Prota 11(2): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 2
Bull. U.S.D.A. 223: 45 (1911).
Asclepiadaceae (APG: Apocynaceae)
2n = 22
White’s ginger, Mondia, tonic root (En). La racine (Fr). Mbombongazi (Sw).
Origin and geographic distribution
Mondia whitei occurs throughout tropical Africa, from Senegal east to southern Sudan, and throughout most of Central, East and southern Africa to South Africa.
Mondia whitei is medicinally used throughout its distribution area. The roots and the root bark have a pronounced vanilla-like odor and taste like a mixture of licorice and ginger. Throughout Africa the roots are highly valued as an aphrodisiac, to treat sexual weakness, prevent premature ejaculation and to increase sperm production. Usually the fresh or dried roots or the root bark are chewed for this purpose. A decoction or infusion of the root or root bark is widely taken to treat gastro-intestinal problems, stomach-ache and indigestion and as a restorative and appetite stimulant.
In Benin a plant extract is taken to treat malaria. In Cameroon leaves are squeezed in water and the filtrate is drunk to stop heavy post partum bleeding. A root decoction is taken to treat urinary infections, jaundice and headache. In DR Congo pulverized bark is eaten with fish or peanuts or pounded inflorescences are put on burning embers and the smoke inhaled to treat asthma in children. In Kenya a root decoction is taken as a purgative and to relieve body pains. It is considered a uterine stimulant, useful to induce labor and after childbirth. In Kenya, Tanzania and Malawi the water in which roots are macerated and shaken is taken as a diuretic, to treat gonorrhoea and to treat fits in children. In South Africa the roots are chewed to treat stress and tension in adults. In Uganda a leaf decoction is drunk to stop vomiting. Root powder in tea is drunk to treat abdominal pain. In Malawi a root decoction is furthermore taken to treat paralysis and epileptic attacks. In southern Africa the root is considered tonic and chewed or a decoction or infusion drunk to treat excessive accumulation of gas, general body pains and also depression. A root tea is drunk to treat cough, bronchitis, chest complaints and as an expectorant. In Zimbabwe pulverized root in porridge is eaten to treat schistosomiasis. Pulverized root in tea is taken to treat abdominal pain. A root infusion is taken to treat constipation, anorexia and bilharzia.
In the Central African Republic seeds of Mondia whitei are used as a substitute for Strophanthus seeds in the preparation of arrow poison. The latex is also added to Strophanthus arrow poison.
In Nigeria and Uganda dried powdered leaves are added to food as a condiment. The vanilla-like odor may have potential as a novel African fragrance or spice. In Gabon the dried powdered roots enter in magico-religious mixtures because of their fragrance.
In Central and East Africa the fresh or dried leaves are cooked, sometimes with peanut butter, and eaten as a vegetable. In Sudan the fruits are considered edible; however in southern Africa the seeds are used as an arrow poison. In West Africa the roots are used to make an energizing drink for wedding parties. In East Africa the roots are used to flavour food and tea, and in southern Africa the roots are used to make a ginger-like beer. The leafy stems are used as fodder for cattle. In Guinea Mondia whitei is planted to reinforce enclosures. The stem yields a strong rope and a fine thread. In Kenya the woody parts of the root are used as chewing sticks.
Production and international trade
The roots are sold in local markets throughout its distribution area as an aphrodisiac. In Kenya in 2000, 1 kg of fresh roots could be sold for US$ 7–12. It is estimated that in 2002 a well-managed piece of land of c. 0.4 ha could generate about US$ 3,300 per year. With the current practice of obtaining Mondia whitei from natural forests, a dealer earns up to US$ 3,600 annually. In Uganda in 2008, collectors charged US$ 0.06 per piece of root and US$ 0.60 per kg; the average retail price was US$ 0.12 per piece of root and US$ 1.50 per kg.
Although the aromatic roots of Mondia whitei are widely used in tropical Africa for medicinal purposes, relatively little research on the active compounds has been effected. Preliminary research of the roots showed the presence of a volatile oil at 1–1.2%, a fixed oil at 2.8%, glucose at 20%, resin at 0.7% and a glycoside at 0.045%, as well as an unidentified glycoside in roots, stem and seeds. The roots contain the minerals Zn, Fe, Ca, Se and Mg and vitamins A, D and K. The volatile oil of the roots caused inflammation and reddening of the skin, irritation of the mucous membranes and relaxes mammalian intestinal smooth muscles. In mice a motor excitation was observed. In frogs the glycoside caused respiratory paralysis and paralysis of the spinal reflexes. The heart increased first in force, then weakened and finally ended into a heart block. The seeds probably contain more of this glycoside.
