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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Importance of Boerhavia diffusa in Traditional and Ethnological Healthcare Systems

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Boerhavia diffusa or Punarnava as it is called in Hindi language and the Hog weed in American, is a very important medicinal plant which creeps on waste lands in most part of the world up to an altitude of about 2000m.Belonging to family Nictaginaceae of Angiosperms, Punarnava is also known as spiderling due to its nature of spreading on the ground with profuse branching of its stem like a spider web.
Boerhavia diffusa is an annual or perennial herb which tastes sweet, bitter and astringent. It is due to immense medicinal properties of this plant that it is known to Ayurveda since centuries. A number of clinical researches have validated its great curative and healing properties. 

Besides Ayurveda, Boerhavia diffusa is known to different traditions and cultures and even tribes residing in remote corners of the world know it as a most useful plant. 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.

Boerhavia diffusa

Applications of Boerhavia diffusa in traditional healthcare systems
In traditional system of medicine the indigenous tribes have been reported to make wide use of different parts of Boerhavia diffusa since time immemorial. In an important study by Kirtikar and Basu in 1956, it is reported that the roots of this plant have been in wide use for the treatment of dyspepsia, jaundice, enlargement of spleen, abdominal tumors, abdominal pain and even cancers.

A fine powder of the root of Boerhavia diffusa when mixed thoroughly with mamira or Thalictrum foliolosum forms useful medicines for the red eye.Gupta et al. (1962) have reported that a highly filtered extract of the leaves of this plant can cure corneal ulcers and night blindness. It has been reported to cure or restore virility in men.The extract of leaves of Boerhavia diffusa is used as a lotion in ophthalmic conditions. It is also administered orally to releave muscular pain. Some tribes consider it a great blood purifier. Shah et al. has reported that some tribal communities used this plant as a stimulant for child birth.

Ethnobotanical applications of Boerhavia diffusa
Different ethnic groups across the world have been reported to use this plant in many different ways. Tribals of West Bengal State of India, especially of Purulia district have been reported to eat this plant as vegetable. It can also be seen being sold in the rural and semi urban vegetable markets in many districts of Jharkhand state of the country also. In Assam state of India leaves along with delicate stems of the plant are seen being sold as saag or vegetable. However, farmers do not grow it in fields and the vegetable sellers have to depend on the wild for the collection and sale of this vegetable. 

The inhabitants of Garhwal of Himalayan region in Uttaranchal state of India have been reported to use this herb as a medicine for the treatment of piles. In Madhya Pradesh state of India Bhil tribals have been reported to use this herb as a medicine for the treatment of bloody dysentery. In some regions a decoction of the herb is given to patients for the treatment of nodules. The juice of roots is applied in the treatment of a number of body disorders like asthma, scanty urine or Micturition, and inflammations. It is also used in curing a number of ailments like leucorrhea; rheumatism and stomach ache by Sahariya tribe of Lalitpur district of Uttar Pradesh state of India. Some tribal communities of Ambika Pur district of Madhya Pradesh state of India use this herb for the treatment of elephantiasis.

Awasthi, L.P., Chaudhury, B., and Verma, H.N. 1984. Prevention of plant virus diseases by Boerhavia diffusa inhibitor. International Journal of Tropical Plant Diseases 2:41–44.
Awasthi, L.P., Kluge, S., and Verma, H.N. 1987. Possible mode of action of an antiviral principle isolated from Boerhaavia diffusa plants. In: Abstracts, Symposium Analablich Der 100, Widerkehr Der Berufung Von Wilhelm Pfeffer. Das Wriken Von Wilhelm Pfeffer und neue Erkanntnisse und trend in der pflanzenphysiolgie, 10–12 June 1987, Karl Mark University, Leipzig, Germany. Abstract no. 35.
Awasthi, L.P., Kluge, S., and Verma, H.N. 1989. Characteristics of antiviral agents induced by Boerhaavia diffusa glycoprotein in host plants. Indian Journal of Virology 3:156–169.
Gupta, R.B.L., Singh, S., and Dayal, Y. 1962. Effect of punarnava on the visual acuity and refractive errors.Indian Journal of Medical Research 50:428–434.
Kirtikar, K.R. and Basu, B.D. 1956. Indian Medicinal Plants. Vol. III. 2nd Edition. Lalit Mohan Basu, Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, India. pp. 2045–2048.
Shah, G.L., Yadav, S.S., and Badinath, V. 1983. Medicinal plants from Dahana Forest. Journal of Economic and Taxonomic Botany 4:141.

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