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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Peperomia pellucida, an Amazing Wild Medicinal Herb

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I have been seeing an amazing plant during July to December months every year since last five years – growing and completing its life cycle in a wonderful habitat. The habitat is wonderful because in my opinion no other plant except this one can grow in it. How can a plant grow in conditions almost unfavorable for life – a vertical, smooth and cemented surface, not at all ready to allow even a single drop of rain water that may flow through to it, to rest a while? Only a very thin layer of dust can escape out of air to settle down at this smallest area compared to the minimum area thought to be needed by a plant to grow and develop in it.The plant under study grows at the same place every year – not more than two or three in number. First, the plant appears like mini translucent architecture attached to the vertical surface of the wall just above the upper margin of the gate of an open school lavatory. Sun rays for a very short period do visit the area but the wall does not seem porous enough to withhold a little water. It is a mystery. But the plant grows well. It might have been able to reach to the great length, had it been able to inhabit a proper place. But, I see it becomes a little greener during its flowering and fruiting period.
 In the initial phase which lasted for many years, I just kept on observing it and wondering on every aspect of its life. At last I posted it on my site with a request to identify it. But no one did ever respond. Finally, I myself became able to identify it through long and tiresome research. Now after passing through long processes of identification, survey and research on different aspects of the plant I have become able to know that it is Peperomia pellucida, a medicinal herb of great values.

Image 1: Peperomia pellucida growing solitary on a vertical plastered wall

Image 2: Peperomia pellucida in the wild

Image 3: Peperomia pellucida in the wild, showing fruits and Infl.

Peperomia pellucida the plant of immense medicinal value, is variously known in different Indian and other languages. Its names in Sanskrit are Toyakandha and Varshabhoo. In Malayalam it is known as Mashitandu chedi. In Philippines it is known as Ulasiman-bato, Olasiman-ihalas, and Tangontagon. it is known as càng cua (Vietnam); pak krasang (Thailand); suna kosho (Japan); rangu-rangu, ketumpangan ortumpang angin (Bahasa/Malay).

Peperomias are Herbs of tropical and subtropical regions. Most of them occur in Central and Northern South America. Fewer species are known from Africa, Asia, and Oceania. Different endemic species are known from the islands of the Indian Ocean, the Pacific, and the Caribbean. It has been reported that Peperomia is native to tropical America and Asia. It is well represented and naturalized in India too.

Although a lot of them grow as epiphytes in rainforest habitats, others are succulents found in the high Andes. It can be found in lightly shaded and damp areas such as nooks, walls, yards, and even on roofs. Peperomia is the largest genus of the family of the Piperaceae. 

The Plant
Now, two types of Peperomias are seen in my area – P. obtusifolia and P. pellucida. It belongs to the family Peperomiaceae. Some researchers have reported that there are following types of Peperomias –
(i).Cupid Peperomias (P. scandens variegate)
(ii).Creeping Peperomias (P. prostrata)
(iii).Watermelon Peperomias (P. arqueir)
(IV).Baby rubber plant (P. clusifolia)
(v).Desert privet (P. magnoliafolia variegate)
Peperomias can grow anywhere in filtered light conditions. The plant grown just anywhere may be contaminated by aerial and soil pollutant like human and animal excrement. It is reported that unfinished concrete block fences that often remain damp are favourite habitats of this herb. It can be used for brewing and healing purposes after being ensured that it is free from contaminants.

The plant has a threadlike but angular trailing stem. Those growing in rich habitats do have fleshy and stout stems. Its leaves are blunt, heart shaped and in good habitats it grows as a long shrubby looking creeping cover or as an epiphyte. The elongated stems look like a vine with leaves rising 6 to 9 cm above the surface. Both leaves and stems have shiny waxy surfaces.

