Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1
Ann. Mag. Nat. Hist., ser. 3, 14: 101 (1864).
2n = 24
Origin and geographic distribution
Rhigiocarya racemifera occurs from Sierra Leone east to DR Congo and south to Cabinda (Angola).
In Côte d’Ivoire and southern Burkina Faso Rhigiocarya racemifera is well known for its antineuralgic and aphrodisiac properties: leaf sap is applied as eye drops or nose drops, or powdered leaves are instilled into the nose against neuralgia and headache. A decoction of finely ground seeds, leafy twigs or roots is drunk or used as a wash or enema as an aphrodisiac. For sexual vigour, men eat a few seeds or ingest the powder directly or mixed with palm wine. Pulped leaves are topically applied to wounds as a haemostatic. In Côte d’Ivoire vapours of a leaf decoction are inhaled to treat dizziness. In Sierra Leone the root is scraped and put in palm wine obtained from Raphia spp. In southern Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria a leaf infusion is drunk against mild stomach-ache and to treat diarrhoea, acute gastrointestinal pain, bloody diarrhoea and spasmodic dysmenorrhoea. The plant is also used against sleeplessness. The Mendes people of Sierra Leone prepare a snake repellent from the pulped stem, with clay and water; the mixture is rubbed onto the body.
Toothpicks are made from stems. Glue from the fruit pulp is used in crafting and as birdlime.
The roots of Rhigiocarya racemifera contain the morphinandienone alkaloid O-methylflavinantine (sebiferine), as well as the oxoaporphine alkaloid liriodenine (spermatheridine), the protoberberine alkaloid palmatine and the aporphine alkaloids menisperine (N-methylisocorydine) and magnoflorine. O-methylflavinantine exhibits a morphine-like antinociceptive activity. Liriodenine showed cytotoxicity against human nasopharyngeal carcinoma cells in vitro and against several plant viruses. Menisperine iodide caused hypotension in anaesthetized dogs, blocked neural transmission and, at high doses, blocked neuromuscular transmission in dogs and rabbits. Menisperine chloride caused apnea, cardiac failure and increased excitability in rabbits.
Aqueous leaf extracts contain saponins, tannins and glycosides. They showed significant anti-ulcer activities in experiments with mice and rats with stomach ulcers induced by several drugs. The extracts also reduced gastrointestinal motility. Antispasmodic effects of the leaf extract were studied on isolated guinea-pig ileum, rabbit jejunum and rat uterus; the extract markedly reduced the contractions induced by acetylcholine, histamine and nicotine. The aqueous leaf extract did not show significant antimicrobial activity against several human pathogens. An ethanolic leaf extract did not show cytotoxicity against mammalian cells in vitro. The LD50 of the aqueous leaf extract intraperitoneally in mice was 142 mg/kg body weight, and death was caused by massive cerebral haemorrhage.
Rhigiocarya racemifera is listed in patent applications relating to materials and methods for modulating expression of nucleic acid sequences such as those encoding polypeptides involved in the biosynthesis of alkaloids.
Large, dioecious liana, glabrous; stems longitudinally ribbed, green, turning grey then brown, at base 3–5 cm in diameter with suberous comb-like projections about 1 cm long. Leaves arranged spirally, simple and entire; stipules absent; petiole 7–16 cm long, base sharply bent, twisted; blade broadly ovate to nearly orbicular, 7–30 cm × 6–25 cm, base deeply cordate, apex abruptly acuminate, membranous or papery, palmately veined with 5–7 basal veins, with blackish glandular spots at the vein junctions. Inflorescence borne just above the leaf axil; male inflorescence a false raceme or panicle 10–25 cm long, with 1–3-flowered cymes; female inflorescence a false raceme 10–20 cm long, with 1(–3)-flowered cymes. Flowers unisexual, regular, small, greenish white or yellowish green; sepals 6, the outer ones almost triangular c. 1 mm long, inner ones broadly elliptical, 2–2.5mm long; petals 6, lanceolate, 1–1.5 mm long, somewhat fleshy, apex notched; male flowers with pedicel 1–2.5 mm long, stamens 6, outer ones free near apex, inner ones completely fused, c. 1.5 mm long; female flowers with pedicel 1–2 mm long, up to 1 cm in fruit, staminodes 6, ovary superior, composed of 3 free carpels c. 1.5 mm long. Fruit composed of 3 drupes, each drupe ovoid-ellipsoid, up to 2 cm × 1.5 cm, green to purple-black, with very sticky latex, stone 1–1.5 cm × c. 1 cm, one face covered with spines, 1-seeded. Seed compressed ellipsoid, c. 12 mm × 8 mm × 6 mm. Seedling with epigeal germination; hypocotyl 5–7 cm long, smooth, epicotyl very short, glandular; cotyledons leaf-like, ovate-triangular, 28–32 mm × 12–16 mm.
