Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1
Contr. Gray Herb. 176: 53 (1955).
Euphorbiaceae (AGP: Phyllanthaceae)
2n = 24
Gripe weed (En). Herbe du chagrin, herbe au chagrin (Fr). Erva poubinha, erva pombinha (Po).
Origin and geographic distribution
Phyllanthus fraternus is a pantropical weed and probably originates from Pakistan and western India. In tropical Africa it occurs from Cape Verde east to Somalia and south to South Africa, except in the most humid regions.
In Côte d’Ivoire a leaf decoction is drunk to facilitate childbirth, and against oedema, costal pain and fever. In Ghana a plant extract is reported to be strongly diuretic and taken to allay spasms, such as griping in dysentery, and the plant is also used as a laxative and to treat gonorrhoea and malaria. It is externally applied to treat skin infections. In Sudan the leaves are given against dysentery. In Réunion the plant is also used against gonorrhoea, dropsy and diarrhoea.
In India Phyllanthus fraternus, in a mixture with other Phyllanthus spp., is sold in a herbal medicine called ‘Bhumyamlaki’, which is widely used against jaundice and is considered acrid, carminative, cooling and useful in the treatment of thirst, bronchitis, asthma, leprosy, anaemia, venereal diseases, problems of the genito-urinary tract, anuria, biliousness and hiccups. The fruits are used in the treatment of ulcers, wounds, sores, scabies, ringworm and other skin problems. Fresh roots are taken against jaundice, and crushed with milk as a galactagogue. A decoction of roots and leaves is used to treat malaria. The plant sap is applied to treat bruises, sores and ulcers, and mixed with oil against ophthalmia and conjunctivitis. Powdered roots and leaves are made into a poultice with rice-water to treat oedema and ulcers.
Phyllanthus fraternus is browsed by all livestock. In East Africa, India and Indonesia a black dye is obtained from the stem and leaves, which is used to dye cotton and can also be used as an ink.
Production and international trade
Although plant material of Phyllanthus fraternus is exported from India, there are no data on amounts and value.
The lignans phyllanthin and hypophyllanthin have been isolated from the leaves, but some reports indicate that this may be due to confusion with Phyllanthus amarus. The leaves also contain the lignans niranthin, nirtetralin and phyltetralin. Other compounds isolated from the plant include alkamides (2,4-octadienamide and 2,4-decadienamide), a quinolizidine alkaloid (norsecurinine), the flavone tricin, triterpenoids (friedelin, epifriedelinol, kokoonol and sorghumol), the tetraterpenoid phyllanthusone, and waxes (octacosane, tetracosyl alcohol, tricosyl alcohol). Some of the alcohols are also present as esters, e.g. phyllanterpenyl ester and pentacosanyl ester. An alcohol extract of the root contained the seco-sterols phyllanthosterol, phyllanthosecosteryl ester, phyllanthostigmasterol and fraternusterol. The seed oil contains ricinoleic acid, linoleic acid and linolenic acid.
The two isolated alkamides possessed moderate antiplasmodial activity in vitro. An aqueous extract of the plant showed protection against the effect of chronic alcohol consumption on the liver in rabbits. The decrease in cytochrome content of the cells was partly undone by the extract. Rats were administered allyl alcohol to cause oxidative stress in liver cells. The extract showed a beneficial effect on mitochondria of the cells. An aqueous ethanol extract of the dried plant showed protection of the liver against the effects of arsenic trioxide in chickens.
An aqueous alcohol extract exhibited pronounced antinociception in rats. Given orally, the extract was less potent than when given intraperitoneally.
A root extract of plants from Sudan showed high toxicity to Bulinus and Biomphalaria snails, but the plant extracts are also poisonous to frogs and fish.
Adulterations and substitutes
In India a herbal medicine called ‘Bhumyamlaki’ is sold, which may be pure Phyllanthus amarus Schumach. & Thonn. or pure Phyllanthus maderaspatensis L. or a mixture with Phyllanthus fraternus. It is marketed as a medicine especially for liver troubles.
