Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1
Encycl. 3: 94 (1789).
2n = 28
Heliotropium subulatum (A.DC.) Vatke (1882).
Origin and geographic distribution
Heliotropium zeylanicum is widespread throughout mainland tropical Africa. It is also found in Comoros, South Africa, the Arabian peninsula, Pakistan and India.
In Nigeria the plant is applied to scorpion stings and to sore breasts. In Kenya and Tanzania the leaves and roots are pounded and boiled, and the decoction is drunk to treat post-partum ailments and to promote menstruation. Leaves and stems are used as a poultice in DR Congo and Tanzania to treat yaws. A poultice of the leaves, sometimes mixed with butter, is used in Tanzania to treat boils. In Kenya a root infusion which has stood overnight is taken as a stomachic and laxative. Traditional medicinal use in India includes treating boils, sores, ulcers, throat infections, insect stings and snakebites. In Somalia the plant is said to be grazed by all livestock. In Tanzania the plant is considered useful as fodder and as an ornamental. In Nigeria it is eaten as a stimulant and a bitter tonic, probably because it colours the lips and saliva red as do kola nuts. In Tanzania young leaves are cooked and eaten as a vegetable.
The aerial parts of Heliotropium zeylanicum contain the pyrrolizidine alkaloids subulacine-N-oxide, 7-angeloyl heliotrine, retronecine and heliotrine. The crude ethanol and hexane extracts have significant in-vitro activity against coxsackie, poliomyelitis and measles viruses and 7-angeloyl heliotrine and heliotrine have shown in-vitro activity against poliomyelitis and vesicular stomatitis viruses. Antitumour activity of several extracts and isolated alkaloids has been confirmed in in-vitro tests on several cancer cell lines including Sarcoma 180, human carcinoma of the nasopharynx and lymphocytic leukaemia. Extracts as well as isolated alkaloids have shown antimicrobial activity in tests with the bacteria Escherichia coli, Streptococcus pneumoniae, Bacillus subtilis, Bacillus anthracis and Staphylococcus aureus, and the fungi Aspergillus fumigatus, Aspergillus niger, Rhizoctonia phaseoli and Pennicilium chrysogenum.
Perennial, erect or procumbent herb up to 60(–90) cm tall, usually with thick rootstock; stem branched, woody at base. Leaves alternate, simple, more or less sessile; stipules absent; blade linear to elliptical or sometimes lanceolate, 1–9(–12) cm × 0.2–1(–2.5) cm, base narrowly attenuate, apex acute. Inflorescence a spike-like, one-sided, single or paired cyme up to 30 cm long. Flowers bisexual, regular, 5-merous, sessile; calyx lobes narrowly elliptical, up to 2 mm × 1 mm, enlarging in fruit; corolla with cylindrical tube, white, up to 4.5 mm long, lobes up to 3 mm long, spreading, long acuminate with tip bent back inwards. Fruit almost globose, up to 2.5 mm in diameter, splitting into 4 nutlets.
Heliotropium zeylanicum is found in dry woodland, savanna, open localities, on sandy riverbanks and on edges of lakes and rivers up to 2000 m at altitude. It is an important weed in Egypt and Ethiopia and probably elsewhere.
Genetic resources and breeding
Heliotropium zeylanicum is widespread and common throughout its area of distribution. Its weedy nature further assures that it is not threatened.
Heliotropium zeylanicum has promising medicinal properties which merit further research. It should be realized that use as an internal medicine can be dangerous with possible liver damage and poisoning as a result. Use as a vegetable has to be discouraged for the same reason.
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• Singh, B., Sahu, P.M. & Singh, S., 2002. Antimicrobial activity of pyrrolizidine alkaloids from Heliotropium subulatum. Fitoterapia 73(2): 153–155.
• Singh, B., Sahu, P.M., Jain, S.C. & Singh, S., 2002. Antineoplastic and antiviral screening of pyrrolizidine alkaloids from Heliotropium subulatum. Pharmaceutical Biology 40(8): 581–586.
Correct citation of this article:
Bosch, C.H., 2006. Heliotropium zeylanicum (Burm.f.) Lam. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
obtained from B. Wursten
part of inflorescence
obtained from B. Wursten