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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Boerhavia diffusa, an important medicinal herb of the wild

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Many years ago when I was in school, I was caught by a strange disease. I did not know about that earlier. The elderly people told me that my eyes were turning yellow. After a day or two, my urine too turned yellow. I was very sad. My body too did not work properly. People told me that I was caught by Pilia or Jaundice, a disease of liver. I had to visit a doctor and he administered me an intravenous injection and advised to take complete rest. The injection was repeated for many times, but I don’t know how many times. A local vaidya suggested my father to make me drink aqueous extract of Punarnava root, Punarnava – a plant that grew in the surrounding in the waste land. I drank the extract for about ten to fifteen days and got well. Since then I am aware of Punarnava. Later, when I was studying taxonomy in my graduation classes, my professor introduced me the plant, told me its botanical name, physical features for identification and medicinal properties etc. during a field study. Still now that I am a man, I happen to see the plant growing here and there and identify it properly. It appears like a friend of mine, yes the friend of my childhood that helped me certainly in getting rid of the awkward and painful disease I was caught by, in my early age.

Nomenclature and Systematic position of Boerhavia diffusa

A correct identity of Punarnava or Boerhavia diffusa has not been confirmed in literature. In India a number of species are used under the same name. However it is of common agreement that the reddish variety is B. diffusa. This plant was named in the honor of Hermann Boerhaave, a famous 18th century Dutch physician.
B.diffusa is a herbaceous plant which belongs to Nictaginaceae family of the group dicotyledons and phylum angiosperm. In Sanskrit language the name Punarnava means “that which rejuvenates the body”. It has different names in different Indian languages – biskhapra in Hindi, gadhapurna in Bengali, satodi in Gujrati, thzhuthama in Malayalam, Mukaratte in Tamil and itsit in Punjabi. In U.S.A it is known as hogweed or pigweed. In Brazil it is known as Erva Tostao.

Distribution of B. diffusa
Boerhavia diffusa is found in the tropical, subtropical and temperate regions of the world. It is distributed in China, India, Australia, Pakistan, Egypt, Sudan, Srilanka, U.S.A. and South Africa.
It is also found in a number of countries of the Middle East. This plant is indigenous to India and U.S.A. In India it is found in the warmer parts and up to an altitude of 2000m. It is found growing in waste lands, road sides, road dividers, near railway tracks, on ruins of old buildings, on rubles, and near old earthen ponds.

Generic description of Boerhavia diffusa

Boerhavia diffusa is a perennial creeping weed which grows up to one meter or more in length. A number of branches spread out from the node of main stem and cover most of the surrounding area. The stem is usually prostrate and woody. It is cylindrical, often purplish in colour, hairy and thick at nodes. Leaves are simple, ovate or oblong or round in shape and usually subcordate at the base. These are thick, arranged in unequal pairs, hairy, green and glabrous on the upper side. These are usually 5x3 sq cm in area. Roots are hard, fusiform and woody. They store food. The root system is large with a number of rootlets. The tap root is tuberous, cylindrical to narrowly fusiform, conical or tapering, light yellow to brownish in colour.

Flowers of Boerhavia diffusa are minute, hermaphrodite, sub capitates, pedicellate, present 4-10 together in small bracteolate umbel that forms panicles either axillary or terminal. These are white to pink or pink-red in colour. Calyx is replaced by a perienth, corolla is tubular in shape, and the tube is short and narrow at the base constricted above the ovary and funnel shaped at the top. Stamens are usually two or three in number and the stigma is peltate.The fruit is achene, ovate, oblong, pubescent, five ribbed and glandular and  anthocarpous .

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Chemical composition of extract of Boerhavia diffusa

The plant extract contains a large number of biochemicals like alkaloids, flavonoides, steroids, triterpenoides, lipids, lignins, carbohydrates, proteins, glycoproteins and Punarnavine and Boerhavinone (Agarwal and Dutt, 1936, Basu et al.,1947,1968; Surange and Pendse, 1972, Laxmi et al., 1990,92), hypoxanthine 0-L-arabinofuranoside, liirodendrin(Jain and Khanna,1998 and Aftab et al., 1996). Some workers have reported that the plant extract contains good quantities of potassium nitrate. Mishra and Tiwari (1971) in an important study reported that the plant extract contains ursolic acid. Studies reveal that the plant – shoot contains six essential amino acids where as root system contains 14 amino acids.

Properties of Boerhavia diffusa

Boerhavia diffusa is a plant of Ayurvedic, traditional, ethnoherbological and clinical- medicinal importance. Indigenous tribes of many countries have been reported to use different parts of the plant for food and medicine. Recent studies have found that the plant has anti-microbial including anti-viral properties. However the commercial use of the plant has not so far been encouraged except some companies selling its dried powder. The entire plant along with root is eaten as vegetable in curries and soups in some parts of the world. Sheep and goats like to graze the plant and it grows again and again each time it is grafted by the ruminants.


Aftab, K., Usmani, S.B., Ahmad, S.I., and Usmanghani, K. 1996. Naturally occurring calcium channel blockers-II. Hamdard Medicus 39:44–54.

Agarwal,R.R. and Dutt,S.S.1936. Chemical examination of Punarnava or Boerhavia diffusa Linn.II. Isolation of an alkaloid Punarnavine. Chemical Abstract 30: 44-54.

Basu, T.N.,Gupta,M.B.,Seth, P.K. and Bhargava, K.P. 1968.Investigation on Indian medicinal plants. Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmocology 12:37.

Chopra, R.N., Ghosh, S., Dey, P., and Ghosh, B.N. 1923. Pharmacology and therapeutics of Boerhaavia diffusa (punarnava). Indian Medical Gazette 68:203–208.

Jain, G.K. and Khanna, N.M. 1989. Punarnavoside: A new antifibrinolytic agent from Boerhaavia diffusaLinn. Indian Journal of Chemistry 28(B):163–166.

Lami, N., Kadota, S., and Kikuchi, T. 1992. Constituents of the roots of Boerhaavia diffusa Linn. IV. Isolation and structure determination of boeravinones D, E and F. Chemical and Pharmaceutical Bulletin 39(7):1863–1865.

Lami, N., Kadota, S., Tezuka, Y., and Kikuchi, T. 1990. Constituents of the roots of Boerhaavia diffusa Linn. II. Structure and stereochemistry of a new rotenoid boeravinone C2. Chemical and Pharmaceutical Journal.38(6):1558–1562.

Mishra, A.N. and Tiwari, H.P. 1971. Constituents of the roots of Boerhaavia diffusa. Phytochemistry 10:3318.

Mishra, J.P. 1980. Studies on the effect of indigenous drug Boerhaavia diffusa Rom. on kidney regeneration.Indian Journal of Pharmacy 12:59.

Surange, S.R. and Pendse, G.S. 1972. Pharmacognostic study of roots of Boerhaavia diffusa Willd.(punarnava). Journal of Research in Indian Medicine 7:1.

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