to the Simaroubaceae.
Harrisonia abyssinica is variable, especially size, shape and hairiness of the leaves, especially in East Africa.
Growth and development
In Ghana Harrisonia abyssinica flowers from February–March and fruits in October. It is a strong grower and the roots spread widely.
Harrisonia abyssinica occurs in dry evergreen forest, forest edges, wooded grassland, riverine forest and coastal areas, from sea-level up to 1700 m altitude. It may form dense thickets on eroded soils. Annual rainfall in its area of distribution ranges between 150 mm and 2000 mm.
Propagation and planting
Harrisonia abyssinica can be propagated by seed, stem cuttings and through micropropagation. Stem cuttings root easily when treated with the rooting hormone indole-3-butyric acid.
In western Kenya Harrisonia abyssinica trees are used as shade trees around homesteads and pruned trees and shrubs are used as living fences for cattle kraals. However, no information is available about its cultivation and management for medicinal purposes. In southern Sudan the Moru people consider Harrisonia abyssinica a weed and burn it, because it shades out the sorghum sown under it.
Leaves, roots, bark and fruits are collected from the wild and used immediately or dried and stored for use throughout the year.
Handling after harvest
A decoction of the leaves, roots and bark of Harrisonia abyssinica can be used immediately or put in bottles to be used within a week. If refrigerated the decoction can be stored for up to 1 year. For long term storage (3–6 months) the leaves, roots and bark are sun dried and stored in airtight containers.
Genetic resources
Harrisonia abyssinica is widely used for medicinal purposes, and is probably locally overharvested, which calls for conservation and research on propagation and domestication. No systematic germplasm collection or preservation programmes exist in tropical Africa. However, there are small collections in botanical gardens and research institutions in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Nigeria.
Harrisonia abyssinica has considerable value as a medicinal plant because it can be used to treat a wide range of diseases and ailments including malaria, sexually transmitted diseases, diarrhoea, intestinal worms and wounds and abscesses. Extraction and identification of the active ingredients in the bark, roots and leaves may provide useful drugs. International trade in Harrisonia abyssinica has been hindered by lack of appropriate post-harvest, processing and preservation technologies and lack of appropriate documentation and scientific experimentation to verify herbalists’ claims.
Major references
• Balde, A.M., Pieters, L., De Bruyne, T., Geerts, S., Vanden Berghe, D.A. & Vlietinck, A., 1995. Biological investigations on Harrisonia abyssinica. Phytomedicine 14: 299–302.
• Burkill, H.M., 2000. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 5, Families S–Z, Addenda. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 686 pp.
• Chase, M.W., Morton, C.M. & Kallunki, J.A., 1999. Phylogenetic relationships of Rutaceae: a cladistic analysis of the subfamilies using evidence from rbcL and atpB sequence variation. American Journal of Botany 86(8): 1191–1199.
• Johns, T., Kokwaro, J.O. & Kimanani, E.K., 1990. Herbal remedies of the Luo of Siaya District, Kenya: establishing quantitative criteria for consensus. Economic Botany 44(3): 369–381.
• Kirira, P.G., Rukunga, G.M., Wanyonyi, A.W., Muregi, F.M., Gathirwa, J.W., Muthaura, C.N., Omar, S.A., Tolo, F., Mungai, G.M. & Ndiege, I.O., 2006. Anti-plasmodial activity and toxicity of extracts of plants used in traditional malaria therapy in Meru and Kilifi districts of Kenya. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 106: 403–407.
• Kokwaro, J.O., 1993. Medicinal plants of East Africa. 2nd Edition. Kenya Literature Bureau, Nairobi, Kenya. 401 pp.
• Masinde, P.S., 1996., 1996. Medicinal plants of the Marachi people of Kenya. In: van der Maesen, L.J.G., van der Burgt, X.M. & van Medenbach de Rooy, J.M. (Editors). The biodiversity of African plants. Proceedings of the 14th AETFAT Congress, 22–27 August 1994, Wageningen, Netherlands. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, Netherlands. pp. 747–753.
• Rugutt, J.K., Rugutt, K.J. & Berner, D.K., 2001. Limonoids from Nigerian Harrisonia abyssinica and their activity against Striga hermonthica seeds. Journal of Natural Products 64(11): 1434–1438.
• Stannard, B.L., 2000. Simaroubaceae. In: Beentje, H.J. (Editor). Flora of Tropical East Africa. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, Netherlands. 15 pp.
• 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.
Other references
