PROTA homepage Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes mιdicinales 1
Record display

Jatropha zeyheri Sond.

Linnaea 23: 117 (1850).
Origin and geographic distribution
Jatropha zeyheri occurs in Botswana, Zimbabwe, northern South Africa and Swaziland.
The Xhosa people apply the powdered rhizome externally to wounds, boils and burns to heal them fast. Young shoots are rubbed in for this purpose, or plant sap is applied. A rhizome infusion is taken to treat uterine pain, irregular periods, leg and feet pain, and is given as an emetic to treat food poisoning. A rhizome decoction is taken to treat headache and cough, and also as a blood purifier and purgative. Overdoses are dangerous as the plants are poisonous.
A stem infusion of Jatropha zeyheri did not show antibacterial activity in vitro, although an ethyl-acetate extract did show some antibacterial activity against Bacillus subtilis and Staphylococcus aureus, but only in very large doses. The daphnane diterpenoid jaherin, isolated from the plant, has shown some antimicrobial activity.
Perennial, somewhat succulent, monoecious, densely hairy herb up to 30 cm tall, sometimes creeping; rhizome thick; stems simple or sparingly branched; sap watery, greenish. Leaves alternate; stipules c. 2 mm long, divided into filiform segments, gland-tipped; petiole 1–5 mm long; blade broadly ovate in outline, deeply 3–5-lobed, 5–12 cm long, base cuneate to truncate, lobes narrowly elliptical-oblanceolate, apex acute, lateral lobes progressively shorter, almost entire. Inflorescence a terminal corymb up to 10 cm long, with a solitary female flower terminating each major axis and male flowers in lateral cymules; peduncle up to 2.5 cm long; bracts linear-lanceolate, 0.5–1 cm long, apex acuminate, gland-tipped. Flowers unisexual, regular, 5-merous, cream-coloured; pedicel c. 2 mm long; male flowers with c. 0.5 mm long calyx tube, lobes lanceolate, 2–3 mm long, glandular hairy, petals oblanceolate, c. 4.5 mm long, disk glands 5, free, stamens 8, partially fused; female flowers with c. 2 mm long calyx tube, lobes triangular-lanceolate, 4–7 mm long, petals oblong-lanceolate, 7–8 mm long, disk glands 5, free, ovary superior, 3-celled, styles 3, c. 3 mm long, fused at base, stigma 2-lobed. Fruit an almost cylindrical, smooth capsule, 11–13 mm Χ 9–12 mm, densely shortly hairy, dehiscent into 2-valved cocci, usually 3-seeded. Seed compressed-ellipsoid, up to 9 mm long, smooth, mottled brown, caruncle 2 Χ 4 mm, 2-lobed, lobes fringed, golden brown.
Jatropha comprises about 170 species, mainly in warm temperate regions and seasonally dry tropics. Africa counts 70 native species and Madagascar has 1 endemic. Several other Jatropha species occurring in the same region as Jatropha zeyheri also have medicinal uses. A rhizome decoction of Jatropha erythropoda Pax & K.Hoffm. is drunk by Kalahari bushmen to treat blood in the urine and stomach-ache, and the plant is rubbed on the skin to treat wounds and venereal diseases. The dried rhizome powder of Jatropha hirsuta Hochst. from Mozambique and South Africa is applied to fresh wounds to heal them. A rhizome extract is used as an enema to cure fever.
Jatropha zeyheri occurs in wooded grassland with scattered shrubs, in mopane woodland on sand, also in disturbed areas, at 900–1250 m altitude.
Genetic resources and breeding
As Jatropha zeyheri is fairly widespread and occurs in disturbed areas, there are no indications that it is in danger of genetic erosion.
Jatropha zeyheri has similar wound-healing and emetic properties as many other Jatropha species, but virtually nothing is known about the chemical compounds, and only very little about the pharmacology. More research is warranted to investigate whether it contains promising lead compounds.
Major references
• Arnold, T.H., Prentice, C.A., Hawker, L.C., Snyman, E.E., Tomalin, M., Crouch, N.R. & Pottas-Bircher, C., 2002. Medicinal and magical plants of southern Africa: an annotated checklist. Strelitzia 13. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria, South Africa. 302 pp.
• Carter, S. & Leach, L.C., 2001. Euphorbiaceae, subfamily Euphorbioideae, tribe Euphorbieae. In: Pope, G.V. (Editor). Flora Zambesiaca. Volume 9, part 5. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. pp. 339–465.
• Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
Other references
• Beentje, H.J., 1994. Kenya trees, shrubs and lianas. National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi, Kenya. 722 pp.
• Dekker, T.G., Fourie, T.G., Matthee, E., Snycker, F.O. & Ammann, W., 1987. Studies of South African medicinal plants. Part 4. Jaherin, a new daphnane diterpene with antimicrobial properties from Jatropha zeyheri. South African Journal of Chemistry 40(1): 74–76.
• Elmi, A.S., Baerheim Svendsen, A. Scheffer, J.J.C. & Verpoorte, R., 1986. Screening of some Somalian medicinal plants for antimicrobial activity. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 17: 283–288.
• Imamura, K., 2001. Water in the desert: rituals and vital power among the Central Kalahari hunter-gatherers. African Study Monographs, Supplement 27: 125–163.
• van Wyk, B.E., van Oudtshoorn, B. & Gericke, N., 1997. Medicinal plants of South Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria, South Africa. 304 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, Rιduit, 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

Correct citation of this article:
Schmelzer, G.H., 2007. Jatropha zeyheri Sond. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes mιdicinales 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.