Monoecious, annual herb up to 45(–60) cm tall, glabrous to short-hairy; vertical shoots angular, pale brown, lateral shoots up to 10 cm long. Leaves alternate, distichous, almost sessile; stipules c. 1 mm long, linear-lanceolate, whitish; blade elliptical-oblong, 5–13 mm × 2–5 mm, base cuneate to rounded, apex obtuse or rounded, glabrous, with 4–7 pairs of lateral veins. Flowers in the axils of leaves, male flowers (1–)3 per axil at the base of branches, other leaf axils usually with 1 female flower. Flowers unisexual; pedicel c. 0.5 mm long; male flowers with 6 perianth lobes, obovate-orbicular, c. 0.5 mm long, in 2 whorls, translucent, disk glands 6, free, flattened, stamens 3, filaments fused; female flowers with 6 perianth lobes c. 1 mm long, the outer ones oblong-lanceolate, the inner ones oblong to oblanceolate, white, disk c. 0.5 mm across, fringed, ovary superior, c. 0.5 mm in diameter, 3-celled, styles 3, c. 0.5 mm long. Fruit a 3-lobed nearly globose capsule c. 1 mm × 1.5 mm, smooth, yellowish, 6-seeded. Seeds c. 1 mm long, segmented, yellowish brown, one side with dark brown tubercles, with concentric ridges on the other side.
Other botanical information
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 other Indian Ocean islands. A subgeneric classification of Phyllanthus is in preparation. Until about 20 years ago taxonomists placed a number of species, including Phyllanthus fraternus, under Phyllanthus niruri L. Where the name Phyllanthus niruri has been applied in older literature to African or Asian specimens, usually Phyllanthus amarus is intended, but sometimes also Phyllanthus debilis Klein ex Willd., Phyllanthus fraternus, Phyllanthus maderaspatensis L. or Phyllanthus rotundifolius Klein ex Willd. Specimens of true Phyllanthus niruri have actually never been confirmed from outside the Americas. In pharmacological literature the confusion between Phyllanthus fraternus and Phyllanthus amarus still persists.
Several other annual or short-lived perennial Phyllanthus spp. have medicinal uses in tropical Africa. Phyllanthus leucanthus Pax occurs from eastern DR Congo and Kenya south to Botswana and Mozambique. In northern Tanzania root sap is given to babies to speed up the detachment of the umbilical cord. Phyllanthus leucocalyx Hutch. occurs in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Mozambique. In Kenya and Tanzania a leaf infusion is drunk to get relief from childbirth pains and a decoction of the whole plant is drunk to cure stomach-ache and as an emetic.
Phyllanthus odontadenius Müll.Arg. (synonym: Phyllanthus bequaertii Robyns & Lawalrée) occurs from Guinea Bissau through the coastal countries of West Africa to Congo and from Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda south to southern Africa. In Ghana the leaves are eaten to cure hiccups. In Rwanda a stem extract is used to treat diarrhoea and cholera. Alcohol extracts of leaves and stems reduced castor oil-induced diarrhoea in mice. A water extract of the whole plant inhibited DNA polymerase of hepadnavirus. Phyllanthus pentandrus Schumach. & Thonn. has a similar distribution as Phyllanthus odontadenius, but occurs also in the Sahelian zone from Senegal east to Sudan. In Senegal a plant decoction is drunk and used for bathing as a cure for syphilis. A root decoction is drunk to treat female sterility. In Niger a decoction of the shoots is given as a tonic to nursing mothers. In Nigeria a decoction of the whole plant is drunk to treat earache or the ashes of the plant are dissolved in water and used as ear drops. The dried leaves, mixed with butter, are applied to boils and dislocated limbs. In West Africa the leaves are used in a protective dressing with insecticidal properties for wounds in livestock. Phyllanthus pentandrus is eaten by all livestock.
Phyllanthus rotundifolius Klein ex Willd. (synonym: Phyllanthus aspericaulis Pax) is fairly widespread in dry West and Central Africa, in East Africa and also in Asia but rare in large parts of its distribution area. In Kenya the sap from pounded leaves is applied to wounds. From West Africa it is reported that cattle refuse to eat it, whereas in Kenya plants are reported to be browsed by camels, cattle, donkeys, goats and sheep.
Phyllanthus fraternus occurs in deciduous woodland, on mud-flats and shady damp ground in bushland, on termite mounds, in grassland, on rocks and sandy soils and on gravelly plateau soils, from sea-level up to 1800 m altitude. It is a widespread weed. It tolerates dry conditions but does not survive in waterlogged conditions.
Genetic resources and breeding
There are no indications that Phyllanthus fraternus is at risk of genetic erosion. Small germplasm collections exist in India.
The widespread medicinal use of Phyllanthus fraternus warrants further pharmacological research. Proper identification of research material and a thorough screening of earlier work is essential. Because of its very wide distribution, the possible variability of its chemical constituents also needs attention.
• Gupta, J. & Ali, M., 2003. Phyllanthus fraternus Webster (synonym P. niruri auct. non Linn.) (Euphorbiaceae). In: Majumdar, D.K., Govil, J.N. & Singh, V.K. (Editors). Recent progress in medicinal plants 8. Studium Press, Houston TX, United States. pp. 249–265.
