Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes mιdicinales 1
Repert. Bot. Syst. 1: 96 (1842).
Origin and geographic distribution
Stephania abyssinica occurs from Guinea east to Eritrea and south to Angola, Mozambique and eastern South Africa.
The plant sap of Stephania abyssinica is taken to treat dysentery, diarrhoea, vomiting, stomach complaints, sexually transmitted diseases, and in remedies for menstrual disorders and sterility in women. In Tanzania the sap is taken with milk as an emetic to relieve chest pain and heart complaints, or administered topically to treat eye problems. Pulped leaves are applied as a dressing to heal fractures and dislocations. The purgative effects of the plant sap are mild and fresh leaves pounded with water are even given to children for this purpose; it is also used to expel intestinal worms and to cure menorrhagia. In Malawi pounded leaves are taken against indigestion. A decoction of the leaves and roots used as a wash is considered invigorating for pregnant women and weak children. Throughout eastern Africa a root extract is used in malaria therapy and against internal parasites, particularly roundworm, threadworm and pinworm. The roots are also taken as an aphrodisiac. The root sap is an antidote to snakebites, whereas crushed leaves are applied to tortoise bites. In South Africa the powdered root is taken with the leaves of Momordica foetida Schumach. to treat abscesses on the skin. An extract of the root together with extracts of Catharanthus roseus (L.) G.Don and Indigofera arrecta Hochst. ex A.Rich. is drunk to treat diabetes. All parts of the plant are applied as a powder to scarifications made in the skin of the painful body part, to relieve pain. In Ethiopia an extract the whole plant is used to cure mastitis in cattle. In Uganda Stephania abyssinica is believed to distract hunting dogs if they eat the leaves, and disorientate hunters if they touch the plant.
The stems are used as binding material, e.g. in fence constructions and also in basketry.
Hasubanan and aporphine-type alkaloids are the principle phytochemical constituents in Stephania abyssinica. The aporphine alkaloids include corydine, crebanine, stephanine and stephalagine; also present are the oxoaporphine alkaloids dicentrinone and oxoxylopine, and hasubanan alkaloids such as stephabyssine, stephaboline, stephavanine and derivatives.
Methanol extracts of the leaves and of the roots showed significant activity against HIV-1 and HIV-2 in vitro, but the cytotoxicity of the extracts as well as the isolated alkaloids were higher than their activity against the viruses. An aqueous root decoction was significantly active against both chloroquine-sensitive and chloroquine-resistant strains of Plasmodium falciparum in vitro, with an IC50 of 22.9 μg/ml. Methanol extracts of the leaves and stems showed antibacterial activity in vitro against Neissera gonorrhoea and Shigella dysenteriae.
Dioecious small liana, woody at the base; bark of stem thin; branchlets glabrous, hairy when young. Leaves arranged spirally, simple, peltate; petiole 412 cm long; blade ovate to broadly ovate, rarely almost round, 520 cm Χ 413 cm, base rounded, apex obtuse to acute, membranous or papery, glabrous or hairy, palmately veined with 810 main veins. Inflorescence an axillary, compound false umbel, solitary or 24 together; peduncle 410 cm long with 36 branches ending in umbel-like cymes; involucre composed of 35 bracts, soon falling. Flowers unisexual, small; petals 34, broadly ovate or nearly orbicular, c. 1 mm long, cream to reddish; male flowers with 6(8) obovate sepals 12.5 mm long, purplish, stamens fused into a staminal column; female flowers with 34 sepals, ovary superior, glabrous, style short. Fruit an obovoid, flattened drupe 58 mm in diameter, glabrous, yellowish to pinkish green, 1-seeded; stone with small prickles or thick tubercles arranged in three lines. Seed up to 8 mm long.
Other botanical information
Stephania comprises about 30 species, 25 of them occurring from southern Asia to New Guinea, and 5 in tropical Africa. Two varieties are recognised in Stephania abyssinica: var. abyssinica and var. tomentella (Oliv.) Diels, both with a wide distribution. Var. abyssinica is nearly glabrous whereas various plant parts are hairy in var. tomentella.
Stephania abyssinica occurs in grassland, usually in shady, damp localities, but not in rainforest, up to 3500 m altitude. It also occurs in abandoned fields, road sides and where forest has been destructed by fire.
Stephania abyssinica is widely distributed and no risks of genetic erosion have been reported.
Stephania abyssinica has many medicinal uses, but little pharmacological research has been done so far. As several other species of Stephania are important in pharmacology, further research seems warranted.
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Sources of illustration
Benvenuto, E., 1974. Adumbratio florae aethiopicae. 26 Menispermaceae. Webbia 29: 1780.
Correct citation of this article:
Grace, O.M. & Fowler, D.G., 2008. Stephania abyssinica (Quart.-Dill. & A.Rich.) Walp. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes mιdicinales 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
1, branch with male inflorescences; 2, fruiting branch.
Redrawn and adapted by Achmad Satiri Nurhaman
fruit and seed