• Anani, K., Hudson, J.B., De Souza, C., Akpagana, K., Tower, G.H.N., Amason, J.T. & Gbeassor, M., 2000. Investigation of medicinal plants of Togo for antiviral and antimicrobial activities. Pharmaceutical Biology 38(1): 40–45.
• Balde, A.M., Apers, S., de Bruyne, T.E., van den Heuvel, H., Claeys, M., Vlietinck, A.J. & Pieters, L.A.C., 2000. Steroids from Harrisonia abyssinica. Planta Medica 66(1): 67–69.
• Beentje, H.J., 1994. Kenya trees, shrubs and lianas. National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi, Kenya. 722 pp.
• El Tahir, A., Satti, G.M.H. & Khalid, S.A., 1999. Antiplasmodial activity of selected Sudanese medicinal plants with emphasis on Maytenus senegalensis (Lam) Exell. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 64(3): 227–233.
• Fabry, W., Okemo, P.O. & Ansorg, R., 1996. Activity of East African medicinal plants against Helicobacter pylori. Chemotherapy 42(5): 315–317.
• Fernando, E.S. & Quinn, C.J., 1995. Picramniaceae, a new family, and a recircumscription of Simaroubaceae. Taxon 44(2): 177–181.
• Hassanali, A., Bentley, M.D., Ole Sitayo, E.N., Njoroge, P.E.W. & Yatagai, M., 1986. Studies on limonoid insect antifeedants. Insect Science and its Application 7(4): 495–499.
• Hudson, J.B., Anani, K., Lee, M.X., De Souza, C., Arnason, J.T. & Gbeassor, M., 2000. Further investigations on the antiviral activities of medicinal plants of Togo. Pharmaceutical Biology 38(1): 46–50.
• Johns, T., Faubert, G.M., Kokwaro, J.O., Mahunnah, R.L.A. & Kimanani, E.K., 1995. Anti-giardial activity of gastrointestinal remedies of the Luo of East Africa. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 46: 17–23.
• Kamuhabwa, A., Nshimo, C. & de Witte, P., 2000. Cytotoxicity of some medicinal plant extracts used in Tanzanian traditional medicine. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 70: 143–149.
• Keita, S.M., Arnason, J.T., Baum, B.R., Marles, R., Camara, F. & Traoré, A.K., 1995. Etude ethnopharmacologique traditionnelle de quelques plantes médicinales antihelminthiques de la République de Guinée. Revue de Médecines et Pharmacopées Africaines 9(2): 119–134.
• Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
• Okemo, P.O. & Mwatha, W.E., 2002. In vitro activity of selected medicinal plant extracts against pathogenic bacteria and HIV/AIDS related Mycobacterium spp. Journal of Tropical Microbiology 1: 29–35.
• Rajab, M.S., Rugutt, J.K., Fronczek, F.R. & Fischer, N.H., 1997. Structural revision of harrisonin and 12b-acetoxyharrisonin, two limonoids from Harrisonia abyssinica. Journal of Natural Products 60(8): 822–825.
• Rubanza, C.D.K., Shem, M.N., Otsyina, R., Bakengesa, S.S., Ichinohe, T. & Fujihara, T., 2005. Content of phenolic, extractable and bound condensed tannins and their effect on in vitro gas production from browse leaves. Journal of Animal and Feed Sciences 14(1): 193–210.
• Runyoro, D.K.B., Ngassapa, O.D., Matee, M.I.N., Joseph, C.C. & Moshi, M.J., 2006. Medicinal plants used by Tanzanian traditional healers in the management of Candida albicans infections. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 106: 158–165.
• Sawhney, N., Khan, M.R., Ndaalio, G., Nkunya, M.H.H. & Wevers, H., 1979. Studies on the rationale of African traditional medicine 3. Preliminary screening of medicinal plants for anti-fungal activity. Pakistan Journal of Scientific and Industrial Research 21(5–6): 193–196.
• Sharland, R.W., 2006. Trees in the garden: interaction between the wild and agricultural domains in practice among the Moru of southern Sudan. [Internet] FAO Corporate Document Repository, Rome, Italy. docrep/U1510E/ U1510E0A.htm/ Accessed July 2007.
• Tabuti, J.R.S., Dhillion, S.S. & Lye, K.A., 2003. Ethnoveterinary medicines for cattle (Bos indicus) in Bulamogi county, Uganda: plant species and mode of use. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 88: 279–286.
• Timberlake, J.R., 1987. Ethnobotany of the Pokot of Northern Kenya. East African Herbarium, Nairobi, Kenya & Centre for Economic Botany, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 106 pp.
Sources of illustration
• Wild, H. & Phipps, J.B., 1963. Simaroubaceae. In: Exell, A.W., Fernandes, A. & Wild, H. (Editors). Flora Zambesiaca. Volume 2, part 1. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. pp. 210–220.
V.E. Emongor
Department of Crop Science and Production, Botswana College of Agriculture, Private Bag 0027, Gaborone, Botswana

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:
Emongor, V.E., 2008. Harrisonia abyssinica Oliv. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
Distribution Map wild

1, flowering branch; 2, detail of twig and leaf; 3, fruit.
Redrawn and adapted by Iskak Syamsudin

leafy branches

leafy branch

fruiting branch and fruits