Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1
Syst. veg. 4: 693 (1819).
2n = 24
Origin and geographic distribution
Lycium shawii is distributed from Sudan and Ethiopia south through Kenya and Tanzania to Malawi, Zambia, Botswana and Zimbabwe. It also occurs in South Africa, the Mediterranean region, the Middle East and western India.
In Tanzania the roots of Lycium shawii are boiled and the decoction is used to treat sores in the mouth; in Somalia, Kenya and Tanzania it is used to treat coughs. The decoction is applied externally to relieve backache and to wash polio patients, and administered internally to cure tick fever in livestock. An infusion of leaves and roots is drunk to induce vomiting in case of tapeworm infection. Leaves are used to treat constipation and stomach-ache. In Saudi Arabia and Mediterranean countries similar medicinal uses have been reported. The salty leaves are much liked by livestock. The leaves are eaten as a vegetable after chopping and cooking, either alone or mixed with other green vegetables. The Chamus and Turkana people of Kenya use the branches for fencing.
Aqueous stem and leaf extracts showed low cytotoxicity to melanoma cell lines and low antiplasmodial activity. An extract of the aerial parts exhibited persistent hypoglycaemic effects in alloxan-induced diabetic rats. The extract induced wheat rootlet elongation in a root growth inhibition test, but the reason needs to be elucidated.
The crude protein content of the aerial parts is about 17%.
Erect to spreading, much-branched shrub, sometimes scandent, up to 2.5(–3) m tall, very spiny with axillary spines 5–10(–15) mm long; stems slightly zigzag, robust, glabrous, branches curving, greyish white. Leaves in fascicles of 2–6, simple and entire; stipules absent; petiole 2–5 mm long; blade obovate to lanceolate, 2–3.5 cm × c. 1 cm, base cuneate, apex acute to rounded, glabrous or with short glandular hairs, glossy. Flowers bisexual, regular, 5-merous; pedicel 6–15 mm long, pendulous; calyx tubular, 3–5 mm long, lobes triangular, c. 5 mm long, erect; corolla narrowly tubular, 12–16 mm long, lobes ovate-oblong, 3–4 mm long, creamy white to pale mauve with purple venation; stamens unequal, inserted above the middle of the corolla tube, filaments 3–9 mm long, 3 included, 2 slightly exserted; nectary red; ovary superior, globose, 1.5–2 mm long, style 10–12 mm long, stigma obtuse, 2-lobed. Fruit a globose or slightly obovoid berry 3–5 mm in diameter, red, many-seeded. Seeds ovate in outline, 2 mm × 1.5 mm, flattened, brown.
Lycium comprises about 90 species and is found mainly in warm temperate areas, the largest number of species occurring in the New World and about 35 in mainland Africa. Lycium shawii has long been regarded as a form of Lycium europaeum L., but in recent flora treatments for tropical Africa, all specimens collected south of Sudan are placed in Lycium shawii. The 2 species can mainly be distinguished by the calyx, which is cup-shaped, c. 2 mm long and with unequal teeth in Lycium europaeum and tubular, 3–5 mm long and with equal teeth in Lycium shawii.
Several other Lycium spp. are medicinally used in southern Africa and Madagascar. In Namibia the roots of young shrubs of Lycium oxycarpum Dunal are used against backache, diseases of the male genitals, painful and excessive menstruation, diarrhoea in children and as a purgative. In Botswana the smoke of the burnt roots of Lycium cinereum Thunb. is used as an analgesic for painful eyes. A decoction of the roots is taken to treat kidney pain. Reports on the properties of the fruit are contradictory, poisonous as well as edible. In Namibia the branches are used to make impenetrable barriers around gardens and kraals. Dried, powdered plant parts have a pleasant smell and are used as a perfume. Lycium mascarenense A.M.Venter & A.J.Scott from southern Mozambique, coastal South Africa and Madagascar is medicinally used in Madagascar. The aerial parts are commonly used in a medicine to treat Parkinson’s disease. The fruits are considered poisonous; birds that eat them die.
Lycium shawii occurs in dry to relatively moist areas, from hilly country to the edge of floodplains and riverbanks, also in mixed woodland, wooded grassland and cultivated areas, and along roads, on clayey and loamy, even saline soils. In southern Africa it occurs up to 2100 m altitude.
For medicinal use and as a vegetable, Lycium shawii is exclusively harvested from the wild. When planted as hedges either stem cuttings or seeds can be used. In Kuwait, tissue culture technology was developed of certain genotypes of Lycium shawii because of their potential for use in urban landscaping and in desert revegetation.
Genetic resources and breeding
Although widespread, Lycium shawii is not common within its area of distribution. In tropical Africa there are no threats reported, but in the Sinai Desert and in Jordan the species is threatened by its unsustainable use. In the wild Lycium species hybridize frequently, offering opportunities for breeders.
The lack of knowledge of the chemistry of Lycium shawii makes it difficult to judge its potential. It will probably remain a locally important multi-purpose species.
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Correct citation of this article:
Bosch, C.H., 2008. Lycium shawii Roem. & Schult. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.