PROTA homepage Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1
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Piper capense L.f.

Suppl. pl.: 90 (1782).
Piper emirnense Baker (1878).
Vernacular names
Wild pepper (En). Poivrier du Cap (Fr). Fía boba pequena (Po). Mdeka (Sw).
Origin and geographic distribution
Piper capense occurs from Guinea east to Ethiopia and south to Angola, Mozambique and South Africa. Its presence in West Africa is poorly documented. It also occurs in the Indian Ocean islands.
Leaf preparations are widely used to treat abdominal disorders, kwashiorkor, bacterial skin infections and polio. A water extract of the leaves and stems is given as an enema to women a few days after delivery to remove the afterbirth. In Cameroon the aerial parts are used to treat epileptic attacks. In Madagascar a leaf infusion is considered one of the best remedies to treat bilious fever and haematuria.
An ointment made from the root is applied to the soles of the feet to treat paralysis of patients suffering from cerebral bleeding. A sweetened root infusion or seed extract is taken against cough. A root infusion is also taken as an anthelminthic. The raw or cooked root is eaten as an aphrodisiac tonic. The bark is an ingredient of infusions given to treat sterility. Pulverized bark mixed with Vaseline is applied on wounds and against vaginal discharge, while a bark maceration is drunk to treat sore mouth and throat, chest complaints and venereal diseases. An infusion of the fruit in water or brandy is taken to treat stomach, heart and kidney problems and flatulence; it causes sweating and sleepiness. The fruits are taken in East Africa as a cough medicine, in South Africa as a vermifuge and diuretic, and in DR Congo as a vermifuge and stomachic. Piper capense also enters in herbal mixtures used in veterinary medicine, e.g. against rectal collapse, gastro-enteritis, hernia, anaplasmosis and rabies. In southern Tanzania the leaves are applied to swollen legs of cattle.
The fruits have been used as a spice in Ethiopia, Tanzania and South Africa because of their clove-like pungent-spicy flavour. In Tanzania the leaves are used as a forage.
Production and international trade
Piper capense is only traded locally.
Fresh leaves of Piper capense from Cameroon contain about 0.2% essential oil and the seeds 1.4%. Both essential oils are rich in monoterpene hydrocarbons and contain mainly α-pinene, β-pinene, camphene and sabinene. In an in-vitro test, the antifungal properties of the essential oils were weak. Aerial parts of plants from São Tomé contained mainly monoterpene and sesquiterpene hydrocarbons, including α-pinene, β-pinene, benzenepropanoic acid-ethyl ester, β-caryophyllene and smaller amounts of limonene, β-phellandrene, linalool, germacrene-D, (E)-nerolidol and γ-muurolene. From the roots the sesquiterpene capentin and several neo-lignans have been isolated. A crude root extract showed significant antibacterial activity against Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pyogenes and Corynebacterium xerosis in vitro.
The above-ground parts of the plant, which are a common food of wild animals, contain 88% water and 12% dry matter; the latter contains per 100 g: crude protein 6 g, neutral detergent fibre 51 g, acid detergent fibre 34 g, acid detergent lignin 8 g, water soluble carbohydrates 12 g.
Aromatic, evergreen shrub or sometimes liana from a tuberous rootstock, up to 3 m tall or with trailing stems 4(–5) m long; stems terete, weak, greenish, glabrous to long-hairy at swollen nodes of 3 cm in diameter. Leaves alternate, simple and entire; stipules lanceolate, 1–1.5 cm long, adnate to petiole and enclosing the stem, soon falling; petiole 0.5–5(–8.5) cm long, grooved above near base, glabrous or hairy; blade broadly ovate to elliptical, 5–18 cm × 2.5–15 cm, base cuneate, rounded or slightly cordate, slightly asymmetrical, apex acuminate, dark green above, pale green or greyish to glaucous below, glabrous or hairy below, palmately veined with (3–)5–11 veins, 3 median ones reaching the apex. Inflorescence a solitary terminal or leaf-opposed spike, creamy white; peduncle 1–5 cm long, glabrous, rachis 2.5–8.5(–10) cm long. Flowers minute, bisexual or male in separate spikes, or male and bisexual flowers on one spike with male flowers towards the base, sessile; perianth absent; stamens 2–3; ovary superior, ovoid, 1-celled, with short style and 2 recurved stigmas. Fruit a globose-ovoid drupe 2–4 mm long, sessile, 1-seeded. Seed brown, shiny.
