Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1
Sp. pl. 2: 982 (1753).
Euphorbiaceae (APG: Phyllanthaceae)
2n = 26, 52
Seaside laurel, canoe weed (En).
Origin and geographic distribution
Phyllanthus maderaspatensis is widespread in tropical Africa and the Indian Ocean islands. It occurs throughout the Old World tropics and subtropics.
The plant sap and leaf decoction are credited with emetic and purgative activities. In Tanzania the whole plant is pounded and the solution applied to scabies. A root decoction is taken to cure constipation, diarrhoea, lack of appetite, intestinal pain, menstrual problems, gastrointestinal disorders, testicular swelling, chest complaints and snakebites. Gastrointestinal trouble in infants is treated by giving them a root decoction of Phyllanthus maderaspatensis and Chamaecrista mimosoides (L.) Greene. Plant sap is used as nose drops to treat toothache. Ground leaves are rubbed on the skin with lemon juice as treatment for rheumatism. In Niger the plant is used as an aphrodisiac. In Somalia Phyllanthus maderaspatensis is considered poisonous.
In India Phyllanthus maderaspatensis is widely medicinally used to treat headache, bronchitis, earache and ophthalmia. Powder from dried plant material mixed with milk is drunk to treat jaundice.
In Kenya smoke from the burning plants is used to kill caterpillars in maize. Cattle will browse Phyllanthus maderaspatensis but only when green.
Production and international trade
Phyllanthus maderaspatensis is of subsistence value in most parts of Africa; the plants are traded locally in market places. Commercial value is attributable to industrially produced pharmaceutical products for which different plant parts are harvested from naturally occurring plants.
Extracts of the above-ground parts of Phyllanthus maderaspatensis were found to contain resins, steroids, triterpenoids, alkaloids, phenolic compounds, tannins and saponins, but no glycosides. The plant also contains the lignans phyllanthin and hypophyllantin, which are responsible for hepatoprotective activity, but in low concentrations.
Butanol, ethanol and water extracts of the whole plant were found to bind hepatitis B virus and E antigens. The n-hexane extract was found to have pronounced hepatoprotective activity and showed antioxidant activity and stimulation of bile production. The antioxidant activity is attributed to the phenolic compounds. The results of tests in mice clearly indicated that an ethanol extract has a protective effect against adriamycin-induced toxicity and it also showed an antioxidant effect.
Phyllanthus maderaspatensis has shown antibacterial and antifungal activities. The seeds have confirmed laxative, carminative and diuretic properties. Many of the medicinal uses of Phyllanthus maderaspatensis are related to the astringent action of tannins. Though short-term effects may be beneficial, the frequent systemic use of tannins might be dangerous, because of their antinutrient effects.
A clear deep yellow oil can be extracted from the seeds; it contains myristic, palmitic, stearic, oleic and linolenic acids and β-sitosterol. The defatted seed cake contains a fibrous mucilage which can be hydrolyzed to galactose, arabinose, rhamnose and aldobionic acid.
Adulterations and substitutes
In India a herbal medicine called ‘Bhumyamlaki’ is sold which may be pure Phyllanthus amarus Schumach. & Thonn., or pure Phyllanthus maderaspatensis, or a mixture with Phyllanthus fraternus G.L.Webster. It is marketed as a medicine especially for liver troubles.
Monoecious, annual or perennial, erect to spreading, unbranched to much branched, glabrous herb up to 90(–120) cm tall; branches angular, red- or brown-tinged. Leaves arranged spirally, simple and entire; stipules asymmetrical triangular-lanceolate, up to 4 mm long, persistent; petiole c. 1 mm long; blade linear to oblanceolate, 10–30 mm × 2–7 mm, base cuneate to rounded, apex acute to rounded. Inflorescence a small axillary fascicle; female flowers solitary near the base of the branch, 1–4 male flowers and 1 female flower together towards the end of the branch. Flowers unisexual, regular; perianth lobes 6, in 2 whorls, disk with 6 free glands; male flowers with pedicel up to 1 mm long, perianth lobes elliptical, c. 1 mm long, stamens 3, c. 1 mm long, filaments fused, anthers exserted; female flowers with pedicel c. 2 mm long, perianth lobes c. 2 mm long, ovary superior, ovoid, 3-celled, styles 3, free, bifid at apex. Fruit a globose capsule, flattened at both ends, c. 3 mm in diameter, shiny greenish with red tinge, 6-seeded. Seeds trigonous, c. 1.5 mm long, dark brown, shiny.
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 the Indian Ocean islands. A subgeneric classification of Phyllanthus is in preparation. Phyllanthus maderaspatensis is a variable species and several varieties have been recognized.
A few other Phyllanthus spp. have the same branching pattern with all stems and branches similar; 2 of them are also used medicinally. Phyllanthus beillei Hutch. (synonym: Phyllanthus welwitschianu s Müll.Arg. var. beillei (Hutch.) A.R.-Sm.) occurs from Guinea east to Kenya and Tanzania and throughout southern Africa. A root decoction is taken as an aphrodisiac in Kenya. Phyllanthus welwitschianus Müll.Arg. occurs in southern Africa; in Angola the leaves are used for wound dressing.
Growth and development
Plants may flower 3 months after germination of the seed.
Phyllanthus maderaspatensis occurs in deciduous woodland, wooded savanna and grassland, on beaches and dunes, and also along streams and ponds, in cultivated and disturbed localities, from sea-level up to 1400 m altitude. It grows on a wide variety of soils, usually on heavy clay and alluvial soils of low-altitude river valleys, on river banks and in flood plains. Outside tropical Africa, Phyllanthus maderaspatensis is often considered a weed. It shows a marked preference for calcareous sites in humid tropical areas.
Propagation and planting
Seeds of Phyllanthus maderaspatensis require light to germinate. Germination rates increase linearly with temperature from 15–35°C and decline from 36°C. Below 15°C and above 40°C, germination is very poor. Germination is poor under moisture stress. Phyllanthus maderaspatensis is generally grown from seed, but vegetative propagation by budding, grafting, cutting and root sprouting is possible.
No information is available about cultivation methods of Phyllanthus maderaspatensis; it is rarely cultivated. All plant parts are probably only collected from the wild. Mature plants are fast growing and require little or no management once established.
Neither germplasm collections nor breeding programmes are known for Phyllanthus maderaspatensis. Since it is widespread and rather common, it is not liable to genetic erosion.
Phyllanthus maderaspatensis seems under-exploited, but it will probably continue to be regarded as an important medicinal plant species. There is no commercial seed production, although this aspect deserves more attention given the ease of propagation. Considering the many medicinal uses, there is a large scope for future research and further phytochemical and pharmacological investigations are warranted. A number of compounds may provide interesting leads for pharmacological evaluation and therefore merit further research. Phyllanthus maderaspatensis deserves to be part of germplasm collection.
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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:
Maroyi, A., 2008. Phyllanthus maderaspatensis L. 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, male flower; 3, female flower; 4, fruit.
Redrawn and adapted by Iskak Syamsudin