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Hilleria latifolia (Lam.) H.Walter

Engl., Pflanzenr. IV, 83: 81 (1909).
Chromosome number
2n = 36
Origin and geographic distribution
Hilleria latifolia possibly originates from South America, but others believe it originates from the Old World. It occurs in tropical Africa from Guinea east to Ethiopia, and south to Angola, Mozambique and northern South Africa. It also occurs in Madagascar and in Sri Lanka.
In Côte d’Ivoire a leaf decoction is taken or administered by enema to treat ascites and food poisoning, as it causes violent purging. The leaf sap is considered haemostatic. Pulped leaves are applied topically to painful areas and to treat persistent headache. A leaf decoction is taken to treat coughing of blood. In Ghana the boiled plant is eaten to treat guinea worm. The vapour from the leaf decoction is inhaled to cure jaundice. The leaves, together with those of Piper guineense Schumach. & Thonn., are applied to the body to cure swellings and leprosy. Ground to a paste together with Alternanthera pungens Kunth or Capsicum pepper (Capsicum annuum L.), they are topically applied to treat rheumatism. The crushed plant is applied to breast cancer. The flowers are ground to a paste and taken with orange juice to treat asthma. In Nigeria the leaves are eaten in soup to treat gonorrhoea. In Congo the leaves are used to treat gynaecological disorders in which purging is considered necessary. In Congo and DR Congo the crushed plant or crushed simmered leaves are applied as a poultice or in lotions to treat skin infections, scabies and smallpox. The sap is also used as ear drops to treat ear infections. The pounded leaves mixed with stem sap of Costus afer Ker Gawl. are taken to treat colic and gonorrhoea. In Nigeria the leaves are a component of ‘nature cure bitters’ a popular polyherbal formulation used for a variety of ethnomedicinal purposes.
In Ghana the presence of the plant is used as an indication of soil suitable for cocoa cultivation.
In Narok District of Kenya the Maasai people use the blackened stems for drawing eyebrows.
There is controversial information concerning the toxicity of the plant. In Côte d’Ivoire the plant is considered a violent poison, but in Nigeria and Cameroon the leaves are eaten as a vegetable or in soup. In Ghana the dried fruits are eaten as a relish. In Côte d’Ivoire cattle and sheep refuse to browse the plant, whereas in Ghana the leaves are browsed by sheep and goats, but the flowers and fruits are considered fatally poisonous.
There is little information on phytochemistry and pharmacological activities of Hilleria latifolia available. The presence of a flavonoid, probably also alkaloids, and some glycosides have been reported. A crude extract of the stem bark caused significant mortality in vitro of adults and microfilariae of Onchocerca volvulus, which causes river blindness.
The leaves contain per 100 g edible portion: water 84.3 g, energy 184 kJ (44 kcal), fat 0.8 g, carbohydrate 7.8 g, Ca 349 mg, Fe 4.1 mg, ascorbic acid 22 mg (Leung, Busson & Jardin, 1968).
Shrubby herb up to 2 m tall, with some weak bristly hairs on young branches. Leaves alternate, simple and entire; stipules absent; petiole (1–)2–5(–7) cm long; blade ovate or elliptical to broadly lanceolate, 8–16(–20) cm × 3.5–7.5(–9) cm, base rounded to cuneate and often unequal, apex long-acuminate. Inflorescence an axillary, sometimes terminal, raceme 4–10 cm long, up to 30 cm in fruit, many-flowered; axis hairy; bracts 1–2 mm long, caudate, caducous. Flowers bisexual, zygomorphic, 4-merous; pedicel 1–2 mm long, c. 5 mm in fruit; sepals oblong-elliptical, 1.5–2 mm long, c. 4 mm in fruit, 1 sepal free, 3 united to the middle, green to white, turning yellow to red; petals absent; stamens free, a little shorter than sepals; ovary superior, slightly laterally compressed, 1-celled, stigma almost sessile, head-shaped. Fruit a lens-shaped utricle, 2–3 mm in diameter, pericarp very thin, reticulately wrinkled, adhering to seed, yellow to dark red or purple. Seed lens-shaped, black.
Hilleria comprises 3 South American species and belongs to the tribe Rivineae. Hilleria latifolia is often considered to have been introduced from South America, but its occurrence in little disturbed forest in East Africa and Madagascar may indicate that it is native in these regions.
Hilleria latifolia occurs in rainforest, riverine and groundwater forest, also along forest margins and roads and in plantations, at 500–1600 m altitude. It has been a weed of cultivated fields since the early days of oil palm cultivation in West Africa.
Genetic resources and breeding
Hilleria latifolia is relatively common in its wide area of distribution, also in secondary vegetation, and therefore not endangered by genetic erosion.
Hilleria latifolia has many interesting medicinal uses, but almost no information is available on chemical compounds or pharmacological activities. It would therefore be useful to verify these uses through scientific tests.
Major references
• Burkill, H.M., 1997. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 4, Families M–R. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 969 pp.
• Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
• Nowicke, J.W., 1968. Palynotaxonomic study of the Phytolaccaceae. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 55(3): 294–364.
• Titanji, V.P.K., Ayafor, J.F., Mulufi, J.P. & Mbacham, W.F., 1987. In vitro killing of Onchocerca volvulus (Filaroidea) adults and microfilariae by selected Cameroonian medicinal plant extracts. Fitoterapia 58(5): 338–339.
Other references
• Aniagu, S.O., Nwinyi, F.C., Akumka, D.D., Ajoku, G.A., Dzarma, S., Izebe, K.S., Ditse, M., Nwaneri, P.E.C., Wambebe, C. & Gamaniel, K., 2005. Toxicity studies in rats fed nature cure bitters. African Journal of Biotechnology 4(1): 72–78.
• Leung, W.-T.W., Busson, F. & Jardin, C., 1968. Food composition table for use in Africa. FAO, Rome, Italy. 306 pp.
• Mensah, C., 1991. Phytochemical constituents of Hilleria latifolia. B.Sc. Chemistry degree thesis, Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science, University of Cape Coast, Cape Coast, Ghana. 30 pp.
• Polhill, R.M., 1971. Phytolaccaceae. In: Milne-Redhead, E. & Polhill, R.M. (Editors). Flora of Tropical East Africa. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. 5 pp.
• Sowunmi, M.A., 1985. The beginnings of agriculture in West Africa: botanical evidence. Current Anthropology 26: 127–129.
• Stannard, B.L., 1988. Phytolaccaceae. In: Launert, E. (Editor). Flora Zambesiaca. Volume 9, part 1. Flora Zambesiaca Managing Committee, London, United Kingdom. pp. 163–173.
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.
G.H. Schmelzer
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

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:
Schmelzer, G.H., 2007. Hilleria latifolia (Lam.) H.Walter. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
1, flowering branch; 2, flower; 3, fruit.
Source: Flore analytique du Bénin

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fruiting plant
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