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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Medicinal properties and ethno-herbological values of Astercantha longifolia (L.) Nees

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A number of aquatic weeds and wetland-herbs have been found to have immense medicinal values, and Tal- makhana is one of them. It is taxonomically known as Astercantha longifolia Linn. Nees. Traditional - medicinal applications and pharmacological studies of the plant revealed by ancient literature and modern researches show that Astercantha longifolia is a plant of immense medicinal and ethno -botanical importance. It is robust and  erect, annual herb with sub-quadrangular thickened nodes; oblanceolate leaves with yellow spines in axils, flowers pale to purple blue, densely clustered in axils, and  fruits oblong, glabrous capsules 4 to 8 seeded.

Image 1: Astercantha longifolia growing in the wild

The plant Astercantha is known in Latin as Hygrophila auriculata (Schum).Hygrophila spinosa Anders and Astercantha longifolia (Linn.) Nees, belonging to family Acanthaceae.Its synonyms are - Hygrophila auriculata (Schumach); Heine; Hygrophila spinosa T. Andes.  In Sanskrit it is known as Ikura, Atichhatra and Vajra; in Bengali it is known as Kuliakhara; in Guajarati it is known as Ekharo; in Hindi it is known as Gokhulakanta, Kailaya and Talmakhana; in Malayalam it is known as Nermulli; in Marathi it is known as Talimakhana; in Tamil it is known as Golmidi, and in Urdu it is known as Talmakhana. In Kannan it is known as Kalavankabija and in Telugu it is known as Gobbi, and Neerugobbi. In Malayalam it is called as Culi, Nirchuli, and Vayalkuli.In Bengali it is called as Kuliakhara, and Kulekhade.

Morphological Features
It is a spiny, stout, annual herb, common in water logged areas. The plant has a number of fasciculated, usually unbranched sub glandular stems, each 60 to 120 cm tall. The stems have nodules hispid with long hairs. Leaves are sessile, oblong- lanceolate or linear lanceolate, spines yellowish brown and 2 to 3 cm (sometimes more) long. These are found in whorls of 6 at each node. The two outer leaves of the whorl remain much larger than the four inner ones. Each leaf is greenish brown in colour. These are acute, entire and hairy.

Flowers are yellowish brown to blue in colour. These usually occur in apparent whorls of eight in four pairs at each node. Bracts occur on nodes. These are usually 2.5 cm long with long and white hairs. Corolla is about 3 cm long, widely two lipped, tube about 1.6 cm long, abruptly swollen at top. Stamens are four in number, didynamous with the second pair larger. Calyxes are four- partite with upper sepal 1.6 to 2 cm long, broader than the upper three. Calyxes are linear, lanceolate, and coarsely hairy on the back and with hyline ciliated margins. Fruits are two celled, linear, and oblong, compressed about 8cm long, and pointed 4 to 8 seeded capsules.  These have single layer of epidermis covered with striated cuticle, followed by 5 to 10 layered, thick walled, oval to hexagonal, lignified sclerenchymatous cells. Seeds are  ovate, flat or compressed, 0.2 to 0.25 cm long and 0.1 to 0.1 to 0.15 cm wide, hairy, appearing smooth when soaked in water immediately get coated with mucilage, light brown, taste slightly bitter and odour not distinct.(Ayurvedic Pharmacoepia of India, 1999).

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Image 5:  Showing thorns, sepals and petals

This plant is widely distributed throughout tropical and sub-tropical regions of India and other parts of the world including Phillippines, Srilanka, Burma, and Malaya, Nepal and in many other parts of the world. It is usually found in stagnant streams, freshwater swamps and ponds and alongside river beds. In India it is seen luxuriously growing in wet low lands near roads, buildings, and Tals (swallow water filled low lands).However, with the activities of habitat destruction, and fast reclamation of low lands the herb is disappearing fast.

