Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1
Sp. pl. 1: 342 (1753).
2n = 34, 72
Guinea-hen weed, Congo root, gully root, pipi root, garlic weed, skunk root (En). Herbe aux poules, douvant-douvant (Fr). Mucura, anamu, erva de tipi, guine (Po).
Origin and geographic distribution
Petiveria alliacea is indigenous to tropical America, and has been introduced in West Africa and India. It is locally naturalized in Benin and Nigeria.
In Benin a leaf maceration of Petiveria alliacea is applied to the belly to induce contractions in case of difficult delivery, and the liquid from the leaves is instilled as nose or eye drops to cure violent headache and as nose drops to cure sinusitis. A bath or vapour bath with a leaf decoction is taken in case of oedema. A leaf decoction is applied to abscesses. In Nigeria, Yoruba medicine men use the whole plant in ritual ceremonies.
In tropical America Petiveria alliacea is widely used as medicine. The head is washed in water with mashed leaves to treat headache and to induce labour. A leaf decoction is applied externally as an analgesic against muscular pain and to treat skin diseases. An infusion of pounded bark is drunk to treat colic, rheumatism, cancer, syphilis, colds, fever, bronchitis and asthma. The grated roots soaked in sugar cane alcohol or a root decoction are taken to treat rheumatism, venereal diseases and intestinal worms, and as an antispasmodic, sudorific and diuretic for urinary tract infections. The pounded root mixed with lemon is applied to snakebites. In Cuba the juice of the leaves or whole plant is applied to treat skin problems, arthritis and toothache, and is taken to treat diabetes. Colombians chew the leaves to coat their teeth and prevent caries. A decoction of the whole plant is taken to treat diabetes, cancer, abortion, oedema and as a blood purifier. In Brazil the leaves are used as an insecticide. The plant is also widely used for magical purposes.
Milk of cattle that have eaten Petiveria alliacea smells of garlic.
Production and international trade
Capsules or tablets with powdered Petiveria alliacea leaves are traded under the name ‘anamu’ or ‘mapurite’ through Internet and are used to treat a variety of diseases. The powder costs US$ 16–25 per 500 g. Several countries in tropical America supply this plant but statistics of the volumes of exports are not available. In general the plant is collected from the forest and sold in local markets.
Many biologically active compounds have been isolated from all parts of Petiveria alliacea, the most important ones being sulphur compounds, but also flavonoids, triterpenes and steroids. The main volatile constituents obtained from the pentane extract of the roots are benzaldehyde (48.3%), dibenzyl-disulfide (23.3%), dibenzyl-trisulfide (9.4%) and stilbene (8.1%). The main compounds found in the inflorescences are benzaldehyde (54.8%), benzyl-thiol (20.3%) and dibenzyl-disulfide (18.0%). These sulphur-containing compounds are similar to the odour compounds in garlic and onion, but in the latter they have alkyl instead of benzyl parts.
Water, methanol and ethanol extracts of the whole plant have been shown to slow the growth of leukaemia cells and several other strains of cancerous tumour cells in vitro. The water extracts were toxic to leukaemia, lymphoma and several other cancer cell lines. The compounds responsible for these activities are dibenzyl-trisulfide, benzaldehyde, the benzopyran astilbin, and coumarin.
In both in-vivo and in-vitro studies, water extracts of the whole plant were found to stimulate the immune system (production of lymphocytes, interferon and several interleukins). The hexane and cyclohexane extracts of leaves and stems increased the phagocytotic index of human granulocytes. One of the active immunomodulatory compounds present in the extracts was dibenzyl-trisulfide.
A crude extract of the whole plant has shown a protective effect on the blood cells of mice infected with the pathogenic bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. Root extracts showed significant anti-inflammatory effects in rats and mice using various models, as well as a significant pain-relieving effect in rats. Some extracts also showed cyclooxygenase-1 (COX-1) inhibitory actions.
Methanol extracts of the seeds caused uterine contractions in rats. Other studies, using ethanolic, aqueous and chloroform fractions of leaf extracts, showed inhibitory activities on intestinal secretion and motility, as well as significant antihistamine activity in vitro, although less potent than the commercial anti-allergy drug disodiumcromoglycate. A preliminary test with extracts from leaves and stem powder showed a substantial decrease of blood sugar concentration in mice.
