Mimosa pudica and its applications in traditional healthcare systems

>> Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Mimosa plant is a short lived evergreen shrub which can be treated as an annual plant. This is an interesting plant due to peculiar movement of its leaflets that are sensitive to touch. Its fern like leaves close up and droop down whenever touched either by hand or by any object, living or non-living. It is due to the specific characteristics of its leaves that mimosa is regarded as a plant of high ornamental value. These leaves open in a very short time after the stimulus is withdrawn.
Mimosa belongs to the taxonomic group Magnoliopsida and family Mimosaseae. In Latin it is called as Mimosa pudica Linn. Its other names are Betguen Sosa (Guam); Memege (Niue); Mechiuaiu (Palau); Limemeihr (Pohnpei); Ra Kau Pikikaa (Cook Islands). The Chinese name for this plant (Chinese: 含羞草; pinyin: hánxiū cǎo) translates to "shyness grass". Its Sinhala name is Nidikumba, where 'nidi' means 'sleep'. Its Tamil name is Thottal Sinungi, where 'Thottal' means 'touched' and 'Sinungi' means 'little cry'. Other non-English common names include Makahiya (Philippines, with maka- meaning "quite" or "tendency to be", and -hiya meaning "shy", or "shyness"), Mori Vivi (West Indies), and mate-loi (false death)[citation needed] (Tonga). In Urdu it is known as CHui-Mui. In Bengali, this is known as 'Lojjaboti', the shy virgin. In Indonesia, it is known as Putri Malu (Shy Princess). In Myanmar (Burma) it is called 'Hti Ka Yoan' which means "crumbles when touched". It has been described as “sparshaat sankochataam yaati punashcha prasruta bhavet” -a plant which folds itself when touched and spreads its leaves once again after a while. 


Image:1- Mimosa pudica


Image:2 - Mimosa pudica with inflorescence ( drooping leaves are also seen in the image)

Habit and Habitat
The plant, mimosa, though indigenous to northern hemisphere, can be seen every where in the world. First described in Brazil the plant is adapted to different types of soils and prefers open sunny positions. Berneby (1989) has reported that there are at least three distinct varieties of Mimosa pudica out of which M.hispida is uncommon in Americas but it is established in the Philippines, the Caroline and Mariana, Queensland, India and African savanna country. According to the same author, it is M.pudica unijuga that is common in Hawaii and in other Pacific countries where it is regarded as a major weed. Holm et al. (1977) report M. pudica to be a widespread weed in the Caribbean, but far less important to the north and south of this region. This suggests that it evolved elsewhere in the Americas and has not been accompanied into the Caribbean by its full suite of natural enemies.

Since it has an ability of fixing atmospheric nitrogen, it grows well even in nutrient deficient soils. It prefers medium exposure of light. This plant is difficult to transplant due to its sensitivity to root- disturbances. It can not tolerate water logged conditions and dislikes over watering. It is commonly found in rather moist waste ground in lawns, in open plantations, or in weedy thickets. It forms a dense cover on the ground and prevents reproduction of other plant species.



Image:3 - Mimosa pudica with plant associates

(Please click to enlarge these images)
Mimosa pudica is common in rather moist waste ground, in lawns, in open plantations, and weedy thickets.  It forms a dense ground cover, preventing reproduction of other species.  It is a wild land fire hazard when dry. There have been researches which show mimosa pudica to be a herbal medicine but it hasn't proven itself to be able to treat anything- pharmaceutical companies are still researching its properties and uses.  In many places, Mimosa Pudica is becoming a noxious weed, and it can be controlled with various chemical herbicides such as dicamba.  Mimosa pudica is also a host to parasites such as Cochineals insects, one gets rid of the insects by progressively removing them using a cotton stem soaked with alcohol, but if the insects are too numerous, one much sacrifice the sensitive plant and to not re-use the ground nor the pot on which it was cultured. 

Weed Status
Holm et al. (1977) have reported that Mimosa pudica is a weed in about 22 crops in 38 countries. It is commonly seen in waste lands, lawns, pastures and along road sides. It is a serious weed in maize, sorghum, sugarcane, tea, upland rice, soybean and cotton in Southeast Asia. Since it is a shade tolerant weed it commonly grown in plantation crops like coconut, banana, papaya, coffee, oil palm and citrus. Holm et al. (1977) have further reported that its dense growth in tropical pastures its dense growth deters animals from feeding on suitable forage mingled with it. While the plants do not live long--generally a single growing season--the seeds they drop take root easily; Mimosa pudica can become invasive if not kept under control. They are considered weeds in agricultural settings such as forest plantations, farms, orchards and pastureland.

