Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes m้dicinales 1
Engl., Pflanzenw. Ost-Afrikas C: 236 (1895).
Euphorbiaceae (APG: Phyllanthaceae)
Spurred phyllanthus (En).
Origin and geographic distribution
Phyllanthus engleri is distributed in Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa.
In the Tabora region of Tanzania a cold water extract of the powdered roots is taken to treat epilepsy. The leaves and fruits are chewed as a cure for cough and stomach-ache; chewing the fruit also cures constipation. A root decoction is taken as a remedy for bilharzia, gonorrhoea, stomach-ache, chest pain and menstrual cramps. In Zambia a cold root bark infusion mixed with food is taken as a cough remedy. Leaves are chewed to treat indigestion and constipation.
The fruits are edible and eaten raw when picked young or mature. The taste is acidic and the smell is said to be unpleasant, but nevertheless the fruits are much liked. The fruit juice is mixed with lemon and onions and the mixture is consumed as an appetizer. In Tanzania the fruits are sold in urban markets.
Livestock browses on the plants, which resist grazing very well. The wood is used as firewood and to make utensils, and the stems are used as poles. In Zambia the twigs are used as toothbrushes.
Smoking the roots can lead to unconsciousness or death and the use of the roots as a suicide poison has been reported from Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Alcohol extracts of the roots are highly toxic to rodents, and stem bark and roots are poisonous to sheep and cattle. Contradicting views exist on the toxicity of the above-ground parts.
The root bark contains the triterpenoid phyllanthol. Ethanol extracts of the root show high toxicity against brine shrimps (LC50 of 0.47 μg/ml). Experiments with rodents have not confirmed the toxicity of the smoke but the extract was highly toxic (lethal intravenous and oral doses 0.32 mg/kg and 0.07 g/kg, respectively). Symptoms are a slower and irregular heartbeat, followed by convulsions.
Dioecious glabrous shrub or small tree up to 4.5 m tall; trunk up to 15 cm in diameter; bark smooth, grey; branches long, stout, covered with prickly conical cushions. Leaves alternate, distichous, simple and entire, glabrous; stipules lanceolate or linear-lanceolate, 12 mm long; petiole 13 mm long; blade elliptical to ovate-orbicular, 1.53 cm ื 12 cm, base rounded to cuneate, apex rounded or truncate and pointed. Inflorescence a small axillary fascicle, c. 4-flowered. Flowers unisexual, regular, white; male flowers with pedicel c. 1 mm long, perianth lobes (4)5, ovate, 12 mm long, disk with 5 free lobes; female flowers with superior ovary, styles free, c. 1 mm long, stigma filiform, 2-fid. Fruit a fleshy, globose or 3-lobed berry 2.53(4) cm in diameter, pale yellow-green, smooth, pulp spongy, 6-seeded. Seeds trigonous, c. 1 cm long, purplish brown blotched chestnut brown and yellowish brown, dull, smooth.
Phyllanthus is a large genus comprising about 750 species in tropical and subtropical regions, with about 150 species in mainland tropical Africa and about 60 in Madagascar and the Indian Ocean islands. A subgeneric classification of Phyllanthus is in preparation.
Phyllanthus polyanthus Pax (synonyms: Phyllanthus delpyanus Hutch., Phyllanthus cedrelifolius Verd.) is very similar to Phyllanthus engleri, but differs in having acuminate or acute leaves and smaller fruits and seeds. The 2 species hybridize. In coastal Kenya and Tanzania the Digo people use a root decoction of Phyllanthus polyanthus to cure sexually transmitted diseases. In Gabon a decoction of bark and fruit is drunk to cure cough. In Congo the Bokiba people use the bark as a vomit inducer and for treatment of general oedemas. Phyllanthol, phyllanthone and dammarane-type triterpene saponins have been isolated from the stem bark.
Phyllanthus engleri occurs in dry deciduous woodland, including Colophospermum and Acacia bushland, often on termite mounds, at 3001850 m altitude.
The fruits have a long shelf life and can be stored in the shade for about 3 months. Harvesting the fruits is done in Tanzania from April till August and in Zimbabwe mainly in June and July.
Genetic resources and breeding
As Phyllanthus engleri is widespread and relatively common, it is not threatened by genetic erosion.
Increased interest in Phyllanthus engleri and the closely related Phyllanthus polyanthus is likely since the recent identification of a number of triterpenoids.
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Correct citation of this article:
Bosch, C.H., 2008. Phyllanthus engleri Pax. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes m้dicinales 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.