Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1
Cat. vasc. pl. S. Tomé: 290 (1944).
Euphorbiaceae (APG: Phyllanthaceae)
2n = 26, 52
Phyllanthus floribundus (Baill.) Müll.Arg. (1863).
Origin and geographic distribution
Phyllanthus muellerianus occurs from Senegal and Guinea Bissau east to Sudan and Kenya and south to northern Angola and northern Mozambique.
Phyllanthus muellerianus is widely used to treat intestinal troubles. An infusion of the young shoots is taken to treat severe dysentery. In Sierra Leone a leaf decoction is taken to treat constipation. In Ghana and Nigeria cooked roots, sometimes with maize meal or other plants, are taken to treat severe dysentery. In Congo powdered roasted roots with palm oil are taken to treat stomach problems and as an anti-emetic. In Tanzania roots are pounded in water and the liquid is drunk to treat diarrhoea. Boiled roots are also applied as enema to treat stomach-ache.
In West Africa leaf sap or sap from the thick hollow stem is applied as eye drops to treat pain in the eyes, eye infections or to remove a foreign body. In Côte d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso twigs are sucked to prevent toothache. Powdered roots are used as a snuff and a bark decoction is taken to treat a sore throat, cough, pneumonia and enlarged glands. Pulped leafy twigs are rubbed on the body to treat paralysis. In Nigeria a root bark decoction is taken as an alterative and to treat fever. A twig and root decoction is taken to treat jaundice and urethral discharges. In the Central African Republic fresh root bark is crushed and macerated in water or palm wine, and the liquid drunk as an aphrodisiac. In Gabon roasted powdered twigs are eaten with plant ash to treat dysmenorrhoea. In DR Congo dried bark powder is sniffed to treat colds and sinusitis. A root bark decoction is applied to swellings and is drunk to treat gonorrhoea. Stem ash is applied to scarifications to treat rheumatism and intercostal pain. In Tanzania a root decoction is taken to treat hard abscesses; powdered dried roots and stem bark are sprinkled on wounds as a dressing.
Throughout West Africa pounded leaves are applied as wound dressing. In Côte d’Ivoire the leaves are eaten, together with young leaves of Funtumia elastica (Preuss) Stapf, to improve male fertility. In Ghana and Nigeria leaves boiled with palm fruit are given to women after delivery as a general tonic. In Cameroon a maceration of the leaves and roots is used to wash the body to treat rash with fever in children. In DR Congo a leaf decoction is taken to treat anaemia and also used as a mouthwash to treat toothache. A leaf extract is used as a bath and a vapour bath to treat venereal diseases. Cooked leaves are applied to the gums to treat toothache. A flower infusion is cooling and gently aperient.
The fruits are edible and slightly acidic. In Sierra Leone and Nigeria the sap from the hollow branches is considered potable. In Cameroon the bark is sometimes added to palm wine to render it strongly intoxicating. In Kenya the stems are considered excellent firewood; branches thicker than 15 cm become hollow and are less used. In East Africa the brown dye from the bark is used to dye mats and fishing lines. From the whole plant a black dye is obtained used to colour fibres. In Zambia the wood is used for rafters and other construction work. It is also used to make fish traps and basketry. The leaves are used as fodder. In Sierra Leone and Nigeria leaves are sometimes cooked with food or in soup as a seasoning. In Nigeria twigs are used as chew-sticks after removal of the spines. Fruit pulp is used as a hair fixative. In Gabon Phyllanthus muellerianus is used in magic to lift taboos.
A preliminary phytochemical screening of the leaves and stem bark showed the presence of tannins, flavonoids, saponins, alkaloids and anthraquinones. From the stem bark the triterpenoids 22β-hydroxyfriedel-ene and 1β,22β-dihydroxyfriedelin were isolated.
A leaf extract showed moderate antiplasmodial activity (IC50 = 9.4 μg/ml) and low cytotoxicity in mammalian cell lines. Both the aqueous and methanol extracts of the leaves and stem bark showed high antibacterial activity against Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. The activity of the extracts was relatively stable at high temperatures and was enhanced at low pH. In another test a chloroform extract showed high antifungal activity against Candida albicans and antibacterial activity against Escherichia coli.
A crude aqueous extract orally administered to rats caused significant changes in haematological and biochemical parameters, which are used as indices of toxicosis.