A methyl chloride extract of the roots yielded 2-hydroxy-4-methoxybenzaldehyde and 3-hydroxy-4-methoxybenzaldehyde (isovanillin), which are responsible for the vanilla-like odour. 2-hydroxy-4-methoxybenzaldehyde is a potent tyrosinase inhibitor. From the organic fraction of a crude methanol extract of the roots the following compounds were also isolated: the triterpene squalene, β-sitosterol, 6-methoxy-7-hydroxycoumarin, 6-methoxy-7,8-dihydroxycoumarin, propacin and the unusual 5-chloropropacin.
In Kenya a patent application has been submitted for the processing and utilization of the root powder as flavouring agent, appetizer and extraction of the flavouring principle.
Crude protein of dry leaves was 187 g/kg while calcium was 69.1 g/kg.
Hexane, methanol and water extracts of the leaves and roots did not show any antibacterial activity against a range of human pathogens. The hexane and methanol extracts showed significant anti-inflammatory activity in the cyclooxygenase (COX-1) assay. An aqueous root extract showed moderate activity against Schistosoma haematobium.
An aqueous root bark extract at 400 mg/kg/day given orally during 8 days increased testosterone production and fertility of male rats. Chronic oral administration of a root bark extract at 400 mg/kg/day for 55 days caused testicular lesions resulting in the cessation of spermatogenesis, degenerative changes in the seminiferous tubules and epididymides. The treatment also resulted in a partial antifertility effect. A recovery period resulted in normal spermatogenesis and fertility, suggesting reversible antispermatogenic and antifertility effects. The hexane extract caused low sexual enhancement of sexually inexperienced male rats.
An in-vitro study on the effect of the hexane extract of the root on KCl and adrenaline-induced contractions of the rat vas deferens, showed a relaxant effect of this extract on the rat vas deferens. An in-vivo study of the effect of the hexane extract at doses of 500 and 1000 mg/kg/day on the intratesticular cholesterol concentration, on the haematological characteristics and on the sensitivity of isolated rat vas deferens to Norepinephrine gave evidence of a reversible androgenic effect.
An aqueous root extract was administered to human spermatozoa in vitro and was found to enhance total motility as well as progressive motility in a time-dependent manner.
The LD50 of water-extracted and freeze-dried root powder is more than 15 g/kg body weight for mice. No significant lesions of brain, heart, liver, kidney, spleen and thymus were observed. Feeding the freeze-dried water extract to male rats for 7 days had no toxic effects and did not affect the reproductive function of the rats.
A preliminary screening of ethanolic and aqueous extracts of the leaves and flowers showed in-vitro affinity to the serotonin transporter (SERT), one of the neurotransmitters involved in the pathopsychology of depression. Further studies showed that the ethanolic leaf extract inhibited SERT moderately in the binding assay, and had a significant antidepressant-like effect in the forced swim test of rats, but not of mice. A water extract of the leaves also showed moderate dose-dependent activity in a GABAA-benzodiazepine receptor binding assay.
Adulterations and substitutes
The root has been used as a substitute for senega root (Polygala senega L.), which is listed in the British Pharmaceutical Codex as an expectorant used in the treatment of bronchitis.