General morphology of the plant
Mimosa pudica was first formally described by Carl Linnaeus in Species Plantarum in 1753.Mimosa is usually a short prickly plant with its branches growing close to ground. It grows up to a height of about 0.5m and spreads up to 0.3m.The stem of mimosa is erect, slender, prickly and well branched. Leaves are bipinnate, fern like and pale green in colour with a tendency of closing when disturbed. These are quadri-pinnate, often reddish, leaflets 15 to 25 pairs, acute, bristly, usually 9 to 12 mm long and 1.5mm wide. Flowers of this plant are axillary in position and lilac pink in colour usually occurring in globose heads. Calyxes are companulate, and petals are crenate towards the base. Flowering occurs from August to October in Indian conditions. Fruits of mimosa are pods, 1.5 to 2.5 cm long, falcate, and closely prickly on sutures.


Applications of M. pudica in Traditional Healthcare System
Ayurveda has declared that its root is bitter, acrid, cooling, vulnerary, alexipharmic, and used in the treatment of leprosy, dysentery, vaginal and uterine complaints, inflammations, burning sensation, asthma, leucoderma, and fatigue and blood diseases. Unani Healthcare System its root is resolvent, alternative, and useful in the treatment of diseases arising from blood impurities and bile, bilious fevers, piles, jaundice, and leprosy etc. Decoction of root is used with water to gargle to reduce toothache. It is very useful in diarrhea (athisaara), amoebic dysentery (raktaatisaara), bleeding piles and urinary infections. It arrests bleeding and fastens the wound healing process. It is mainly used in herbal preparations for gynecological disorders. It has been said to have medicinal properties to cure skin diseases. It is also used in conditions like bronchitis, general weakness and impotence. It is also used to treat neurological problems. The content of M.pudica has a capacity of arresting bleeding and it fastens the process of healing of wounds. It is recommended in diarrhea, amoebic dysentery and bleeding piles. It is also used in herbal preparations of gynecological disorders. Its extract can cure skin diseases. Some herbal doctors recommend it for bronchitis, general weakness and impotence. All the five parts of the plant (that is the PANCHANG) - leaves, flowers, stems, roots, and fruits are used as medicines in the traditional healthcare systems. In India, different parts of the plant have been in popular use for treating various ailments since long. Recent researches show that the extract of this plant can be used for checking child birth. Some authors have reported that this herb can replace contraceptive pills if researches are done properly.

According to different researches done so far, Mimosa Tenuiflora bark is used to relax the mind, and relieve depression, mental distress, irritability, severe palpitations, and amnesia. It is a mood enhancer and improves circulation of the blood. Some believe Mimosa can reduce the onset of baldness. Due to its ability to promote healthy cell growth, Tepezcohuite is used in shampoos, creams, capsules, and soaps. In Ayurvedic and Unani medicine, Mimosa pudica root is used to treat bilious fevers, piles, jaundice, leprosy, dysentery, vaginal and uterine complaints, inflammations, burning sensation, fatigue, asthma, leucoderma, and blood diseases. In Western medicine, Mimosa root is used for treating insomnia, irritability, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), menorrhagia, hemorrhoids, skin wounds, and diarrhea. It is also used to treat whooping cough and fevers in children, and there is some evidence to suggest that Mimosa is effective in relieving the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. All parts of the Mimosa plant are reportedly toxic if taken directly. Its consumption is not recommended to pregnant or nursing ladies. Due to these reports, it seams to be best to consult a physician before using Mimosa internally. Researches regarding safety in young children or those with severe liver or kidney disease have not been found.


Principal Constituents of Mimosa plant
M.pudica contains Mimosine which is a toxic alkaloid. Adrenalin like substance has been identified in the extract of its leaves. Some workers have reported the presence of Crocetin dimethyl Easter in the extract of the plant. Roots contain tannin up to 10 per cent. Seeds contain a mucilage which is composed of d-xylose and d-glucuronic acid. The plant extract contains green yellow fatty oil up to 17 per cent. The plant is reported to contain tubuline and a new class phytohormone turgorines is found to be active in the plant. The periodic leaf movement factors are reportedly the derivatives of 4-o-( b-D-glucopyranosyl-6-sulphate) gallic acid3.


Key Words: Magnoliopsida, Mimosaseae, touch, Brazil, Caribbean, root- disturbances, Carl Linnaeus, Species Plantarum, panchang, urinary infections, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), rheumatoid arthritis, toxic, contraceptive, leucoderma, pregnant ladies.

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