Ayurvedic and Ethno-herbological considerations
The plant Astercantha longifolia is a source of Kokilaksha, the Ayurvedic drug and Talimakhana, the Unani drug. The plant has been described in the Ayurvedic treatise like Sushruta Samhita and Charak Samhita as Rasayana or rejuvenator. What is a Rasayana? Well, it is a specific category of drugs of Indian Ayurvedic System. The word Rasayana is composed of Rasa meaning elixir and Ayana meanng House. Thus the word Rsayana signifies the property of plant that helps to rejuvenate the system (Chauhan and Dixit, 2010).

Rasayana have been being used for the management of neurodegenerative diseases, as rejuvenators, immunomodulators, aphrodisiac and tonic (Thakur et al., 2007). This plant has been described as Iksura, Ikshugandha, and Kokilaksha in Ayurvedic literature. The Sanskrit word Kokilaksha literally means an eye of the cuckoo. The flowers of this plant resemble in the color of cuckoo's eyes, hence the name. According to Vaidya, 1970, its parts form constituents of Ayurvedic preparation Strirativallabhpug pak and Rativardhan yog. These medicines are recommended to improve sexual behavior of women. It also acts as a general tonic.

According to Ayurveda, the extract of the plant or of its parts can be administered for following actions –
  • In breaking and expulsion of kidney stones (Ashmari Pranut),
  • To nourish genital system so as to enable even an old person to enjoy his sexual life like a young person (Vrushya),
  • To enhance the strength of body (Balya)
  • It can nourish each and every cell of the body and it is due to this property that it is useful in emaciation and malnutrition conditions ( Samtarpana Parah)
In a nut shell the plant can be used for –
  • Nourishing the genital system
  • Enhancing body strength
  • Nourishing each and every cell of the body
  • Breaking and expulsing kidney stones
  • Protecting liver actions
Phytochemicals contained in different parts of the plant
The extract of leaves has been reported to contain phenolics and flavonoide. Thus it shows promising antioxidant activity. Swadogo et al., 2006 have reported that methanolic extract of leaves of this plant contain phenolic and flavonoide showing promising antioxidant activity. Dasgupta and De 2007 have reported that the aqueous extract of leaves of A. longifolia showed potent antioxidant activity in various in vitro models.

Nadkarni, 1978 and Chopra et al. 1986 have reported that the whole plant of A. longifolia has great Ayurvedic and ethno-medicinal properties. The whole plant including ashes is extensively used in traditional systems of medicine for treating various types of ailments like rheumatism, inflammation, jaundice, hepatic obstruction, pain, urinary infections, oedema and gout.

In Ayurvedic system the plant has been classified as Seethviryam, Madhuravipaka and is used for the treatment of Premeham (diabetes), arthisaram (dysentery) etc.

Vijay Kumar et al. 2006 who studied the impact of Ethanol extract of aerial parts of A. longifolia on rats, found that when administered at the rate 100 and 200mg/kg of body weight for three weeks it showed significant reduction in blood glucose level. Decrease in thiobarbituric acid reactive substances (TBARS) and Hydro peroxide in both liver and kidney was also observed. The treatment with ethanol extract has also been reported to increase the glutathione s- transferase (GST) and catalase (CAT) in drug treated group comparable to the control group. These rats also showed decrease in Lipid peroxidation which is associated with increased activity of superoxide dismutase and catalase.

The effect of hot water extract of A. longifolia on glucose tolerance of normal human beings and maturity onset diabetic patients has been investigated by Fernando et al. (1991).

Hewawasam et al., 2003 and Usha et al., 2007 have found that aqueous extract of Panchang (all the five parts of the plant root, stem, leaves, flowers, fruits) of A. longifolia possesses hepatoprotective and antioxidative properties against CCL4 – and paracetamol induced hepatotoxicities.