Many clinical reports and studies confirm that the extracts of the aerial parts and roots have significant broad-spectrum antimicrobial properties in vitro and in vivo against numerous strains of bacteria, viruses, protozoa, fungi and yeast. The crude water extracts perform in a similar way to the alcohol extracts. A total of 18 organosulphur compounds from the roots have been tested for their antibacterial and antifungal activities. The thiosulfinates, trisulfides and benzylsulfinic acid were observed to be the most active compounds, with the benzyl-containing thiosulfinates exhibiting the broadest spectrum of antimicrobial activity. The lachrymatory principle from fresh roots is (Z)-thiobenzaldehyde S-oxide, which also has antibacterial and antifungal activities. The leaf extract and dibenzyl-trisulfide, isolated from the roots, showed significant acaricidal activity against the tick Boophilus microplus when topically applied, and this activity is in general higher than commercial acaricides such as dimethoate, lindane and carbaryl. Dibenzyl-trisulfide was also highly toxic to adult sweet potato weevil (Cylas formicarius elegantulus) and adult coffee borer beetle (Hypothenemus hampei). The leaf extract showed significant antifeedant activity in the grasshopper Zonocerus variegatus, as well as allelopathic activity on germinating seeds. Methyl-benzyl-sulfonic anhydride is an artificial transformation product of dibenzyl trisulfide, and was found to be much more effective than the commercial agents isoniazid and ampicillin in inhibiting the growth of Bacillus subtilis and Pseudomonas fluorescens and more effective against the fungus Cladosporium cucumerinum than ketoconazole or nystatin. Dibenzyl-trisulfide itself was inactive on Bacillus subtilis and showed little inhibitory activity on the fungus Cladosporium cucumerinum. The methanol and dichloromethanol leaf extracts showed allelopathic activity on the germination of seeds of several crop plants in vitro, but not in the soil.
Caution should be taken if Petiveria alliacea is fed to animals on a regular basis as this may cause adverse reactions. The plant can accumulate nitrates and has caused nitrate poisoning in cattle.
Erect herb or undershrub up to 1 m tall, with garlic smell; stems thin, angular, shortly hairy when young, later glabrous. Leaves alternate, simple and entire; stipules linear, 1.5–2 mm long; petiole 0.5–1.5 cm long; blade elliptical to ovate or oblong, 5–15(–20) cm × 2–5 (–8) cm, base cuneate, apex acute to long-acuminate, glabrous to sparingly shortly hairy. Inflorescence a terminal or axillary, slender, nodding raceme 10–30(–40) cm long, sometimes branched; bracts 1.5–2.5 mm long. Flowers bisexual, zygomorphic, 4-merous; pedicel 2–3 mm long; sepals free, oblong, 3–4 mm long, rounded, greenish or white to pink; petals absent; stamens 4–8, irregularly inserted, filaments c. 2 mm long; ovary superior, oblong, shortly hairy, with 4 hooks, 1-celled, stigma sessile, lateral. Fruit a narrowly oblong achene 6–8 mm long, striate, apex 2-lobed, with recurved hooks, 1-seeded.
Other botanical information
Petiveria comprises a single species and belongs to the tribe Rivineae.
Growth and development
Petiveria alliacea flowers twice a year in South America. Seeds are wind dispersed.
In its native area of distribution Petiveria alliacea occurs in humid forest and open disturbed areas, from sea-level up to 1500 altitude. In West Africa it is found in forest edges and disturbed localities near habitations.
Propagation and planting
Petiveria alliacea is only propagated by seeds. Seed germinates easily. In some countries in Central America it is propagated in nurseries and then transplanted to the field.
Petiveria alliacea is planted in home gardens and agroforestry systems. The only known large-scale plantation is in Darién, Panama.
Petiveria alliacea is usually collected from the forest when the plants are not full grown. The majority of the plants that are commercialized come from the forest or from home gardens.
Handling after harvest
In local markets Petiveria alliacea is traded fresh immediately after harvest. Plants can also be dried in the shade and stored in sacs until they are sold.
In tropical America Petiveria alliacea is a common plant in forest undergrowth and ruderal areas, and is not at risk of genetic erosion. In Colombia a small germplasm collection has been made.
Petiveria alliacea has multiple medicinal uses, many of which are confirmed by pharmacological research. As the species has a real potential for commercialization on the international market, more efforts are needed for better characterization of the plant, to establish adequate management and to select cultivars that are rich in active compounds, productive and easily grown. It also needs to be established if there are chemical differences between plants with different morphologies. Although Petiveria alliacea has a restricted distribution in tropical Africa, it certainly has potential to be grown commercially there.
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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:
Alegre, J.C. & Clavo, M., 2007. Petiveria alliacea L. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
Source: Flore analytique du Bénin
leafy branch with inflorescence and infructescence
inflorescence and infructescence