Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1
Bot. Jahrb. Syst. 19: 103 (1894).
Climbing nettle (En). Chavi, weni (Sw).
Origin and geographic distribution
Tragia brevipes occurs from Ethiopia south to Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe. It has erroneously been reported for Cameroon and Somalia.
A root decoction is taken in Kenya as a purgative, especially for babies and small children. The roots are given to women with labour pain. Pain caused by rheumatism is treated by rubbing the leaves on the painful joints. A leaf extract is drunk to cure gonorrhoea, to kill internal parasites including tapeworm and to treat stomach-ache, diarrhoea and gastroenteritis. A decoction of roots and leaves is drunk to promote conception. Leaves, roots and twigs are used to treat poliomyelitis. The ash of burnt leaves is inhaled to cure elephantiasis.
A methanol extract of the fruits has antibacterial activity against Staphylococcus aureus; extracts of leaves, stems and roots did not show activity against a panel of bacteria and fungi. An ethanolic leaf extract showed significant activity against Entamoeba histolytica.
Monoecious, straggling, twining, scandent or rarely erect shrub up to 1(–4.5) m tall, with stinging hairs. Leaves alternate, simple; stipules linear-lanceolate, up to 7 mm long; petiole 1–6(–10) cm long; blade ovate or ovate-lanceolate, 4–10 cm × 3–7 cm, base cordate, apex acuminate, margins toothed, hairy beneath with stinging hairs along midrib and main veins. Inflorescence a leaf-opposed, rarely axillary or lateral raceme, lax-flowered, usually with (1–)2 (–4) female flowers at base and many male flowers higher up; peduncle up to 4 cm long. Flowers unisexual; petals and disk absent; pedicel 0.5–1.5 mm long, extending to 5 mm in fruit; male flowers with calyx closed in bud, splitting in 3(–5) ovate to round lobes, c. 1.5 mm long, greenish white, stamens (1–)3(–5); female flowers with 6 calyx lobes c. 2.5 mm long, extending up to 1.5 cm in fruit, ovary superior, 3-lobed, 3-celled, styles 3, c. 3.5 mm long, broadened at apex. Fruit a 3-lobed capsule c. 9 mm in diameter, short-hairy, dull pale brown when ripe, 3-seeded. Seeds globose, c. 4 mm in diameter, pale grey, mottled brown.
Tragia comprises about 170 species and occurs throughout the tropics, with the majority of species in tropical Africa and tropical America. In continental tropical Africa about 55 species occur, and in Madagascar about 10.
Tragia benthamii Baker occurs in West, Central and southern Africa and is difficult to distinguish from Tragia brevipes. In West Africa the medicinal uses of Tragia benthamii are similar to those of Tragia brevipes in eastern Africa, and root extracts are taken as an abortifacient, to ease child delivery and as a cure for gonorrhoea. Tragia preussii Pax occurs in Central Africa. In the Central African Republic pulped leaves are rubbed on the body to treat fever and rheumatic pain; abscesses are dressed with boiled leaves. Root sap and root powder of the West African Tragia senegalensis Müll.Arg. are taken to treat insanity in Togo. Leaf sap of the West African Tragia spathulata Benth. is applied to cure headache in Ghana. Tragia tenuifolia Benth. occurs from West Africa east to Sudan and Rwanda and also in Zimbabwe. In Sierra Leone a poultice of the leaves is rubbed on the abdomen of a pregnant woman to induce foetal movement and a leaf infusion is drunk against threatening abortion.
Several other Tragia species from East and southern Africa also have documented medicinal uses. In Tanzania the ash of burnt plants of Tragia furialis Bojer (synonym: Tragia scheffleri Baker) is rubbed into the skin to cure headache. In Kenya a plant decoction is drunk or root powder is applied to snakebites. A leaf infusion is used as a wash to relieve skin irritation caused by stinging hairs of plants. In Ethiopia the leaves of Tragia hildebrandtii Müll.Arg. are used to treat uterine complaints. The bark fibre can be made into textile. In Zimbabwe the pulverized roots of Tragia okanyua Pax are rubbed into the skin to cure headache. In Somalia the roots of Tragia plukenetii Radcl.-Sm. are used in a cure for male impotence. In Kenya the leaves are eaten as a vegetable and the plants are browsed by goats. In Ethiopia a hot water extract of the roots of Tragia pungens (Forsk.) Müll.Arg. is drunk to prevent pregnancy.
Tragia brevipes occurs in riverine vegetation, along lake shores, in thickets and in high rainfall Brachystegia woodland, from sea-level up to 2150 m altitude.
Genetic resources and breeding
Tragia brevipes is widespread and fairly common, and is not threatened by genetic erosion.
Tragia brevipes will probably remain only locally important as a medicinal plant, unless additional chemical and pharmacological research reveal interesting properties.
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Correct citation of this article:
Bosch, C.H., 2008. Tragia brevipes Pax. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.