Rauvolfia vomitoria AFZEL (African Snakeroot)
Category: Medicines - plant based
Introduction and description
Rauvolfia vomitoria is a plant species in the genus Rauvolfia. Common names include African snakeroot, poison devil's-pepper, African Serpentwood, Akanta, Asofeyeje, Eto Mmong Eba Ebot In, Ira, Mmoneba, Poison Devil-pepper, Serpent Snake Root, Serpent Wood, Swizzle-Stick Tree, Utoenyin, Wada.
Rauvolfia is a genus of evergreen trees and shrubs, commonly known as devil peppers, in the dogbane family, Apocynaceae. The genus contains well over 70 species, many of which have similar chemical compositions. Rauvolfia serpentina, commonly known as Indian Snakeroot or Sarpagandha, for example, and African snakeroot both contain Reserpine in the root.
The genus name Rauvolfia commemorates the 16th century German physician and botanist Leonhart Rauwolf, who travelled widely in his search for medicinal plants. His main claim to fame derives from a trip he made through the Levant and Mesopotamia in 1573-75 in a search for herbal medicine supplies. After he returned, he published a set of new botanical descriptions and a general travel narrative about his visit.
The genus name was established by Carl Linnaeus in his 1753 book Species Plantarum, which states in Botanical Latin that the name is dedicated "to Leonhard Rauwolf": "Leon. Rauvolfio". Thus although the ‘w’ in his name was replaced by a Classical Latin letter "v" this is the accepted code of nomenclature.
Rauvolfia vomitoria, is native to tropical Africa from Senegal east to Sudan + Tanzania, south to Angola; and naturalized in China, Bangladesh, and Puerto Rico. It has been identified as an invasive species in Hawai’i (O’ahu).
The genus Rauvolfia can mainly be found in tropical regions of Africa, Asia, Latin America, and various oceanic islands.
Rauvolfia vomitoria is a shrub or small tree up to about 26 foot high [8 metres]. The flowers are small and usually white or greenish white in colour.
It is recognised in traditional medicine that the plant is essentially poisonous. However, extractions and concoctions can be used in medicine and the roots, root bark, leaves, and stem bark are the parts used for herbal remedies. The roots can be harvested without destroying the plant by cutting them 4 inches from the tap root. Traditional healers use carefully mixed decoctions of the parts of the plant often mixed with other plants, for example:
- A decoction of the pulp of the root drunk with water as a sedative in psychiatric illness
- A mixture of the root of this plant along with the leaves of a number of other plants crushed and then strained and mixed with water, in treating epilepsy
- A maceration of the root in palm wine to treat gonorrhea
- A bath taken in the macerated leaves is used for fever
In other words they use and used the plant to treat the cause of the illness by using it as a targeted anti-bacterial agent, or a purgative for worms and other parasites.
Studies of the plant and its phytochemical constituents has been ongoing from about the mid 1950s. Schiller and Muller of CIB Pharmaceuticals in Switzerland in 1952 identified that the main alkaloid is Reserpine. Reserpine was then commercially exploited as a pharmaceutical. Reserpine (also known by trade names Raudixin, Serpalan, Serpasil) is a drug that is used for the treatment of high blood pressure.
In other words, the uses to which Reserpine were put completely ignored all the traditional uses of the plant and ignored all the safety procedures built in to ensure no ill effects were obtained. The chart below shows the Adverse Drug Reports submitted to the FDA in the USA, the tailing off is due largely to the fact the drug is out of favour because of these effects.
And now we turn to Wikipedia for more detail:
The antihypertensive actions of reserpine are due to its antiadrenergic effects, which are a result of its ability to deplete catecholamines (among other monoamine neurotransmitters) from peripheral sympathetic nerve endings. These substances are normally involved in controlling heart rate, force of cardiac contraction and peripheral vascular resistance. …. the most common adverse effect being nasal stuffiness. Reserpine has also been used for relief of psychotic symptoms.
