Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1
Encycl. 5: 302 (1804).
Euphorbiaceae (APG: Phyllanthaceae)
n = 13
Phyllanthus capillaris Schumach. & Thonn. (1827), Phyllanthus stuhlmannii Pax (1895).
Origin and geographic distribution
Phyllanthus nummulariifolius occurs throughout tropical Africa, except in the drier parts of the Sahel region and southern Africa. It also occurs throughout the Indian Ocean islands, as well as in South Africa and Egypt.
In Kenya a decoction of the plant is taken as an emetic and the crushed roots are taken against stomach-ache. The Kipsigi people of Kenya eat the boiled fruits against intestinal worms. The Haya people of Tanzania apply the leaves to suppurative swellings on the legs and to other inflammations. The Shambaa people use the leaves to treat asthma. In Uganda an infusion of the leaves is given to babies against colic and powdered leaves are sprinkled on wounds. An infusion of leaves and bark is taken against premature ejaculation and to treat morning sickness in early pregnancy. In Burundi a mixture of leaf sap of several plants, including Phyllanthus nummulariifolius, is used as eye drops, or a decoction of the leafy stems of a similar selection of plants is applied as an enema against eye diseases including cataract. The leaves are also used in mixture with other plants to treat general weakness, especially in pregnant women, diarrhoea and cough. Powdered leaves diluted with water are taken against chest problems. Leafy stems are applied against haemorrhoids. In the Comoros a decoction of the whole plant is drunk against high blood pressure in pregnant woman and oedema.
In Ethiopia the plant is used as an anthelmintic for horses.
In a test in DR Congo aqueous and alcoholic extracts of Phyllanthus nummulariifolius showed strong activity against the snails Biomphalaria pfeifferi and Lymnaea natalensis, both intermediate hosts of schistosomiasis and fascioliasis parasites.
Monoecious or dioecious erect or semi-scandent, annual or perennial herb or weak-stemmed sparingly branched shrub up to 50(–300) cm tall; stem often reddish at base, variously hairy with multicellular hairs; lateral leafy shoots (5–)10–15(–25) cm long. Leaves alternate, distichous, simple and entire; stipules linear-lanceolate, 1–1.5 mm long; petiole 0.5–1 mm long; blade almost orbicular to obovate or elliptical, 2–25 mm × 1–15 mm, usually glabrous, with 4–12 pairs of lateral veins. Inflorescence a fascicle in the upper leaf axils of lateral shoots, composed of a few male flowers and 1 female flower. Flowers unisexual, regular, 5(–6)-merous; perianth lobes c. 1 mm long; male flowers with pedicel 5–6 mm long, perianth lobes almost orbicular to obovate, cream-coloured or whitish with a green midrib, sometimes pink-tinged, disk glands 5, minute, free, stamens 5, free; female flowers with pedicel (5–)7–20 mm long, perianth lobes elliptical-ovate, yellowish green, often reddish- or brownish-tinged, disk c. 1 mm in diameter, flat, ovary superior, depressed globose, c. 1 mm in diameter, smooth, 3-celled, styles 3, free, c. 0.5 mm long, 2-fid at apex. Fruit a depressed globose 3-lobed fleshy berry, c. 1 mm × 2 mm, smooth, pale green, sometimes reddish-tinged, 6-seeded. Seeds c. 1 mm × 0.5 mm, trigonous, pale brown, with 10–12 rows of minute tubercles on one side and 9–10 concentric rows of tubercles on the other side.
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.
Several other shrubby Phyllanthus spp. have medicinal uses in East and southern Africa. Phyllanthus fischeri Pax occurs from Ethiopia south to Tanzania. In Kenya the Nandi people take a fruit decoction to treat roundworms. In Tanzania a root decoction, mixed with roots of other plant species, is drunk to treat threatened abortion, female sterility and general malaise. Phyllanthus fischeri is considered a good forage for all livestock. The twigs are used as toothbrush. Phyllanthus hutchinsonianus S.Moore occurs in Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. In Tanzania the bitter leaves are eaten by women after childbirth as a stomach medicine. Phyllanthus sacleuxii Radcl.-Sm. (synonym: Phyllanthus mittenianus Hutch.) occurs in montane woodland of Kenya and Tanzania. In Kenya a leaf decoction is drunk to treat diarrhoea. Leaf sap is used as ear drops to treat otitis. It is listed as rare in Kenya on the IUCN Red List of threatened plants. Phyllanthus somalensis Hutch. occurs in Somalia and northern Kenya. In Somalia a root decoction is drunk to cure blood in the urine, including schistosomiasis. A root decoction or maceration is taken to treat bilharzia. In Kenya the leaves are suspected of poisoning livestock. An ethanol extract of the roots showed antibacterial activity in vitro. Phyllanthus volkensii Engl. occurs in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. In Uganda a leaf infusion is drunk to treat headache.
Phyllanthus nummulariifolius occurs in dense riverine forest, woodland, forest edges and grassland, often in seasonally wet and disturbed localities, but also in shallow pockets of soil on granite inselbergs in Acacia- Commiphora vegetation, up to 2100 m altitude.
Genetic resources and breeding
Phyllanthus nummulariifolius has a very wide area of distribution and there are no signs that its genetic variability is diminishing.
Phyllanthus nummulariifolius has many uses in local medicine, but virtually nothing is known concerning its chemistry and pharmacology. Therefore, more research is needed to evaluate its properties.
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Correct citation of this article:
Oyen, L.P.A., 2008. Phyllanthus nummulariifolius Poir. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.