The medicinal value of Indian herb Abrus Precatorius used in herbal medicines in India.
Abrus precatorius : Plant of deadly but most beautiful seeds
Here comes another plant for the series "Rare Herb of Patalkot" on Disabled World. This series would carry detailed information of 50 herbs that are seen rarely in Patalkot these days. We have already discussed about Gymnema sylvestre and Gloriosa superba in previous columns. The medicinal values of the plant is based on the information obtained from the tribals viz ., Bharias and Gonds of Patalkot valley, through various information retrieved from internet and by accessing various libraries. The aim about bringing this article is to make people aware of the herbal heritage of Patalkot. This is an attempt to initiate people to conserve the virgin land and its natives.
Chhindwara district lies between latitude 21023' and 22049' North and longitude 78010' and 79024' East. Mostly, the dense forest covers most of the area of the district. Patalkot is a lovely landscape located at a depth of 1200-1500 feet in a valley near Tamia in the north of the district. Because of the great depth at which it is located, this place is christened as 'Patalkot' ('Patal' means very deep, in Sanskrit). Patalkot is spread over an area of 79 Sq. Km. at an average height of 2750-3250 feet above Mean Sea Level. It is a treasure of forest and herbal wealth. There are 12 villages and 13 hamlets in this valley, with a total population of nearly 2000. Because of the inaccessibility of this area, the tribals of this region were totally cut off from the civilized world. Most of the people in Patalkot belong to 'Bharia' and 'Gond' tribes. This valley is situated on the Satpura Plateau in the southern central part of the Madhya Pradesh, India.
Authors have explored the area of Patalkot valley that included- Gaildubbha, Kareyam, Rathed, Ghatlinga, Gudichhathri, Karrapani, Tamia, Bharia Dhana, Bijauri, Pandu Piparia, Sajkui, Lahgadua, Karrapani, Sidhouli, Chhindi, Jaitpur, Chimtipur and Harra-ka-Char (Rai and Acharya, 1999, 2000; Acharya, 2002, 2004).
Why we select this plant
Rosary pea is a wonderful herb. A small climbing tropical vine with seeds known as crab's eye was found abundant in Patalkot forest. This herb is having much importance in a common tribal life. They make various ornaments by the seeds of the plant. Tribals, in their festive time, press bird's feather and Gunja seeds on beeswax and tie it on their waist. It looks so beautiful. Seeds of the plants are having reputation as one of the world's most deadly seeds. Precatory beans are certainly one of the most beautiful seeds on earth. Seeds have remarkably uniform weight of 1/10th of a gram. Seeds of Abrus precatorius were used by goldsmiths as standard weights for weighing gold and silver in previous time (Armstrong, 2000).
Abrus precatorius L. Syst. Nat. ed. 2, 2: 472. 1767; Baker in Hook. f. Fl. Brit. India 2: 175. 1876; Duthie, Fl. Gangetic Pl. 1: 262. 1903; Sanjappa, Legumes of India 74. 1992.
Synonym: Glycine abrus L., Abrus abrus (L.) W. Wight
Family: Fabaceae (Leguminosae)
English name: Indian liquorice
Sanskrit names: Gunja
Local names in India:
Chunhali, Kunch (Bengali); Chanothi, Gunja (Gujarati); Ganchi, Gunchi, Rati (Hindi); Ganji, Gul-Ganju, Guluganji, Madhuka (Karnataka); Kunni, Kunnikuru (Malayalam); Chanoti, Gunchi, Gunja (Marathi); Gundumani, Kuntumani (Tamil); Guruginia, Guruvenda (Telugu); Gunja, Runji (Oriya) Liluwani, Raturmani (Assam); Labrigunchi, Ratak (Punjab).
Common names in World:
Rosary pea; Blackeyed Susan, Crab's eye, Jequerity, Pois rouge, Precatory bean, Tento muido, Tento muido, Cain Ghe, Graines Reglisse, Gunchi, Hint Meyankoku, Hung Tou, Jequerit, Liane Reglisse, Ma Liao Tou, Paratella, Paternoster, Peonia De St Tomas, Peonia, Pois Rouge, Reglisse, To-Azuki, Weesboontje, Rakat.