Reserpine-mediated depletion of monoamine neurotransmitters in the synapses is often cited as evidence to the theory that depletion of the monoamine neurotransmitters causes subsequent depression in humans
According to eHealthme, in their study of actual patients who take this drug, the most common side effects are:
- Confusional state and blurred vision
- Acute hepatic [liver] failure
- Renal failure (kidney failure)
- Syncope (loss of consciousness with an inability to maintain postural tone)
- Tinnitus (a ringing in the ears)
- Blood bilirubin increased
- Phimosis (a congenital narrowing of the opening of the foreskin so that it cannot be retracted)
- White blood cell count decreased
- Ventricular tachycardia (rapid heartbeat that originates in one of the lower chambers (the ventricles) of the heart)
People in shock being poisoned experience a lowering of the blood pressure. Shock from poisoning can result in syncope, tinnitus, blurred vision, palpitations and organ failure. So we can probably conclude that despite the complex language used above, doctors are reducing your blood pressure by poisoning you.
If we now look at Dr Duke’s analysis of the chemical constituents of this plant it should be clear that its medical effects in relation to epilepsy and other psychotic problems are not obtained from Reserpine [which may well exacerbate them], but the combination of chemicals like Yohimbine in the plant; Stigmasterol in the root, which is a sedative and protects the liver; Rescinnamine in the Root: which is an Antihypertensive , Sedative and Tranquilizer. And so we could continue.
By not understanding the complex interplay between the plant’s chemicals and thinking that one chemical does one thing, chemists have created a drug that actually kills people. Of the 196 people who had side effects while taking Reserpine, studied by the doctors of the eHealthme team using FDA supplied data, one of them died.
Rauvolfia vomitoria contains a number of chemical compounds with very useful antimalarial, antiplasmodial, antiamebic, antibacterial and anti-fungal properties whose properties appear to be entirely ignored in the analyses, but are well recognised in traditional medicine, for example
- Alpha-Yohimbine Plant: Antimalarial IC50=>200 uM RAS ; Antiplasmodial
- Alstonine Root: Antiamebic ; Antibacterial; Fungicide
- Aricine Leaf:; Amebicide
Rauvolfia vomitoria is applied to the skin for snake bites, skin infections, and swelling and is placed in the rectum for worms in the intestine in traditional medicine.
References and further reading
- Medicinal and Poisonous Plants of the Tropics. Leeuwenberg, A.J.M., ed. Pudoc, Wageningen. 1987
- Recio, M. C., Rios, J. L., and Villar, A., A review of some antimicrobial compounds isolated from medicinal plants reported in the literature 1978-1988, Phytotherapy Research, 3(4), 1989, 117-125.
- Duke, James A. 1992. Handbook of biologically active phytochemicals and their activities. Boca Raton, FL. CRC Press
- Jeffery B. Harborne and H. Baxter, eds. 1983. Phytochemical Dictionary. A Handbook of Bioactive Compounds from Plants. Taylor & Frost, London
- Pizzorno, J.E. and Murray, M.T. 1985. A Textbook of Natural Medicine. John Bastyr College Publications, Seattle, Washington
- Rukunga, G. and Simons, A. J. 2006. The Potential of Plants as a Source of Antimalarial Agents - A Review. Africa Herbal Antimalaria Meeting. PlantaPhile Publications, Berlin
- ANON. 1948-1976. The Wealth of India raw materials. Publications and Information Directorate, CSIR, New Delhi. 11 volumes
- Anti-prostate cancer activity of a beta-carboline alkaloid enriched extract from Rauwolfia vomitoria 027913
- Antitumor Activities of Rauwolfia vomitoria Extract and Potentiation of Carboplatin Effects Against Ovarian Cancer 027915
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Antiamebic activity 018341
- Dr Duke’s List of Chemicals and their Biological Activities in: Rauvolfia vomitoria AFZEL. (Apocynaceae) -- African Snakeroot 027914
- Two Monoterpenoid Indole Alkaloids from Rauvolfia vomitoria 027917