The foliage of the plant looks ornamental. It has been reported to be a tropical perennial. It usually does not exceed 12” in height. Flowers are tiny and unnoticeable and grow in the form of a cord like spike. Inflorescence consists of compact, erect spikes of minute creamy white flowers.
Some of Peperomias are epiphytes growing on rotten logs. These have thick angular stems and fleshy leaves. Most Peperomias have tiny flowers which are packed in a characteristic greenish or brown conical spike like an inverted catkin. A few species have more attractive flowers such as white scented clusters of spikes produced by P. fraseri from Ecuador.

Some species are popular house plants. A variety of cultivars of Peperomia caperata with attractively marked foliage are widely available through horticultural trade, and varieties of compact Peperomias can sometimes be found among selection of plants intended for bottle gardens.

Fruits remain tiny, dot like smooth, and oval. These develop partially embedded in the spike with their hooked beaks protruding outside.

Peperomias have long profile in succulent society of plants. However, several species are succulent and form tubers. P. campylotrapa is a deciduous tuber forming plant found in the cooler regions of Mexico. After flowering, the aerial growth dies away and the tuber can survive long periods of drought. P. macrorhiza which is found in Peru and P. monticola which is found in Mexico form a large group and can be of interest for plant collectors. About 1000 species of Peperomias have so far been described mainly from South America. About 17 of these are reported to be found in Africa, and similar or less number has been reported from Asia.

Rotting, ring spots manifested as distorted foliage with chlorotic or necrotic rings that are found on the leaves. This disease can be caused by cucumber mosaic virus and the only treatment is to destroy the infected parts. Many Peperomias can be propagated by leaves, or tip cutting, although the variegated and succulent species grow mainly by tip cuttings.

Image 4: Peperomia fraseri- erect inflorescence. A horticultural variety

Image 5: Peperomia hoffmanii a horticultural variety

Image 6 : Peperomia sp. a horticultural variety

Image 7: Peperomia caperata variegata - a Horticultural variety

Traditional and Ethno- herbological Uses of the Plant
Ayurveda recommends the whole Peperomia plant as medicinal. It is described in Ayurveda as – Rasa – Katu and Madhur; Guna- Lakhu, rooksha, Teekshna; and Virya- Ushna. The plant is described to passify vitiated cough, pitta, constipation, kidney diseases, urinary retention, disuria, urinary tract infections, emaciation, edema and general weakness.

Through a detailed study of various aspects of the plant, it has been found that it has a long and rich history of medicinal applications across American and Asian countries. Ethno-botanical studies of the plant reveal that the whole plant has been in medicinal use since long. It is crushed and mixed with water to form a mixture, heated and administered orally to cure hemorrhage. In Bolivia, a decoction of root has been used for the treatment of fevers. The extract of the aerial part of the plant has been reported to be applied to cure wounds. Mufioz et al. (2000) have studied natural bioactive compounds in the extract of Peperomia in Bolivia through multidisciplinary approach. They have evaluated and found that the plant extract if administered orally for a certain period can cure malaria. Khan and Omoloso have studied anti bacterial activities of P. pellucida and they have confirmed that the plant extract has anti-microbial properties.

P. pellucida has been used for curing various types of ailments in the past. Still it is used for the treatment of abdominal pain, acne, boils, colic, gout, head ache, renal disorders, rheumatic pain, breast cancer, impotence, mental disorders, and even small pox. It has also been eaten raw or cooked to eat for the treatment of rheumatic pain. Aziba et al. have studied the analgesic activity of the extract of upper or the aerial part of the plant. The plant has been in use to lower cholesterol level in blood in the Northeastern Brazil. On the other hand it has been in use to treat protein urea and other urinary disorders. In the region of Amazon, it is in use as cough suppressant, diuretic and for the treatment of cardiac arrhythmia. Dos Santos et al. (2004) have studied the oil extracted from different species of Peperomia in Brazilian Atlantic forests. Fatima et al. have studied the anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties of Peperomias. Thus, the ethno- botanical practices popular in different parts of the world have already been tested and confirmed by various researchers from time to time.