A beautiful, much-branched, slender, perennial, deciduous, woody, prickly twining or climbing herb. Stem cylindrical, wrinkled; bark smooth-textured, brown. Leaves stipulate, pinnately compound; leaflets 7-24 pairs, 0.6-2.5 x 0.4-1.2 cm, turgid, oblong, obtuse, truncate at both ends, appressed hairy. Flowers in axillary racemes, shorter than leaves, fascicled on the swollen nodes, pink or pinkish-white; calyx-lobes short, appressed hairy. Pods 1.5-5.0 x 0.8-1.5 cm, turgid, oblong, appressed hairy, with a sharp deflexed beak, silky-textured, 3 to 5-seeded. Seeds elliptic to sub-globose, ca 0.5 cm in diam., smooth, glossy, shining red with black blotch around the hilum. Fl. & Fr.: August - January (Frohne & Pfander, 1983; Inchem, 2004).
Commonly found as twining herb in mixed deciduous forests, in moist shady localities, grows best in fairly dry regions at low elevations.
Distribution: Itis native to India, introduced to warmer regions of the world (Cal, 2004). It is indigenously found throughout India, even at altitudes up to 1200m on the outer Himalayas. It is now naturalized in all tropical countries (Dwivedi, 2004). It grows in tropical climates such as India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, the Philippine Islands, South China, North America, Tropical Africa and the West Indies. It also grows in all tropical or subtropical areas (Inchem, 2004). It is used as an ornamental throughout North America.
Distribution in Patalkot:
Medicinal Importance: The seeds are considered abortifacient (Nath & Sethi, 1992), anodyne, aphrodisiac, antimicrobial, diuretic, emetic, expectorant, emollient, febrifuge, hemostat, laxative, purgative, refrigerant, sedative, vermifuge, antidote and used in various ailments to cure headache, snakebite, blennorrhagia, boil, cancer, cold, colic, conjunctivitis, convulsion, cough, diarrhea, fever, gastritis, gonorrhea, jaundice, malaria, night-blindness, ophthalmia and rheumatism. The seeds are also used to treat diabetes and chronic nephritis (Rain-tree, 2004).
Leaves, roots and seeds are used for medicinal purposes. The plant is used in some traditional medicine to treat scratches and sores and wounds caused by dogs, cats and mice, and is also used with other ingredients to treat leucoderma. The leaves are used for their anti-suppurative properties. They are ground with lime and applied on acne sores, boils and abscesses. The plant is also traditionally used to treat tetanus, and to prevent rabies. Various African tribes use powdered seeds as oral contraceptives (Anonymous, 1948-1976; Nadkarni, 1954; Chopra et al., 1956; Chopra, 1958).
Paste of roots is administered to cure abdominal pains and tumors. The paste with fresh rhizome of 'Haldi' (Curcuma longa) is applied on wounds. This paste is also taken orally as a single dose once only for abortion. Ground roots of Abrus precatorius is taken with pure clarified butter thrice a day for four days to cure cough. For graying of hair, a paste of leaves and seeds is made and juice is extracted. This juice is applied on hair as oil once a day one hour before taking bath. Dry seeds of Abrus precatorius are powdered and taken one teaspoonful once a day for two days to cure worm infection (Kirtikar & Basu, 1935; Rain-tree, 2004).
In veterinary medicine, it is used in the treatment of fractures.
Formulations: It is an ingredient of product "Tranquil" used in the treatment of stress and anxiety (Members.rediff, 2004).
Other Uses: The brightly-colored seeds attract childrens; they also play with them and in school use them in their handiwork and to count. Necklaces and other ornaments are made from the seeds and worn by both children and adults (Inchem, 2004). Leaves and seeds are nutritious. Boiled seeds are eaten in certain parts of India. It is claimed that cooking destroys the poison of seeds (Rajaram & Janardhanan, 1992; Pandey, 1994). The small seeds are used in jewelry. They have a uniform weight of 1/10th of a gram, hence used as weighing unit (Tropilab, 2004). Seeds have also the potential of good insecticide (Khanna, & Kaushik, 1989) and antimicrobial activity (Saxena, & Vyas, 1986).
