Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1
Journ. Bot. 2: 331 (1864).
Euphorbiaceae (APG: Phyllanthaceae)
2n = 26
Origin and geographic distribution
Phyllanthus niruroides occurs from Guinea Bissau and Guinea east to Nigeria and São Tomé. It is not clear whether it also occurs in mainland Central Africa.
In Côte d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso a decoction of the whole plant is given as a diuretic and purgative in the treatment of jaundice. With Capsicum pepper added, it is used as a wash or an enema to reduce menstrual pain. The plant sap is mixed with lemon juice and drunk to ease delivery. The strained juice of the pulped plant is given orally to treat infant bronchitis, and is applied as ear drops to ease pain caused by otitis. It is one of several plants that was macerated and sprinkled on smallpox pustules. In Ghana the whole plant is used in the treatment of malaria.
Niruroidine, a norsecurinine-type alkaloid has been isolated from the leaves of Phyllanthus niruroides collected in DR Congo, but the presence of Phyllanthus niruroides in DR Congo has not yet been confirmed by botanists.
Monoecious, annual, erect, glabrous herb up to 25 cm tall, few-branched. Leaves alternate, distichous and crowded along lateral twigs, simple and entire; stipules lanceolate, reddish, 0.5–2 mm long; petiole c. 0.5 mm long; blade oblong, 2.5–12.5 mm × 1.5–4.5 mm, base rounded, apex obtuse. Flowers axillary, male flowers 2–3 per axil at the base of branches, female flowers solitary towards apex of branches. Flowers unisexual, pale green; perianth lobes 5; male flowers with pedicel c. 0.5 mm long, stamens 3, filaments fused; female flowers with pedicel 1.5–2.5 mm long, disk cup-shaped, 5-lobed, ovary superior, ovoid, warty, 3-celled, styles 3, free, deeply 2-fid at apex. Fruit a 3-lobed capsule 2–3 mm in diameter, hanging, up to 6-seeded. Seeds c. 1 mm long, with 13–16 transverse ridges.
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. As the annual herbs in Phyllanthus are morphologically close, it is not easy to identify them correctly and as a result there is a lot of confusion. Records of Phyllanthus niruroides for eastern and southern Africa most probably refer to Phyllanthus taylorianus J.E.Brunel ex Radcl.-Sm. Several other West and Central African Phyllanthus species are used medicinally. Phyllanthus sublanatus Schumach. & Thonn. is an annual herb distributed from Guinea east to Nigeria. In Benin a decoction of fresh leaves is applied externally to cure skin rash, a decoction of the whole plant is drunk to treat bleeding gums and diarrhoea, and pulverized, roasted, leafy twigs are swallowed to stop vomiting. Phyllanthus diandrus Pax is a poorly known shrub from Cameroon, Gabon and Congo. A leaf decoction is drunk to correct a rapid and irregular heartbeat. Phyllanthus profusus N.E.Br. is a shrub occurring from Guinea east to Ghana. Sap from the cut stems is used as eye drops to treat sore eyes. The fruit is edible. Phyllanthus profusus is mentioned in the IUCN Red List of threatened species as vulnerable due to habitat loss.
Phyllanthus niruroides occurs in wet grassland in deciduous woodland. It also occurs on waste ground and in disturbed localities, from 900–1500(–2300) m altitude. As a weed it is especially frequent in sorghum on dark brown, heavy soils.
Genetic resources and breeding
As Phyllanthus niruroides is common, also as a weed, there is no concern about genetic erosion.
For a good understanding of the prospects of Phyllanthus niruroides and related species an unambiguous taxonomical classification is required, especially for West and Central Africa. Such a classification is needed as a basis for meaningful pharmacological and phytochemical investigations.
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• Köhler, I., Jenett-Siems, K., Kraft, C., Siems, K., Abbiw, D., Bienzle, U. & Eich, E., 2002. Herbal remedies traditionally used against malaria in Ghana: bioassay-guided fractionation of Microglossa pyrifolia (Asteraceae). Zeitschrift für Naturforschung 57(11–12): 1022–1027.
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Correct citation of this article:
Alvarez Cruz, N.S., 2008. Phyllanthus niruroides Müll.Arg. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.