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Stephania abyssinica (Quart.-Dill. & A.Rich.) Walp.

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 4–12 cm long; blade ovate to broadly ovate, rarely almost round, 5–20 cm Χ 4–13 cm, base rounded, apex obtuse to acute, membranous or papery, glabrous or hairy, palmately veined with 8–10 main veins. Inflorescence an axillary, compound false umbel, solitary or 2–4 together; peduncle 4–10 cm long with 3–6 branches ending in umbel-like cymes; involucre composed of 3–5 bracts, soon falling. Flowers unisexual, small; petals 3–4, broadly ovate or nearly orbicular, c. 1 mm long, cream to reddish; male flowers with 6(–8) obovate sepals 1–2.5 mm long, purplish, stamens fused into a staminal column; female flowers with 3–4 sepals, ovary superior, glabrous, style short. Fruit an obovoid, flattened drupe 5–8 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.
Genetic resources
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.
Major references
• Asres, K., Bucar, F., Kartnig, T., Witvrouw, M., Pannecouque, C. & De Clercq, E., 2001. Antiviral activity against human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) and type 2 (HIV-2) of ethnobotanically selected Ethiopian medicinal plants. Phytotherapy Research 15(1): 62–69.
• Baerts, M. & Lehmann, J., 2006. Stephania abyssinica. [Internet]. Prelude Medicinal Plants Database. Metafro-Infosys, Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium Accessed December 2007.
• 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.
• Geyid, A., Abebe, D., Debella, A., Makonnen, Z., Aberra, F., Teka, F., Kebede, T., Urga, K., Yersaw, K., Biza, T., Haile Mariam, B. & Guta, M., 2005. Screening of some medicinal plants of Ethiopia for their anti-microbial properties and chemical profiles. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 97(3): 421–427.
• Kokwaro, J.O., 1993. Medicinal plants of East Africa. 2nd Edition. Kenya Literature Bureau, Nairobi, Kenya. 401 pp.
• Muregi, F.W., Chhabra, S.C., Njagi, E.N.M., Lang’at Thoruwa, C.C., Njue, W.M., Orago, A.S.S., Omar, S.A. & Ndiege, I.O., 2004. Anti-plasmodial activity of some Kenyan medicinal plant extracts singly and in combination with chloroquine. Phytotherapy Research 18(5): 379–384.
• Troupin, G., 1956. Menispermaceae. In: Turrill, W.B. & Milne-Redhead, E. (Editors). Flora of Tropical East Africa. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. 32 pp.
• Troupin, G., 1960. Menispermaceae. In: Exell, A.W. & Wild, H. (Editors). Flora Zambesiaca. Volume 1, part 1. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. pp. 150–171.
Other references
• Abebe, D. & Hagos, E., 1991. Plants as a primary source of drugs in the traditional health practices of Ethiopia. In: Engels, J.M.M., Hawkes, J.G. & Worede, M. (Editors). Plant genetic resources of Ethiopia. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom. pp. 101–113.
• Adegoke, E.A., Akinsaya, A. & Naqvi, H.Z., 1968. Studies of Nigeria medicinal plants: a preliminary survey of plant alkaloids. Journal of the West African Science Association 13: 13–33.
• Benvenuto, E., 1974. Adumbratio florae aethiopicae. 26 Menispermaceae. Webbia 29: 17–80.
• Chakraborty, A., Asres, K., Stipsits, S., Eibl, U. & Brantner, A.H., 2000. Biological properties of Stephania abyssinica roots. Pharmaceutical and Pharmacological Letters 10(1): 19–21.
• 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.
• Getahun, A., 1976. Some common medicinal and poisonous plants used in Ethiopian folk medicine. Faculty of Science, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. 63 pp.
• Haerdi, F., 1964. Die Eingeborenen-Heilpflanzen des Ulanga-Distriktes Tanganjikas (Ostafrika). In: Haerdi, F., Kerharo, J. & Adam, J.G. (Editors). Afrikanische Heilpflanzen / Plantes mιdicinales africaines. Acta Tropica Supplementum 8: 1–278.
• Harjula, R., 1980. Mirau and his practice. A study of the ethnomedicinal repertoire of a Tanzanian herbalist. Tri-Med Books, London, United Kingdom. 223 pp.
• Jansen, P.C.M., 1981. Spices, condiments and medicinal plants in Ethiopia, their taxonomy and agricultural significance. Agricultural Research Reports 906. Centre for Agricultural Publishing and Documentation, Wageningen, Netherlands. 327 pp.
• Kakudidi, E.K., 2004. Cultural and social uses of plants from and around Kibale National Park, Western Uganda. African Journal of Ecology 42: 114–118.
• Kandι, K.M., Philipov, S. & Dutschewska, H., 1994. Alkaloids of Stephania abyssinica. Fitoterapia 65: 90.
• Kupchan, S.M., Liepa, A.J. & Fujita, T., 1973. New phenolic hasubanan alkaloids from Stephania abyssinica. Journal of Organic Chemistry 38: 151.
• Morris, B., 1996. Chewa medical botany. A study of herbalism in southern Malawi. Monographs from the International African Institute. LIT Verlag/Transaction, London, United Kingdom. 557 pp.
• van Wyk, A.J. & Wiechers, A., 1974. Constitution of a new hasubanan ester-ketal alkaloid from Stephania abyssinica. Journal of the South African Chemical Institute 27(2): 95–97.
• Watt, J.M. & Breyer-Brandwijk, M.G., 1962. The medicinal and poisonous plants of southern and eastern Africa. 2nd Edition. E. and S. Livingstone, London, United Kingdom. 1457 pp.
• Wrangham, R.W. & Waterman, P.G., 1983. Condensed tannins in fruits eaten by chimpanzees. Biotropica 15: 217–222.
Sources of illustration
• Benvenuto, E., 1974. Adumbratio florae aethiopicae. 26 Menispermaceae. Webbia 29: 17–80.
• O.M. Grace
PROTA Country Office United Kingdom, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 3AB, United Kingdom
• D.G. Fowler
Flat 4 Abbotsrood, 1 Milnethorpe Road, Eastbourne BN20 7NR, Sussex, United Kingdom

• 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, Rιduit, 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:
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.
Distribution Map wild

1, branch with male inflorescences; 2, fruiting branch.
Redrawn and adapted by Achmad Satiri Nurhaman

flowering stems



fruiting stem


fruit and seed