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Friday, July 17, 2009

Bhumi Amla, amlaki or Phyllanthus niruri :The Medicinal Herb

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A number of herbs grow during rains as their seeds remain preserved by the earth. Most of these herbs have very short lives. It does not mean that they pass away without completing their life cycles. Yes, a number of plants are destroyed by human activities of habitat destruction, mechanical injuries, water logging etc. Many plants are eaten up by cattle or they die off under severely diseased conditions. But, if left unaffected by adverse climatic and biotic conditions, these plants usually do not die unless their life cycles are completed properly. It is a mystery for me, and it is perhaps psychologically addressed as the survival instinct. Thus, a number of plants are seen growing in the wild during the onset of the rainy season and these plants often die off before winter, or many may survive for the whole year, or so. Here, I wish to talk about Phyllanthus niruri or the Bhumi amla or amalaki - a plant of very short life, and that has emerged out as a challenge for scientists across the globe to extract out important medicines or chemicals to treat some of the deadly diseases.

Phyllanthus niruri is an annual herb which grows in the wild after first showers of monsoon in Jharkhand, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, etc. states of India. However, it has also been reported to grow commonly in coastal areas. In Indian states it usually grows during second week of June and starts bearing fruits up to mid July or August. It remains in the wild up to the end of the rainy season.However, under safe conditions it can grow and survive upto mid- winter.

In some areas it may be found in profusely branched condition along with crops of gram, wheat, pea, etc. In the wild it is found growing along roadsides, in street corners, and dumps of building materials. Taxonomically, the annual herb Phyllanthus niruri belongs to the family Phyllanthaceae of the order Malpighiales under class Magnoliopsida of the Division Magnoliophyta.It is a field weed which is found proliferating through out tropical and sub-tropical regions od Asia, America, and China.The genus Phyllanthus (L) Murr. comprises from 600 to 700 species with minor distinguishing features among them.Phyllanthus niruri L., P. amarus, and P. urinaria are three most employed species. As for P. niruri, the epithet "niruri" was assigned to this plant by Swedish naturalist Charles von Linee. Hence the name is written as P. niruri L.It is reported that this plant is known and used since more than 2,000 years. It may grow from 20 to 90 cm or more in height.

Phyllanthus niruri growing in the wild

In spite of its great medicinal property the plant Phyllanthus niruri L. could not attain the status of a cultivated plant so far.It has still remained a field weed and it is collected directly from fields only. The traditional herbalists sell these plants in dried conditions in fairs and market places. Since the properties of the plant are retained even when it is dried completely, it can be shipped anywhere in the world.This plant has a long history in the herbal health care system in every tropical country where it is found growing.This plant has been a subject of Phytochemical research since the mid- 1960, and has been considered to be a complex plant in view of its chemical content.The plant is well known to a number of traditional health care systems in different countries across the word like Brazil,Bahamas, Caribbean, Haiti, Amazon, United States, India and China. In the United States the plant is known as "stone breaker" or "chanca pedra". Some of the other closely related species of the genus Phyllanthus that are well employed in medicine are P. urinaria, P.debilis, and P. fraternus. However lots of confusion exists about identification of species of this genus.

A rachis of P. niruri bearing leaflets and underside flowers and fruits

The Plant Phyllanthus niruri has different names in different names in different language – Assamese: Holpholi, Bengali:Noe, Hindi: Chalmeri, Bhumyalaki, Konka: Bhuin- avalae, Malayalam-Kijhandli, Marathi – Ray avail, Oria – Narakoli, Sanakrit – Bhoo datri, and Tamil –Aru.
In the Ayurvedic System of medicine the whole plant of Phyllanthus niruri can be used for medicinal purposes. It has been accepted as acrid, cooling, alexipharmic. Ayurveda recommends its use for bronchitis, leprosy, anaemia, urinary discharge, asthma etc. Local people of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand use it for the treatment of skin diseases, indigestion, cough, ulcers etc. Maharshi Charak has considered this herb to be most effective in the treatment of asthma, increasing appetite, improving digestion, stimulating liver, and producing laxative effects.
In the Unani System of medicine this herb is good for sores and chronic dysentery. Its seeds are used in the treatment of ulcers, wounds, scabies and ringworms. The root of this plant is considered to be an excellent remedy for liver diseases.

The scientists across the world have been attracted towards the anti- viral properties of Phyllanthus niruri. The extract of the plant has been found to cure even acute inflammation of liver. As such it is justified that the extract of this plant can cure Hepatitis caused by viruses of Hepatitis A, and Hepatitis B. The extract of this plant has been found to be clinically effective in the Viral Hepatitis B along current parameters. It is due to the anti-viral properties that experiments on P. niruri are going on across the world today, and scientists hope that the plant may also be helpful in the treatment of AIDS. The extract of the plant has been proved to be non-toxic by researchers from the different parts of the world. Current researches on the chemical analysis of the extract of this plant show that its leaves contain Lignansniranthin, Nirtetralin, and phyltetralin chemical compounds. The seeds of this plant contain Ricinoleic acid, Linoleic acid, and Linolenic acid (54%). Fisetin-4-0-glucoside, a new Flavon glycoside has been isolated from the aerial parts of this plant.

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