Singh and Handa, 1999 have reported that methanolic extracts of the seeds of the plant show hepatoprotective activity against paracetamol and thioacetamide intoxication in rats. Shalajan et al., 2005 have showed that the slurry of the whole plant was hepatoprotective against CCl4 induced liver dysfunction in rats. Later in 2007 they also showed that the slurry, aqueous extract and ethanol extract of the whole plant powder were hepatoprotective against galactosamine induced hepatotoxicity. Thus it can be inferred that the extract of the whole plant of A. longifolia is hepatoprotective and can further be examined for synthesizing hepatoprotective and anti- diabetic medications.

Patra et al.009a; 2009b have reported that chloroform and alcoholic extracts of A. longifolia have anti-inflammatory, analgesic and anti-pyretic activities. Earlier, Patra et al., 2008 have reported that petroleum ether, chloroform, alcohol, and aqueous extract of leaves of the plant produced significant anthelmintic activity and both the alcoholic and chloroform extracts of the plant showed significant anti-bacterial activity. Thus, it is inferred that the extract of A. longifolia can be used as anti- inflammatory and analgesic agent.

Mazumdar et al., 1996 have reported that petroleum ether extract of root of A. longifolia caused significant increase in WBC count. Pawar et al.2006a;2006b have reported that petroleum ether and chloroform extract of leaves showed hematopoietic activity by increasing the erythrocyte count, leucocyte count, and hemoglobin level significantly. Thus, it can be concluded that the extract of the plant A. longifolia can be administered for hematopoietic activities and further researches are needed to synthesize medications for such activities from the extract of the plant.

Mazumdar et al., 1997 found that administration of extract of the plant repressed the rapid increase of body wight of tumor bearing mice. Ahmad et al., 2001 studied the effect of application of methanol extract of seeds of A. longifolia and found that it inhibits hematocarcinogenesis in Wistar rats. The petroleum ether extract of A. longifolia roots exhibited antitumor activity in Ehrlich ascites carcinoma and sarcoma- 180 bearing rats. It has been reported that the administration of extract of this plant suppresses the tumor fluid volume significantly.

Chauhan et al., 2009, 2010 studied the impact of administration of seed extract of A. longifolia on sexual behavior of rats in dose dependent manner. It was found to improve the histo-architecture of testes and increase the concentration of sperm count in epididymis and also increase the testosterone level. These findings confirm that the extract of seeds of A. longifolia can be administered for enhancing the sexual power and activity in humans.

Phytochemicals found in different parts of A. longifolia
A number of studies confirm the phytochemical content of A. longifolia. It contains various phytochemicals in varying amounts in its different parts. The entire plant has been reported to contain lupeol, stigmasterol, an isoflavon glycoside, an alkaloid and small quantities of uncharacterized bases. The oil extracted out from its seeds contains about 23 % of linoleic acid, 10% of oleic acid, 12% of stearic acid, 6% of palmitic acid and small quantity of myristic acid.Sondhi and Agarwal,1995 isolated a number of minerals from the plant using Flame photometer, Atomic Absorption Spectrometer and Inductively coupled plasma. They found that the plant contained Mn, Mg, Zn, Ca, Fe, Ni, Cr, Na, K, Al, and Sr. Chowdhary and Bandhyopadhyay, 1998 confirmed the presence of Fe, Cu, and CO in the plant extract.Quasim and Dutta, and 1967 studied the root contents of the plant and found that it contained stigmasterol. The aerial parts of the plant contain lupeol, stigmasterol, and butelin. Seeds of the plant are reported to contain fatty acids as principal constituents. Mishra et al.2001, isolated two aliphatic easters from the aerial part of the plant.

Thus, from various researches done so far it has been confirmed that the plant A. longifolia contains Apignin-7-0-glucoside, 7-0- glucoside, histidine, lysine, phenylalanine, linoleic acid, palmitic acid, stearic acid, xylos, uronic acid, polysaccharides, xylan, protease, lupeol, betulin, phytosterol, ascorbic acid, nicotinic acid etc.


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Key words: Rasayan, Astercantha longifolia, medicinal, ethno-herbological, streptozotocin, Hepatoprotective

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