Liana or climbing shrub up to 8(–20) m long; roots woody when old, aromatic; latex present. Leaves opposite, simple and entire; stipular ridges with fleshy teeth; petiole 2–7 cm long; blade ovate, broadly ovate, elliptical or sub-orbicular, (6–)12–20(–28) cm × (3–)6–14(–20) cm, base obtuse to cordate, apex acute. Inflorescence a lax axillary opposite panicle-like cyme, 10–20-flowered, glabrous to short-hairy; peduncle 2–4 cm long, pendulous. Flowers bisexual, regular, 5-merous, unpleasantly scented; pedicel 1–1.5 cm long; calyx with ovate to elliptical lobes, 2–3 mm × 1–2 mm, glabrous to short-hairy; corolla radiate, 2–3 cm in diameter, tube 2–3 mm long, lobes ovate, 9–11 mm × 4–6 mm, glabrous, inside yellow or with various hues of violet, red or purple and with a paler yellow triangular patch at base, outside pale green, margin somewhat recurved; corona lobes free, 6–8.5 mm long, fleshy, green-yellow or creamy yellow, 3-segmented at base, central lobule 5–7.5 mm long, spreading, tongue-like or horn-like, lateral lobules rounded, 1–2 mm long, fused at base to the central lobule; stamens with very short free filaments, anthers broadly flattened, bending over style head and partly fused to it; ovary semi-inferior, carpels 2, free, apically fused, terminally enlarged into broadly ovoid pentagonal style-head. Fruit consisting of a pair of obliquely ovoid, glabrous follicles, each one 8–12 cm × 2–4 cm, green, apex rounded, many-seeded. Seeds ovoid, 8–10 mm long, dark brown, at apex bearing a coma of hairs 2–2.5 cm long.
Other botanical information
Mondia comprises 2 species, which both occur in tropical Africa. Mondia has formerly been classified in a separate family: Periplocaceae. Mondia ecornuta (N.E.Br.) Bullock occurs in Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique and is also medicinally used. In Tanzania a root decoction is drunk to treat malaria and pinworm infection in children. A maceration of the root bark is drunk to treat schistosomiasis. Root bark cooked in gruel is eaten to treat gastrointestinal cramps.
Growth and development
In tropical Africa north of the equator flowering takes place from May to August with a peak in June to July; south of the equator Mondia whitei flowers from October to March, with a peak between November and January. The flowers have a slightly fruity, unpleasant odour, which becomes stronger in the afternoons; they are probably pollinated by flies. They remain open for between 3 and 4 days.
Mondia whitei occurs in a variety of habitats, ranging from humid forest, riverine forest, swamp forest and forest margins to humid or semi-dry savanna, sometimes along river banks, from sea-level up to 2000 m altitude.
Propagation and planting
Mondia whitei can be propagated by seeds and stem or root cuttings. Micropropagation through nodal cuttings and meristem tips in various media is successful.
In Congo, DR Congo, Kenya and probably other countries Mondia whitei is cultivated in home gardens for its roots. In DR Congo Mondia whitei is occasionally grown on a trellis or pergola.
In Kenya Mondia whitei plant occurrence and density in Kakamega forest were higher along paths used by livestock than along other types of paths. Larger individuals appeared to be preferentially harvested, but adult plants were more likely to occur in harvested plots than unharvested plots.
The roots of Mondia whitei can be harvested throughout the year, although it is easier to harvest during the rainy season. Leaves can also be harvested throughout the year.
Handling after harvest
Roots and leaves can be used fresh or are dried and can be powdered for future use.
Mondia whitei has become rare in many parts of its distribution area because of overexploitation and habitat loss. There is therefore a real danger of genetic erosion.
The roots of Mondia whitei are highly valued as an aphrodisiac throughout its distribution area, and the leaves are widely used as a vegetable. Its use as a male sexual stimulant has partly been confirmed, but more research is necessary to elucidate the compounds responsible for the activity and also investigate other pharmacological effects. The nutritive value of the leaves as well as the possibilities of the use of the roots as spice should be investigated further as well.
Because of its overexploitation it is recommended to evaluate possibilities of sustainable collection of Mondia whitei from the wild and encourage cultivation initially on a small or medium scale. There is also a need to study its biology and ecology in relation to production and arrive at sustainable harvesting quotas applicable to both wild and cultivated stocks. Value addition should focus on production of hygienically packaged products with appealing appearance.
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Sources of illustration
• Venter, H.J.T., Verhoeven, R.L. & Bruyns, P.V., 2009. Morphology and taxonomy of Mondia (Apocynaceae: Periplocoideae). South African Journal of Botany 75(3): 456–465.
Correct citation of this article:
Lamidi, M. & Bourobou Bourobou, H., 2010. Mondia whitei (Hook.f.) Skeels. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(2): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 2. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
wild and planted
1, flowering branch; 2, fruits.
Redrawn and adapted by Achmad Satiri Nurhaman