Other botanical information
Rhigiocarya comprises 2 species both occurring in tropical Africa. It is related to Kolobopetalum, Limacia and Tinospora. Rhigiocarya peltata J.Miège is endemic to Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire, where it is medicinally used.
Growth and development
Flowering of Rhigiocarya racemifera occurs from November–March and sometimes in June–July; fruit matures in the dry season, in Cameroon in March–April and October.
Rhigiocarya racemifera occurs in humid dense, evergreen or semi-deciduous forest, also in forest edges and in secondary forest, up to 800 m altitude.
Rhigiocarya racemifera has a wide distribution and grows often abundantly in its native habitat, e.g. on Mount Cameroon. There are no indications that it is under threat of genetic erosion, except where its habitat is in strong decline.
In view of its medicinal uses and chemical and pharmacological analyses, more research is warranted on Rhigiocarya racemifera to evaluate its importance.
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• Cable, S. & Cheek, M., 1998. The plants of Mount Cameroon, a conservation checklist. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 198 pp.
• de Koning, J., 1983. La forêt de Banco. Part 2: La Flore. Mededelingen Landbouwhogeschool Wageningen 83–1. Wageningen, Netherlands. 921 pp.
• de Wet, H., 2005. An ethnobotanical and chemotaxonomic study of South African Menispermaceae. PhD Thesis, Faculty of Science, University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg, South Africa. 450 pp.
• Hawthorne, W. & Jongkind, C., 2006. Woody plants of western African forests: a guide to the forest trees, shrubs and lianes from Senegal to Ghana. Kew Publishing, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, United Kingdom. 1023 pp.
• Lauridsen, M., 2003. Isolering og strukturopklaring af alkaloider fra Rhigiocarya racemifera. MSc Thesis. Department of Medicinal Chemistry, Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Copenhagen, Denmark.
• Noamesi, B.K. & Gyang, E.A., 1980. Effects of O-methylflavinantine on the response to coaxial stimulation of guinea-pig ileum. Planta Medica 38(2): 138–143.
• Oliver-Bever, B., 1983. Medicinal plants in tropical West Africa 2. Plants acting on the nervous system. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 7: 1–93.
• Ortiz, R., Kellogg, E.A. & Van Der Werff, H., 2007. Molecular phylogeny of the moonseed family (Menispermaceae): implications for morphological diversification. American Journal of Botany 94(8): 1425–1438.
• Tackie, A.N., Dwuma-Badu, D., Knapp, J.E., Slatkin, D.J. & Schiff, P.L. jr., 1974. Constituents of West African medicinal plants. 4. O-Methylflavinantine from Rhigiocarya racemifera. Phytochemistry 13(12): 2884–2885.
• Zirihi, G.N., Mambu, L., Guédé-Guina, F., Bodo, B. & Grellier, P., 2005. In vitro antiplasmodial activity and cytotoxicity of 33 West African plants used for the treatment of malaria. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 98: 281–285.
Sources of illustration
• Miège, J., 1955. Les Rhigiocarya (Menispermacées) de Côte d’Ivoire. Bulletin de l’I.F.A.N., série A, 17(2): 359–368.
Correct citation of this article:
Thompson, E., 2008. Rhigiocarya racemifera Miers. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
1, part of stem with male inflorescence; 2, part of stem with infructescence.
Redrawn and adapted by Achmad Satiri Nurhaman