Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes mιdicinales 1
Sp. pl. 1: 151 (1753).
2n = 28
Ceylon leadwort, wild leadwort, wild white plumbago (En). Dentelaire de Ceylan (Fr). Joelho de cabra, kadinga puna (Po). Mwambula (Sw).
Origin and geographic distribution
Plumbago zeylanica occurs throughout the tropics and subtropics. It possibly originates from South-East Asia, from where it may have been distributed as a medicinal plant and ornamental. It occurs throughout most of tropical Africa.
Plumbago zeylanica is very popular throughout Africa and Asia as a remedy for skin diseases, infections and intestinal worms, especially leprosy, scabies, ringworm, dermatitis, acne, sores, ulcers of the leg, haemorrhoids and hookworm. All parts of the plant are used, but the root is considered to have the highest activity. In West Africa the root, or the leaves crushed with lemon juice, are used as a counter-irritant and vesicant. The pulped roots or aerial parts are inserted into the vagina as an abortifacient. This is a dangerous practice as it sometimes results in death. In Nigeria the roots pounded with vegetable oil are applied to rheumatic swellings. In Ethiopia powdered bark, root or leaves are used to treat gonorrhoea, syphilis, tuberculosis, rheumatic pain, swellings and wounds. In DR Congo and Gabon the pounded root is applied to treat itch. In East Africa pounded roots are applied to swollen legs. In Zambia a root decoction with boiled milk is swallowed to treat inflammation in the mouth, throat and chest. In southern Africa a paste of the root in vinegar, milk and water is used to treat influenza and blackwater fever. Plumbago zeylanica root cooked with meat in soup is eaten in Zimbabwe as an aphrodisiac, and it also helps digestion. A root infusion is taken orally to treat shortness of breath. In Madagascar the roots are applied as a vesicant, while in Mauritius and Rodrigues a root decoction is used to treat diarrhoea and dyspepsia.
A paste of powdered root or the root sap is used for tattooing by different tribes in eastern Africa. The paste or sap causes blisters and the new skin has a darker colour. The long white inflorescence of Plumbago zeylanica makes it attractive as an ornamental. Despite the plant being poisonous, it is readily eaten by goats and sheep in West Africa.
Production and international trade
In Africa Plumbago zeylanica is only locally used. Herbalists collect the plants from the wild or cultivate them in their backyard for personal use and to supply the local markets. Plumbago zeylanica is sometimes cultivated and traded as ornamental. Plumbago zeylanica products are traded worldwide as Ayurvedic and homeopathic medicine.
The root and leaves of Plumbago zeylanica contain the naphthoquinone plumbagin. Other compounds that have been isolated are mainly plumbagin-derivatives, biplumbagin-derivatives and coumarins.
Plumbagin possesses several pharmacological activities, e.g. antimicrobial, antiplasmodial, anticancer and antifertility actions. It is also a powerful irritant. In small doses, it is a sudorific and stimulates the central nervous system; large doses may cause death from respiratory failure and paralysis. Plumbagin showed anti-implantation and abortifacient activities in rats and produced testicular lesions and testis-weight reduction in dogs. Because of its toxicity, the use of plumbagin in traditional medicine is a dangerous practice, and casualties have been recorded. In low concentrations, plumbagin has an antimitotic activity comparable to that of colchicine. In larger doses, it also has nucleotoxic and cytotoxic effects. Plumbagin significantly suppresses growth of several tumour cell lines in vitro and in vivo in mice, especially in combination with gamma-irradiation.
Plumbagin has shown antibacterial activity against both gram-positive (e.g. Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, Pneumococcus spp.) and gram-negative (e.g. Salmonella, Neisseria) bacteria, whereas it is also active against certain yeasts and fungi (Candida, Trichophyton, Epidermophyton and Microsporum spp.) and protozoa (Leishmania). It has been found to prevent Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus developing resistance to antibiotics. Plumbagin also has strong antifeedant and moulting inhibiting effects on insects and has nematicidal and acaricidal activities.
An ethanolic extract of Plumbago zeylanica stems inhibited immediate allergic reactions in tests with mice and rats. The ethanol extract of the root showed significant antioxidant activities in vitro. It also caused significant hyperglycaemia in rats.
Adulterations and substitutes
At present, the most exploited source of plumbagin is the root of Plumbago spp., but the compound also occurs in Drosera spp.
