Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1
Gen. pl. ed. 6: 577 (1764).
Origin and geographic distribution
Schwenckia americana is native to Central and South America, but it has spread to tropical Africa and India as a weed. In tropical Africa it was restricted to West and Central Africa, but in recent decades it has also reached East and southern Africa.
The aerial parts are widely valued in West Africa to treat diseases of babies and small children. A leaf decoction is given to pregnant women when the foetus develops too slowly and is taken by breast-feeding women to prevent diarrhoea of the baby. The roots are chewed to cure respiratory diseases in children. A root decoction is given to babies as a purgative.
An infusion of the aerial parts is used as a mouth wash to cure infections such as aphthae. The plant sap or a decoction of the whole plant is applied as eye drops and nose drops to treat headache, sinusitis and conjunctivitis. In different preparations the crushed whole plant, alone or combined with other plants, is externally applied to relieve intercostal pain or pain caused by swellings, rheumatism, arthritis, stomach problems, hernia and gonorrhoea; it is also applied as an anthelmintic. The crushed leafy stems are applied to the skin against measles and chickenpox. A poultice made of the leaves is applied to whitlow and athlete’s foot. Powder from leafy twigs is inhaled to cure convulsions with fever. A decoction of the whole plant is drunk to cure cough, asthma and weak lungs, and as a purgative in cases of poisoning. A leaf decoction is drunk and applied externally to bring fever down and to cure oedema. In Ghana and DR Congo a leaf infusion is taken to treat female sterility. A root decoction is taken as a laxative. In India both fresh and dried leaves are used as an anthelmintic. The whole plant is pounded to pulp for use as an effective fish poison. Roots and stems are used as chewing sticks for cleaning the teeth.
Preliminary research in the 1960s resulted in the detection of a glycoside, schwenckioside, traces of alkaloids and sapogenins, the latter with cardiotonic activity. A water extract of the leaves showed low antimicrobial activity against Proteus mirabilis and Staphylococcus aureus, but no inhibition of Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Escherichia coli.
Annual or short-living perennial herb, erect or ascending and spreading, up to 70(–100) cm tall; stem grooved, glabrous but young parts sometimes with curved hairs. Leaves arranged spirally, simple and entire; stipules absent; petiole up to 8 mm long; blade ovate to obovate, up to 4 cm × 2 cm, base cuneate to rounded, apex acute to rounded, almost glabrous to densely short-hairy. Inflorescence a lax, terminal panicle, many-flowered; peduncle 2–12 cm long, slightly longer in fruit. Flowers bisexual, slightly zygomorphic; pedicel 2–4 mm long, erect or curved; calyx tubular, 2–4 mm long, 4–5-lobed, lobes acute to acuminate; corolla narrowly tubular, 6–8 mm long, white, greenish yellow, pale blue to purplish, lobes unequal, up to 0.5 mm long; stamens 2, attached to corolla tube, filaments 0.5–3 mm long, staminodes 3, resembling filaments; ovary superior, ellipsoid, 1–2 mm long, style 3–6 mm long, stigma small, exserted. Fruit a globose or ovoid capsule 3.5–4.5 mm × 2.5–4.5 mm, pale brown, dehiscent, many-seeded. Seeds prismatic, 0.5–1 mm long, black or reddish. Seedling with epigeal germination.
Schwenckia comprises about 22 species, all native to tropical America. Schwenckia americana is the only species that has spread to other continents. The orthographic variation ‘ Schwenkia’ is very common in the literature.
Schwenckia americana is a weed in fields, woodland and disturbed localities, up to 1100 m altitude.
Schwenckia americana can by propagated by seed or cuttings; it is only harvested from the wild.
Genetic resources and breeding
Schwenckia americana is widespread and common in anthropogenic habitats and not in danger of genetic erosion. There are a few samples in gene banks.
Better knowledge of the pharmacological properties of Schwenckia americana is needed for a proper assessment of its medicinal value in the future.
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Correct citation of this article:
Bosch, C.H., 2008. Schwenckia americana L. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
1, plant habit; 2, flower; 3, fruit; 4, dehisced fruit.
Source: Flore analytique du Bénin