Infusion and decoction of leaves and stems of fresh plant are eaten as salad for the treatment of gout and arthritis. Various studies have confirmed the traditional knowledge that the extract of the plant is analgesic, anti-inflammatory, depressant of Central Nervous System, antipyretic, and anti-bacterial.

Chemical compounds isolated from Peperomia pellucida
Seeds of Peperomia pellucida yield an essential oil. This oil has been reported to contain as many as 71 chemical compounds. Major chemical constituents of the essential oil are sesquiterpenes.A number of chemical compounds have been isolated by different workers from time to time. Some major categories of compounds isolated from the plant body of different species of Peperomia are Flavonoides like acacetin, apigenin, isovitexin, and Pellucidatin; Phytosterols like campesterol and stgmasterol; essential oils like hydrozylated sesquiterpene; carotol etc. The plant has also been reported to contain peperomines that are reported to have cytotoxic or anti-cancer properties. Besides these, the plant extract also contains Arylpropanoides like apiols having anti-fungal activities.

Medicinal Values of Peperomia pellucida
Oral administration of the extract of Peperomia pellucida in rats has been confirmed (Arrigoni et al.2001, de Fatima et al.2004,) to interfere with the synthesis of Prostaglandin, thus acting as an anti-inflammatory agent.

Oral administration of the extract of P. pellucida in rats has been confirmed to cause analgesic activity (Aziba et al. 2001). Aziba et al. have worked on analgesic activity of Peperomia pellucida aerial parts in mice.

The extract of whole plant of Peperomia pellucida has been reported to check the growth of Chloroquine- resistant Plasmodium falciparum Indo- strain by 95%. It has also been reported that this type of extract causes total lyses of Leismania braziliensis, L.; L. donovani; and L. amazonensis (Munoz et al., Chan-Bacab et al. 2001).

Xu S et al. have studied the bioactive compounds from P. pellucida and have reported that the crude extract of the plant cause cytotoxicity against the cancer cell lines HL-60, MCF-7 and HeLa.

Persons hyper sensitive to the plant may feel asthma like conditions due to strong mustard like odor of the plant.

Crude methanolic extracts of P. pellucida has been reported to show broad spectrum anti-microbial activity. Bojo et al. (1994) studied the anti-bacterial activity of the extract of P. pellucida using disc diffusion methods. Similar studies by Khan et al. (2002) also document similar results for the anti-microbial activity of P. pellucida extract against numerous species of bacteria including Bacillus subtilis, Escherichia coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus auren.

The chloroform extract from dried leaves of P. pellucida have been reported by Ragasa et al. (1998) to have antifungal activity against Trichophyton metagrophytes.

From the foregoing accounts it is evident that the plant Peperomia has immense medicinal values that demand further researches towards the development of safe and suitable medications for the treatment of pains, inflammations, stomach problems and even cancers. Suitable and safe medications can be prepared to treat bacterial and those caused by protozoa like malaria and other fevers. For this the plant should be grown on commercial basis and conserved in the wild.

In the current age of environmental pollution and habitat destruction herbs of immense medicinal values are being unknowingly destroyed by human activities. More extensive surveys of floras of different area, listing and investigations followed by repeated researches are essential to conserve the property hidden in the biodiversity of the world.

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2. Aziba PI, Adedeji A, Ekor M, Adeyemi O. Analgesic activity of Peperomia pellucida aerial parts in mice. Fitoterapia. 2001; 72:57-58.
3. Aquil M, Rahman FA, Ahmad MB. A new flavonol glycoside from Peperomia pellucida. Sci Phys Sci. 1994; 6:141-143.
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5. Bayma JD, Arruda MS, Muller AH, Arruda AC, Canto WC . A dimeric Ar C2 compound from Peperomia pellucida. Phytochemistry . 200;55: 779-782.
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16. Ragasa CY, Dumato M, Rideout JA. Antifungal compounds from Peperomia pellucida. ACGC Chem Res Commun. 1998;7:54-61.
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Key Words : Peperomia, wild, medicinal

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