Other botanical information
Estimates of the number of species included in Piper range from 1400 to more than 2000; about 15 species are native or naturalized in tropical Africa. In Piper capense 2 varieties are recognized: var. capense, which occurs throughout the distribution area of the species, and var. brachyrhachis (C.H.Wright) Verdc., which occurs from south-western Tanzania to Zambia. Var. brachyrhachis differs in more densely hairy leaves and shoots, and in shorter spikes (up to 2 cm long).
Piper capense is closely related to the Asian Piper nigrum L. (black pepper).
Growth and development
In southern Africa Piper capense flowers from August to February and fruits from October to June. It may flower throughout the year when enough water is available.
Piper capense occurs in the understorey of evergreen rainforest, swamp forest and moist riverine forest, but also in mixed bamboo forest, scrub and thicket vegetation near streams, from sea-level up to 2500 m altitude.
Propagation and planting
Piper capense is mainly propagated by seeds, although stem cuttings can be planted successfully as well.
Piper capense is not cultivated, but collected from the forest when required.
Genetic resources
Piper capense has a wide area of distribution and is not in danger of genetic erosion.
Piper capense is likely to remain important in traditional medicine. Its widespread and common use in traditional medicine warrants further research to fully evaluate its potential.
Major references
• Burkill, H.M., 1997. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 4, Families M–R. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 969 pp.
• Diniz, M.A., 1997. Piperaceae. In: Pope, G.V. (Editor). Flora Zambesiaca. Volume 9, part 2. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. pp. 24–37.
• Green, T.P. & Wiemer, D.F., 1991. Four neolignan ketones from Piper capense. Phytochemistry 30(11): 3759–3762.
• Immelman, K.L., 2000. FSA contributions 15: Piperaceae. Bothalia 30(1): 25–30.
• Martins, A.P., Salgueiro, L., Vila, R., Tomi, F., Cañigueral, S., Casanova, J., Proença Da Cunha, A. & Adzet, P., 1998. Essential oils from four Piper species. Phytochemistry 49: 2019–2023.
• Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
• Rothman, J.M., Dierenfeld, E.S., Molina, D.O., Shaw, A.V., Hintz, H.D.F. & Pell, A.N., 2006. Nutritional chemistry of foods eaten by gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda. American Journal of Primatology 68: 675–691.
Other references
• Balagizi Karhagomba, I. & Ntumba Kayembe, F., 1998. Plantes utilisées dans le traitement des helminthoses gastro-intestinales des petits ruminants dans le groupement d’Irhambi-Katana (Région du Bushi, Province du Sud-Kivu, R.D. Congo). Recherches africaines 1: 90–99.
• Balle, S., 1948. Piperaceae. In: Robyns, W., Staner, P., De Wildeman, E., Germain, R., Gilbert, G., Hauman, L., Homès, M., Lebrun, J., Louis, J., Vanden Abeele, M. & Boutique, R. (Editors). Flore du Congo belge et du Ruanda-Urundi. Spermatophytes. Volume 1. Institut National pour l’Étude Agronomique du Congo belge, Brussels, Belgium. pp. 15–27.
• Boiteau, P., Boiteau, M. & Allorge-Boiteau, L., 1999. Dictionnaire des noms malgaches de végétaux. 4 Volumes + Index des noms scientifiques avec leurs équivalents malgaches. Editions Alzieu, Grenoble, France.