Straggling shrub up to 3 m tall; stems erect, trailing or climbing, wiry, diffusely branched, glabrous, with prominent longitudinal ridges and often with white waxy dots. Leaves alternate, simple and entire; stipules absent; petiole 05 mm long with small auricles present in young leaves; blade ovate, ovate-lanceolate, elliptical or oblong, 2.513 cm Χ 16 cm, base cuneate, apex acute, acuminate or obtuse, with white waxy dots underneath. Inflorescence a terminal raceme, 630 cm long, sometimes paniculate, many-flowered; bracts ovate to lanceolate, 37 mm long; peduncle 11.5 cm long, with prominent sessile glands. Flowers bisexual, regular, 5-merous, sweet-scented; pedicel 12 mm long; calyx tubular, 711 mm long, 5-ribbed, with stalked glands along ribs, lobes up to 1.5 mm long; corolla tube 1530 mm long, lobes oblong to ovate, 512 mm long, spreading, mucronate, white; stamens free, included; ovary superior, 1-celled, style filiform, with 5 elongated stigma lobes. Fruit an oblong capsule 7.58 mm long, apex acute with 5 furrows, 1-seeded. Seed oblong, 56 mm long, reddish brown to dark brown.
Other botanical information
Plumbago comprises about 25 species and occurs almost throughout the world. In tropical Africa about 10 species can be found. The sap of Plumbago spp. causes discoloration of the skin resembling the colour of lead, from which the Latin name Plumbago and the popular name leadwort are derived. Plumbago dawei Rolfe occurs naturally in East Africa from Ethiopia to Tanzania and in Madagascar. It is a laxly branched, creeping or scandent herb or shrub. In Madagascar a leaf decoction of the leaves is drunk as a purgative, and a root decoction is taken to treat bacterial infections of urethra and bladder.
Growth and development
Plumbago zeylanica flowers throughout the year. The flowers are produced in profusion on the shoots of the current year, and are insect pollinated. The fruits are easily dispersed by animals because of the sticky glands on the persistent calyx.
Plumbago zeylanica occurs in deciduous woodland, savanna and scrubland, often near rivers and on lake margins or on termite mounds, from sea-level up to 2000 m altitude.
Propagation and planting
Plumbago zeylanica can be propagated by seeds, rooted shoots from the base of the plant or by semi-ripe cuttings, treated with a growth hormone. Germination is almost 100% if both ends of the seed are cut before sowing. Seeds germinate in 2130 days at 21°C. After 3 months storage, germination decreased to 40%. In Assam, India sowing Plumbago zeylanica seeds in a nursery and transplanting into the field at a density of 60 Χ 60 cm has given good results. Plumbago zeylanica can be mass-produced using in vitro cultivation of nodal explants, axillary buds, leaf or root explants and callus cultures. The roots of the plants produced this way have a significantly higher content of plumbagin than control plants, and there is potential for commercial cultivation.
Plumbago zeylanica needs full sun to partial shade with intermediate to warm temperatures. The plants needs a slightly acidic potting mix. The plants are kept moist for optimum growth and flower production. They are fertilized weekly, which also helps flower production. After flowering, the plants should be cut back to keep them growing vigorously.
Diseases and pests
Plumbago zeylanica contains plumbagin, a natural insect antifeedant and growth inhibitor and is quite resistant to insect pests.
The yield of plumbagin from the root is variable, with an average of 4%. In Indian experiments, the largest and heaviest roots were obtained from 1218-month-old plants grown in loamy soils, but in Assam the highest yield (7 t dry root/ha) was obtained when plants were harvested when 3 years old.
Handling after harvest
Leaf poultices of Plumbago zeylanica can be dried and stored for several weeks only, before they lose their vesicant properties. Dried roots contain less plumbagin and show less activity than fresh ones. Plumbagin is obtained from the roots by steam distillation and shaking the distillate with ether. Fine, bright orange tufts of plumbagin crystals are obtained after evaporating the ether. The crystals have a peculiar odour and a very acrid taste.
Plumbago zeylanica has a wide distribution and is not in danger of genetic erosion. No germplasm collections or breeding programmes are known to exist.
Plumbago zeylanica is widely used for its medicinal properties in Africa, and many uses are being confirmed by scientific research. Although plumbagin may have medicinal potential, e.g. for its antimicrobial and antitumour activity, the use of plumbagin or plumbagin-containing plant material as medicine for humans is dangerous because of the high toxicity. Plumbagin may have potential as a compound in synthetic insecticides.
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Sources of illustration
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Correct citation of this article:
Mungwini, Y., 2006. Plumbago zeylanica L. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes mιdicinales 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
planted and naturalized
Redrawn and adapted by Achmad Satiri Nurhaman