Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1
Hook., Niger Fl.: 214 (1849).
Jateorhiza columba (Roxb.) Oliv. (1868).
Columba, calumba, colombo (En). Colombo (Fr). Calumba, columba, colombo do África (Po). Mkaumwa (Sw).
Origin and geographic distribution
Jateorhiza palmata occurs naturally in Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa (Kwazulu-Natal). It is cultivated in Mozambique, and cultivated and locally naturalized in many tropical countries, including Ghana, Madagascar, Mauritius, Réunion and also in India and Brazil.
The root is the source of the formerly popular medicine ‘radix calumbae’ that was imported into Europe from Mozambique and Tanzania. It was used against dyspepsia and diarrhoea, and especially suitable for people with a weak stomach. In Tanzania the root is eaten against snakebites and as a vermifuge. The Zigua people of Tanzania use it to treat hernia and ruptures. Root scrapings are applied onto scarifications made in abscesses to mature them. Throughout south-eastern Africa the roots are considered tonic and are taken against dysentery and diarrhoea, whereas in India they are taken as a bitter tonic with antipyretic and anthelmintic properties, against gastric irritability and vomiting during pregnancy. In Europe Jateorhiza palmata is still used in laxative herbal mixtures.
In Italy and the United States the root has been added to herbal bitters.
Production and international trade
The dried root is traded internationally, but the current extent of the trade is unknown. It is sold through the internet on a small scale.
The succulent roots contain the diterpenoid furanolactones columbin, palmarin and chasmanthin and several related glycosides including palmatosides A–G, and the protoberberine alkaloids palmatine, jatrorrhizine, bisjatrorrhizine and columbamine. They also contain traces of the sapogenins diosgenin and kryptogenin. The roots contain about 1% of a greenish essential oil with a fragrance reminiscent of hay; older roots contain very little of it. The essential oil consists mainly of thymol. The roots are rich in starch.
In a test with rats, columbin suppressed the induction of adenocarcinomas in the colon by administration of the carcinogen azoxymethane. Columbin shortened the sleeping time induced by a urethane and α-chloralose mixture, but prolonged the sleeping time induced by hexobarbital. This may be explained by an effect of columbin on drug metabolizing enzymes in the liver. A methanol extract obtained from the rhizome inhibited the growth in vitro of a range of fungi tested. In the European Union the use of the essential oil (calumba extract) is permitted in animal feeds (CoE 247).
Dioecious liana from tuberous roots; branchlets densely appressed hairy. Leaves alternate; stipules absent; petiole 18–25 cm long; blade broadly rounded in outline, palmately 5-lobed, 15–35 cm × 16–40 cm, base deeply cordate, lobes ovate and acuminate at apex, membranous, appressed hairy on both surfaces, palmately veined with 5 main veins. Male inflorescence a branched axillary panicle up to 40 cm long, branches 2–10 cm long, bearing clusters of 3–7 flowers; female inflorescence an axillary raceme up to 10 cm long. Flowers unisexual, sessile; sepals 6, 3 outer ones oblong to elliptical, 3 inner ones obovate, c. 3 mm × 1.5 mm; petals 6, c. 2 mm long, somewhat concave, mostly abruptly bent inwards at apex, margins incurved; male flowers with 6 free stamens 1–2 mm long, slightly fused to the petals; female flowers with 6 tongue-shaped staminodes, ovary superior, consisting of 3 free, ovoid carpels, styles short, recurved, stigma broad. Fruit composed of up to 3 ovoid drupelets 2–2.5 cm × 1.5–2 cm, appressed stiff hairy, stone ovoid, flattened, one side smooth, other side with silky hairs, 1-seeded. Seed with fleshy, ruminate endosperm.
In Mozambique the stems growing from the roots may be annual.
Jateorhiza comprises 2 species, both in tropical Africa. It was formerly considered a section of Chasmanthera.
Jateorhiza palmata occurs in rainforest and fringing forest, up to 1500 m altitude.
The tubers are dug up during dry weather. The tubers are rejected and the succulent roots are cleaned and cut transversely or obliquely into slices, which are dried in the shade. After drying they are about 0.5–1.5 cm thick. After washing and brushing, the slices are graded and marketed as ‘radix calumbae’. Compact, uniform and bright yellow coloured pieces are preferred. The drug has a short-mealy fracture, slight musty odour and a very bitter taste. It is sometimes adulterated with pieces of sliced rhizome and in India with pieces of the stem of Coscinium fenestratum Colebr.
Genetic resources and breeding
As Jateorhiza palmata has a wide distribution and is cultivated as a home-garden plant, it is not in danger of genetic erosion.
‘Radix calumbae’ has lost much of its former importance in medicine at least in the Western World. Jateorhiza palmata is likely to retain some importance in herbal bitters, but there are no indications that it will become an important source of extracts or chemical compounds for the pharmaceutical industry.
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Correct citation of this article:
Oyen, L.P.A., 2008. Jateorhiza palmata (Lam.) Miers. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.