• Chen, T.B., Green, T.P. & Wiemer, D.F., 1992. Capentin: A novel sesquiterpene from the roots of Piper capense. Tetrahedron Letters 33(39): 5673–5676.
• Chifundera, K., 1998. Livestock diseases and the traditional medicine in the Bushi area, Kivu province, Democratic Republic of Congo. African Study Monographs 19(1): 13–33.
• Coates Palgrave, K., 1983. Trees of southern Africa. 2nd Edition. Struik Publishers, Cape Town, South Africa. 959 pp.
• Gilbert, M.G., 2000. Piperaceae (including Peperomiaceae). In: Edwards, S., Mesfin Tadesse, Demissew Sebsebe & Hedberg, I. (Editors). Flora of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Volume 2, part 1. Magnoliaceae to Flacourtiaceae. The National Herbarium, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Department of Systematic Botany, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden. pp. 59–64.
• Green, T.P., Galinis, D.L. & Wiemer, D.F., 1991. Three neolignans from the roots of Piper capense. Phytochemistry 30(5): 1649–1652.
• Keay, R.W.J., 1954. Piperaceae. In: Keay, R.W.J. (Editor). Flora of West Tropical Africa. Volume 1, part 1. 2nd Edition. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. pp. 81–84.
• Latham, P., 2007. Plants visited by bees and other useful plants of Umalila, southern Tanzania. Third edition. P.Latham, DFID, United Kingdom. 216 pp.
• Noumi, E. & Fozi, F.L., 2003. Ethnomedical botany of epilepsy treatment in Fongo-Tongo village, Western Province, Cameroon. Pharmaceutical Biology 41(5): 330–339.
• Ntezurubanza, L. & Ayobangira, F.X., 1987. Quelques plantes médicinales et aromatiques recensées au Rwanda. Bulletin Agricole du Rwanda 20(1): 64–70.
• Obi, C.L., Potgieter, N., Randima, L.P., Mavhungu, N.J., Musie, E., Bessong, P.O., Mabogo, D.E.N., & Mashimbye, J., 2002. Antibacterial activities of five plants against some medically significant human bacteria. South African Journal of Science 98(1–2): 25–28.
• Reilly, M.J., Wallis, A.F.A., Lundquist, K. & Stomberg, R., 1992. Stereochemistry of neolignans: a revised structure for a neolignan isolated from the roots of Piper capense. Journal of Wood Chemistry and Technology 12(4): 471–483.
• Van Puyvelde, L., Geysen, D., Ayobangira, F.X., Hakizamungu, E., Nshimiyimana, A. & Kalisa, A., 1985. Screening of medicinal plants of Rwanda for acaricidal activity. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 13(2): 209–215.
• Verdcourt, B., 1996. Piperaceae. In: Polhill, R.M. (Editor). Flora of Tropical East Africa. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, Netherlands. 24 pp.
• Verger, P.F., 1995. Ewé: The use of plants in Yoruba society. Editoria Schwarcz, Sao Paulo, Brazil. 744 pp.
• Yamada, T., 1999. A report of the ethnobotany of the Nyindu in the eastern part of the former Zaire. African Study Monographs 20(1): 1–72.
Sources of illustration
• Immelman, K.L., 2000. FSA contributions 15: Piperaceae. Bothalia 30(1): 25–30.
C. Zimudzi
Department of Biology, National University of Lesotho, P.O. Roma 180, Lesotho

G.H. Schmelzer
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
A. Gurib-Fakim
Faculty of Science, University of Mauritius, Réduit, Mauritius
Associate editors
C.H. Bosch
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
M.S.J. Simmonds
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 3AB, United Kingdom
R. Arroo
Leicester School of Pharmacy, Natural Products Research, De Montfort University, The Gateway, Leicester LE1 9BH, United Kingdom
A. de Ruijter
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
General editors
R.H.M.J. Lemmens
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
L.P.A. Oyen
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
Photo editor
A. de Ruijter
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article:
Zimudzi, C., 2008. Piper capense L.f. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
Distribution Map wild

1, flowering twig; 2, infructescence.
Redrawn and adapted by Achmad Satiri Nurhaman

flowering shoot
obtained from
B. Wursten

leafy stem