Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1
Jahrb. Hamburg. Wiss. Anst. Beih. 17(3): 190 (1900).
2n = 22
Picralima elliotii (Stapf) Stapf (1908), Hunteria eburnea Pichon (1953), Hunteria elliotii (Stapf) Pichon (1953), Hunteria mayumbensis Pichon (1953).
Origin and geographic distribution
Hunteria umbellata occurs throughout West and Central Africa, east to central DR Congo, and south to Cabinda (Angola).
In Sierra Leone the bark of Hunteria umbellata is made into a bitter tonic and used as a stomachic and as a lotion to treat fever. A fresh root-bark extract is applied in Côte d’Ivoire to sores caused by leprosy. This medication is highly toxic and fatalities have been recorded. Fruits are toxic and are used for criminal purposes. The fruit is rich in latex that is an ingredient of arrow poison in Côte d’Ivoire. In Ghana and Nigeria the root and stem bark are used as an anthelmintic, especially against guinea worm, filaria worms and schistosomiases (causing bilharzia). Aqueous and alcoholic extracts of the seeds are used as a cure for piles, yaws, diabetes and stomach ulcers in Nigeria. The bark and the root are used as a bitter tonic in Nigeria, and powdered root and root decoctions are used to prevent miscarriage and to treat menorrhagia. In Cameroon a bark or fruit decoction is taken to treat stomach-ache, liver problems and hernia. The plant is also used in the treatment of geriatric problems. Hunteria umbellata extracts are used in Germany for phytotherapeutic purposes, to reduce the heart rate, as an aphrodisiac, to decrease blood pressure and reduce blood lipid content.
The creamy to yellowish brown, hard wood is locally used for carving, making combs, spoons, tool handles, police batons, carpenter planes, weaving shuttles and other small articles. In Nigeria forked stems are used as house posts and are considered very durable and immune to termites. In Côte d’Ivoire the wood is used as firewood.
Production and international trade
In Ghana the bark of Hunteria umbellata is harvested and is exported for medicinal use, but quantities are unknown. The major destination seems to be Germany.
Some 20 indole alkaloids have been isolated from Hunteria umbellata, most occurring in the stem bark and root bark. Alkaloids that have shown pharmacological activity are eburnamine, eburnamonine (synonyms: vinburnine, vincamone), hunteriamine, hunterine, vincamine and corymine. Eburnamonine, eburnamine and hunterine show cardio-vascular properties, some symphathomimetic properties and a strong and lasting hypotensive action. Eburnamonine has the same pharmacological effect as strychnine and is useful as a cerebrovascular agent. This alkaloid is abundantly present in the seeds and is a stimulant of the central nervous system, and seems to have a positive effect on the general blood circulation. Vincamine exhibits significant activity as an anti-hypertensive and sedative agent. Research supports the traditional use of seed extracts in Nigeria for treatment of diabetes, as it increases the activity of glucokinase and lowers blood glucose levels in alloxan diabetic rabbits. Hunteriamine showed hypotension of short duration in dogs and cats.
Aqueous and methanolic extracts of the leaves, seeds and stem bark have shown significant anthelmintic activity against earthworms. The methanolic extract of the stem bark has the highest activity. Tests with leaf extracts have shown molluscicidal action on the freshwater snail Bulinus globulus.
The wood is very hard, fine grained, creamy, brown to yellow or orange.
Shrub or small tree up to 15(–22) m tall, with colourless or milky latex in all parts; bole sinuous or straight, up to 40 cm in diameter, fluted; outer bark 1 mm thick, rough or smooth, grey to dirty brown; crown dense. Leaves opposite, simple and entire; stipules absent; petiole 1–2.5 cm long; blade elliptical to oblong, up to 22.5 cm × 11 cm, cuneate to obtuse at base, obtuse to acuminate at apex, glabrous, leathery, pinnately veined. Inflorescence a terminal, rarely axillary, dense to lax cyme, 10–20(–80)-flowered; peduncle up to 1.5 cm long. Flowers bisexual, regular, 5-merous, fragrant; pedicel 3–7 mm long; sepals almost free, broadly ovate to triangular, 0.5–2 mm long, erect and stuck to the corolla tube with thick resinous substance; corolla white, creamy or pale yellow, with cylindrical tube 4–8 mm long, lobes 6–12 mm long, twisted in bud, with a belt of hairs inside the tube just below the insertion of the stamens; stamens inserted in the upper part of the corolla tube; ovary superior, composed of 2 separate carpels, abruptly narrowing into the style, terminating in a stigmatic ellipsoid basal part and a 2-lobed apex. Fruit consisting of 2 separate globose mericarps 3–6 cm long, yellow, smooth, 8– 25-seeded. Seeds oblong to ellipsoid, 1–1.5 cm long, flattened at one side.
Hunteria comprises 12 species, which all occur in Africa. In Ghana the bark of Hunteria ghanensis J.B.Hall & Leeuwenb., which occurs in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, is mixed with some other species and taken as a stomachic and to treat difficulties with urination. It is confined in the south of Ghana to extremely dry forest, where the expansion of agriculture has caused severe decline of the habitat. Therefore, it qualifies as ‘endangered’ on the IUCN Red List. Hunteria ballayi Hua occurs in Central Africa (Cameroon, Central African Republic, Gabon and Congo). Women swallow the seed together with the sweet mesocarp as a fertility drug. Hunteria simii (Stapf) H.Huber is distributed in West Africa (Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire). The hard, yellow wood is used to make small objects in Côte d’Ivoire. No records have been found on medicinal use. Hunteria umbellata, Hunteria congolana Pichon and Picralima nitida (Stapf) T.Durand. & H.Durand have been confused in the literature. Hunteria umbellata flowers and fruits all year round.
Hunteria umbellata occurs in rain forest and gallery forest, also in secondary forest,up to 600 m altitude.
Genetic resources and breeding
Hunteria umbellata is considered a threatened species in Ghana and Nigeria.
Many alkaloids have been isolated from Hunteria umbellata, but little is known about the pharmacological activities of most of them. Some alkaloids show promising cerebrovascular and cardiovascular activities, which merit further research. As the habitat of Hunteria umbellata is disappearing fast, it is necessary to investigate possibilities for protecting it.
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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:
Boone, M.J., 2006. Hunteria umbellata (K.Schum.) Hallier f. 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, flower; 3, part of fruit.
Source: Flore analytique du Bénin