Propagation: This plant species is propagated through seeds.
Toxic effect: The seeds are highly toxic due to presence of Abrin, a protein. It may be fatal if eaten. The primary symptoms include nausea, vomiting, severe abdominal pain and diarrhea, burning in throat; later ulcerative lesions of mouth and esophagus (Verma et al., 1989; USDA, NRCS, 2001; CES, 2004).
Ingested seeds can affect the gastrointestinal tract, the liver, spleen, kidney, and the lymphatic system. Infusion of seed extracts can cause eye damage, conjunctivitis and even blindness after contact. The major symptoms of poisoning are acute gastroenteritis with nausea, vomiting and diarrhea leading to dehydration, convulsions, and shock. Dehydration, as well as direct toxicity on the kidneys, could result in oliguria that might progress to death in uraemia (William Boericke, 1999; Inchem, 2004).
Abrin, which consists of abrus agglutinin, and toxic lectins abrins a, b, c and d are the five toxic glycoproteins found in the seeds (Budavari, 1989). Abrin is a ribosome - inactivating protein which blocks protein synthesis and is one of the most deadly plant toxins known. The toxin is released only after broking of seeds (Tropilab, 2004).
Chemical Components: Seeds are poisonous and contain abrin, a poisonous principle. The sweet principle glycyrrhizin is same as that of liquorice (Anonymous, 1948-1976).
Abrine, Abraline, Abrasine, Abricin, Abrin, Abrusgenic-acid, Abrusgenic-acid-methyl-ester, Abruslactone, Abrussic-acid, Anthocyanins, Ash, Calcium, Campesterol, Choline, Cycloartenol, Delphinidin, Gallic-acid,, Glycyrrhizin, Hypaphorine, N,n-dimethyl-tryptophan, N,n-dimethyl-tryptophan-metho-cation-methyl-ester, P-coumaroylgalloyl-glucodelphinidin, Pectin, Pentosans, Phosphorus, Delphinidin, Gallic-acid,, Glycyrrhizin, Hypaphorine, N,n-dimethyl-tryptophan, N,n-dimethyl-tryptophan-metho-cation-methyl-ester, P-coumaroylgalloyl-glucodelphinidin, Pectin, Pentosans, Phosphorus, Picatorine, Polygalacturonic-acids, Precasine, Precatorine and Protein Trigonelline determined in the plant (Mohan & Janardhanan, 1995; Rain-tree, 2004).
Beliefs:Roots of Abrus precatorius, 3-5 black pepper and 5 g of dried ginger are mixed and the paste is given orally to get rid of evil spirits or black magic. A piece of root is also tied on the arm to get immediate result.
Rai, MK. 1987. Ethnomedicinal studies of Patalkot and Tamia (Chhindwara) - Plants used as tonic. Ancient Science of Life, 3(2):119-121.
Rai, MK. 1988. Ethnomedicinal studies of Patalkot and Tamia (Dist- Chhindwara) - Plants used against skin disorders and liver disorders. J. Eco. Taxo. Bot. 12(2): 337-339.
Acharya, Deepak. 2004. Medicinal plants for curing common ailments in India. Positive Health, 102: 28-30.
Anonymous. 1948-1976. Wealth of India: Raw materials (I-X), Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, New Delhi.
Armstrong, WP. 2000. Botanical jewelry: Necklaces and bracelets made from plants. Wayne's word , 9: 1.
Budavari, S. (Ed.). 1989. The Merck Index: an encyclopedia of chemicals, drugs, and biologicals , 10th ed. Rahway, New Jersey, Merck and Co., Inc.
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Chopra, RN. 1958. Indigenous drugs of India . UN Dhar & Sons Pvt. Ltd., Calcutta.