An aqueous leaf extract was found to induce behavioural sedation in young chicks resulting in decreased locomotor activity as well as pecking behaviour. The extract also relaxed rabbit and rat ilea. At doses ranging from 5–30 mg/kg, the extract produced a dose-dependent rise in blood pressure in cats. The extract also produced a significant analgesia in mice and was found to possess dose-dependent anti-inflammatory properties.
The dry fruit contains per g: 77 mg water, 9.7 mg protein, 4.3 mg fat, 62.7 mg sugar, 21 mg fibres, 500 mg Ca, 200 mg P and 15 mg Fe. It has an energetic value of 1228 kJ (294 kcal).
Monoecious, glabrous, straggling or climbing shrub or small tree up to 12 m tall; branches spreading or pendulous, main branches stout, angular, reddish tinged, branchlets 15–20(–25) cm long, with several short axillary shoots; branch basis transformed into a pair of spines c. 4 mm long, purplish brown. Leaves alternate, distichous along lateral twigs, simple, glabrous; stipules lanceolate, c. 2 mm long, acuminate; petiole 3–5 mm long; blade ovate, elliptical-ovate to ovate-lanceolate, 3–9 cm × 2–4.5 cm, base cuneate to rounded, apex acute to obtuse, with 10–14 pairs of lateral veins. Inflorescence a false raceme on short axillary shoots, 2–6 cm long, solitary or several together, with flowers in clusters having 2–3 male flowers and 1 female flower in each cluster. Flowers unisexual; perianth lobes 5, elliptical, c. 1 mm long, rounded, greenish white or greenish yellow; male flowers with pedicel c. 1.5 mm long, disk glands 5, free, minutely warted, fleshy, stamens 5, free, unequal, anthers very small; female flowers with stout pedicel c. 1 mm long, disk glands 5, free or fused, knobbly, fleshy, ovary superior, ellipsoid, warty, 4–5-celled, styles 4–5, free, c. 0.5 mm long, 2-fid at apex. Fruit a fleshy, nearly globose capsule 3–4 mm in diameter, usually smooth, green, becoming red, later black, 6-seeded. Seeds angular, c. 1 mm long, with faint ridges, bright reddish brown or yellowish brown.
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.
Several other Phyllanthus spp. with a similar growth form as Phyllanthus muellerianus are medicinally used in tropical Africa. Phyllanthus kaessneri Hutch. occurs in DR Congo, Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia. In Kenya the plant is used in a mixture as a cough medicine. Phyllanthus ovalifolius Forrsk. (synonym: Phyllanthus guineensis Pax) occurs from Ethiopia south to Angola, Zimbabwe and Mozambique; it possibly also occurs in Nigeria and Cameroon. In Kenya a plant decoction is drunk and used as a vapour bath to treat corneal ulcers. In Malawi a root and bark infusion is used to bathe sore eyes. In Uganda a leaf decoction is taken in the treatment of measles; the leaves, mixed with butter, are applied to the skin for the same purpose. A root decoction is drunk to treat cough. Phyllanthus sepialis Müll.Arg. occurs from Sudan and Ethiopia south to Tanzania. In Kenya boiled roots are given to pregnant women as a tonic. The wood is used for house construction and as firewood; sticks are used as toothbrushes. Phyllanthus ovalifolius and Phyllanthus sepialis are much appreciated as a browse plant by sheep and goats.
Growth and development
Phyllanthus muellerianus flowers at the end of the dry season, shortly after new leaves have formed.
Phyllanthus muellerianus occurs in riverine forest and wooded grassland, on deep and well-drained soils, from sea-level up to 1600 m altitude. In Nigeria Phyllanthus muellerianus is reported as a weed of rice fields.
Propagation and planting
Phyllanthus muellerianus can be propagated through seeds and stem cuttings.
Phyllanthus muellerianus can be coppiced.
Young shoots are harvested at the beginning of the rainy season; leaves, stem bark and roots can be harvested throughout the year, although it is easier to harvest the roots during the rainy season.
Handling after harvest
Harvested plant parts are used fresh or are dried, as a whole or powdered, for future use.
Phyllanthus muellerianus is fairly common in its area of distribution and there are no signs of genetic erosion.
Phyllanthus muellerianus has many local medicinal uses, especially to treat intestinal problems, against body pain and as an antiseptic. Preliminary pharmacological analyses confirm these uses, although virtually nothing is known concerning the compounds responsible for these activities. More research is therefore warranted.
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Sources of illustration
• 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.
Correct citation of this article:
Ben-Bala, K.D., 2008. Phyllanthus muellerianus (Kuntze) Exell. 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 Achmad Satiri Nurhaman