• Parrotta, J.A., 2001. Healing plants of peninsular India. CABI Publishing, Wallingford, United Kingdom. 917 pp.
• Radcliffe-Smith, A., 1996. Euphorbiaceae, subfamilies Phyllantoideae, Oldfieldioideae, Acalyphoideae, Crotonoideae and Euphorbioideae, tribe Hippomaneae. In: Pope, G.V. (Editor). Flora Zambesiaca. Volume 9, part 4. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. pp. 1–337.
• Sittie, A.A., Lemmich, E., Olsen, C.E., Hviid, L. & Brøgger Christensen, S., 1998. Alkamides from Phyllanthus fraternus. Planta Medica 64: 192–193.
• Unander, D.W., Webster, G.L. & Blumberg, B.S., 1991. Uses and bioassays in Phyllanthus (Euphorbiaceae): a compilation. 2. The subgenus Phyllanthus. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 34: 97–133.
• Bâ, A.S., 1994. L’art vétérinaire en milieu traditionnel africain. Agence de Coopération Culturelle et Technique (A.C.C.T.), Paris, France. 136 pp.
• Ahmed, B., Al Howiriny, T.A. & Mathew, R., 2002. Antihepatotoxic activity of Phyllanthus fraternus. Pharmazie 57(12): 855–856.
• Gupta, J. & Ali, M., 1999. Four new seco-sterols of Phyllanthus fraternus roots. Indian Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences 61(2): 90–96.
• Habib-ur-Rahman, Atta-ur-Rahman, Choudhary, M.I. & Raza, A.R., 2004. Studies on the chemical constituents of Phyllanthus fraternus. Journal of the Chemical Society of Pakistan 26(1): 77–81.
• Keay, R.W.J., 1958. Euphorbiaceae. In: Keay, R.W.J. (Editor). Flora of West Tropical Africa. Volume 1, part 2. 2nd Edition. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. pp. 364–423.
• Khatoon, S., Raia, V., Rawata, A.K.S. & Mehrotra, S., 2006. Comparative pharmacognostic studies of three Phyllanthus species. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 104(1–2): 79–86.
• Maïkere-Faniyo, R., Van Puyvelde, L., Mutwewingabo, A. & Habiyaremye, F.X., 1989. Study of Rwandese medicinal plants used in the treatment of diarrhoea. 1. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 26: 101–109.
• Oudhia, P. & Pal, A.R., 2001. Rainy season medicinal weed flora in wastelands of Chamranallah watershed area at Bagbhera. Journal of Medicinal and Aromatic Plant Sciences 22(4): 444–449.
• Oudhia, P., Shrivastava, G.K. & Tripathi, R.S., 1996. Medicinal weeds of Durg (Madhya Pradesh) region. Weed News 3(1–2): 63–66.
• Padma, P. & Setty, O.H., 1999. Protective effect of Phyllanthus fraternus against carbon tetrachloride-induced mitochondrial dysfunction. Life Sciences 64(25): 2411–2417.
• Radcliffe-Smith, A., 1987. Euphorbiaceae (part 1). In: Polhill, R.M. (Editor). Flora of Tropical East Africa. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, Netherlands. 407 pp.
• Rajasubramaniam, S. & Pardha Saradhi, P., 1997. Rapid multiplication of Phyllanthus fratevnus: a plant with anti-hepatitis viral activity. Industrial Crops and Products 6: 35–40.
• Santos, A.R., De Campos, R.O., Miguel, O.G., Cechinel-Filho, V., Siani, A.C., Yunes, R.A. & Calixto, J.B., 2000. Antinociceptive properties of extracts of new species of plants of the genus Phyllanthus (Euphorbiaceae). Journal of Ethnopharmacology 72: 229–238.
• Sharma, P. & Singh, G., 2002. A review of plant species used to treat conjunctivitis. Phytotherapy Research 16: 1–22.
Sources of illustration
• Radcliffe-Smith, A., 1986. Euphorbiaceae. In: Nasir, E. & Ali, S.I. (Editors). Flora of Pakistan No 172. National Herbarium, Pakistan Agricultural Research Council, Islamabad and Department of Botany, University of Karachi, Pakistan. 170 pp.
Correct citation of this article:
Oudhia, P., 2008. Phyllanthus fraternus G.L.Webster. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
1, flowering branch; 2, fruit.
Redrawn and adapted by Iskak Syamsudin
plant habit CopyLeft EcoPort
plant habit CopyLeft EcoPort
top of flowering plant CopyLeft EcoPort