Chopra, RN, Nayar, SL and Chopra, IC. 1956. Glossary of Indian Medicinal Plants, CSIR, New Delhi.
Dwivedi, RS. 2004. Unnurtured and untapped super sweet nonsacchariferous plant species in India. www.ias.ac.in/currsci/jun10/articles19.htm (Viewed on 23. 12. 2004).
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Frohne, D and Pfander, HJ. 1983. A Color Atlas of Poisonous Plants , Wolfe Publishing Ltd. Germany, pp 291.
Khanna, P and Kaushik, P. 1989. New sources of insecticides: Rotenoids. Proceedings of The National Academy of Sciences, 59(1): 83-86.
Kirtikar, KR and Basu, BD. 1935. Indian Medicinal Plants, Vol. I-IV, International Book Distributors, Dehra Dun.
Members.rediff. 2004. members.rediff.com/excelser/tranquil.html (Viewed on 22.12.2004).
Mohan, VR and Janardhanan, K. 1995. Chemical determination of nutritional and anti-nutritional properties in tribal pulses. Journal of Food Science and Technology, 32(6): 465-469.
Nadkarni, AK. 1954. Indian Materia Medica. Popular Prakashan, Bombay, India.
Nath, D, and Sethi, N. 1992. Commonly used Indian abortifacient plants with special reference to their teratologic effects in rats. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 36(2): 147-154.
Pandey, VN. 1994. Leaf protein content and yield of some Indian legumes. Plant Foods for Human Nutrition Dordrecht, 46(4): 313-322.
Rai, MK. 1987. Ethnomedicinal studies of Patalkot and Tamia (Chhindwara)- Plants used as tonic. Ancient Science of Life, 3(2):119-121.
Rai, MK. 1988. Ethnomedicinal studies of Patalkot and Tamia (Dist- Chhindwara)- Plants used against skin disorders and liver disorders. J. Eco. Taxo. Bot. 12(2): 337-339.
Rai, MK, Acharya, D and Nordenstam, B. 1999. The family Asteraceae in the Chhindwara District of Madhya Pradesh, India. Compositae Newsletter , 33: 46-58.
Rai, MK and Acharya, D. 2000. Diversity in Asteraceae of Chhindwara. In: Integrated Management of Plant Resources , Scientific Publisher (India), Jodhpur (Eds: M.K. Rai, Ajit Varma and R.C. Rajak) pp. 139-164.
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Rajaram, N and Janardhanan, K. 1992. The chemical composition and nutritional potential of the tribal pulse, Abrus precatorius L. Plant Foods Hum Nutr , 42(4): 285-290.
Saxena, AP and Vyas, KM. 1986. Antimicrobial activity of seeds of some ethnomedicinal plants. Journal of Economic and Taxonomic Botany, 8(2): 291-300.
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Verma, HK, Bhatia, RYP, Prabhakar, M and Rao, TS. 1989. Forensic studies of poisonous and medicinal plants - II Abrus precatorius . L. (Fabaceae), Front. Forensic. 1: 363-371.
William Boericke, MD. 1999. Homeopathic Materia Medica . www.homeoint.org/books/boericmm/a/abr.htm
About the Authors:
Dr Deepak Acharya: He is the Director of a herbal formulation company in Ahmedabad, India. He has been documenting ethnobotanical knowledge of tribals of Central and Western India. He has written 30 research papers in National and International journals of repute. He writes popular articles for web and magazines. Meet him on his homepage dracharya.tripod.com or contact via email on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ms Garima Sancheti: She is a research scholar, working in the field of Radiation and Cancer Biology from Department of Zoology (University of Rajasthan, India). She has to her credit various research papers in scientific journals as well as articles on web. Contact her on email@example.com.
Dr Anshu Shrivastava: He is a Botanist and PhD from BSI - Jodhpur, currently working as Research Associate in SRISTI - Ahmedabad. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr Sanjay Pawar:He is a botanist in Chhindwara, Madhya Pradesh. Contacted him on email@example.com.
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