Category: Medicines - plant based
Introduction and description
Gloriosa superba is a species of flowering plant in the family Colchicaceae.
It is the national flower of Zimbabwe and also the state flower of Tamil Nadu. In 1947, Queen Elizabeth II received a diamond brooch in the shape of this flower for her twenty-first birthday while traveling in what was then Rhodesia.
English language common names include flame lily, climbing lily, creeping lily, glory lily, gloriosa lily, tiger claw, and fire lily. Names in other languages include kalihari (Hindi), Agni shikha or Potti Naabhi (Telugu), Kaanthal (Tamil), ulotchondal (Bengali), lis de Malabar (French), aranha de emposse (Portuguese), bandera española [Spanish flag] (Spanish), mkalamu (Swahili), klänglilja (Swedish), riri (Māori), and jia lan (Chinese). It is native to much of Africa and Asia, but it is known worldwide as “an ornamental plant, a medicine, a poison, and a noxious weed”!
Gloriosa superba is a perennial herb growing from a fleshy rhizome. It climbs using tendrils, the stem reaching 4 meters long. The leaves are mainly alternately arranged, but they may be opposite, as well. They are somewhat lance-shaped and tipped with tendrils, and they are up 13 to 20 centimeters long.
The gorgeous flower has six tepals each up to 5 to 7.6 centimeters long. They are generally bright red to orange at maturity, sometimes with yellowish bases. The margins may be quite wavy. The six stamens also are long, up to 4 centimeters, and each bears a large anther at the tip that drops large amounts of yellow pollen. The style may be more than 6 centimeters long. One flower may weigh over 2.5 grams.
The fruit is a fleshy capsule up to 6 to 12 centimeters long containing red seeds.
Cultivars of this popular garden plant may vary from these wild-type characteristics; the cultivar 'Lutea' has all-yellow tepals, 'Citrina' is yellow with red markings, and 'Nana' is a dwarf. Whitish forms are known, as well.
The plant is pollinated by butterflies and sunbirds. It grows in many types of habitat, including tropical jungles, forests, thickets, woodlands, grasslands, and sand dunes. It can grow in nutrient-poor soils and be found at as high as 2500 meters in elevation.
In general, this plant is common in the wild. It is in great demand for medicinal use, so it is cultivated on farms in India, but most plant material sold into the pharmaceutical trade comes from wild populations. This is one reason for its decline in parts of its native range.
In Sri Lanka it has become rare, and in Orissa it is thought to be nearing extinction. On the other hand, it has been introduced outside its native range and has become a weed which may be invasive. In Australia, for example, it now can be found growing in coastal areas of Queensland and New South Wales. It also is cited as an invasive species in the Cook Islands, French Polynesia, Kiribati, and Singapore.
Gloriosa superba is poisonous, toxic enough to cause human and animal fatalities if ingested. Every part of the plant is poisonous, especially the tuberous rhizomes.
And yet, as with many plants, the same chemical or chemical group that is poisonous also has medicinal uses, though clearly you must understand how and why before it is used. As with other members of the Colchicaceae, this plant contains high levels of colchicine, it is the colchicine which is poisonous, but it is the colchicine that can be used medicinally.
The key appears to be the dose, but also the part of the plant used. Dr Duke's analysis [see observations] covers only the plant, but traditional medicine uses the seeds, and considerable preparation is needed on the seeds
Gloriosa superba L. (Liliaceae) seeds, known as "kalihari" (Hindi), were phytochemically investigated for colchicine ...and other related alkaloid content. Colchicine, 2- demethylcolchicine, 3-demethylcolchicine, and N-formyl-N-deacetylcolchicine were alkaloids isolated from the seeds. ... The purity of colchicine, 2- demethylcolchicine, 3- demethylcolchicine and N-formyl-N-deacetylcolchicine were 99.82, 96.78, 98.71, and 98.13% respectively. PMID: 20645842
Ingesting the plant and not the seeds
The following comes directly from Wikipedia
Within a few hours of the ingestion of a toxic amount of plant material, a victim may experience nausea, vomiting, numbness, and tingling around the mouth, burning in the throat, abdominal pain, and bloody diarrhea, which leads to dehydration. As the toxic syndrome progresses, rhabdomyolysis, ileus, respiratory depression, hypotension, coagulopathy, haematuria, altered mental status, seizures, coma, and ascending polyneuropathy may occur. Longer-term effects include peeling of the skin and prolonged vaginal bleeding in women. Colchicine is known to cause alopecia. One case report described a patient who accidentally ate the tubers and then experienced hair loss over her entire body, including complete baldness. Poisonings can occur when the tubers are mistaken for sweet potatoes or yams and eaten. The plant can be dangerous for cats, dogs, horses, and livestock, as well.
Colchicine in particular but also a number of other chemicals in Glory Lily seeds have anti-viral activity, quite potent anti-viral activity. We have included an analysis of the plant from Dr Duke that shows that the plant is active against some very tough viruses. Whether the seeds are active against these same viruses remains to be discovered, but some preliminary studies seem very promising.
The plant [seeds] has long been used as a traditional medicine in many cultures and it has been used in the treatment of virus induced arthritis, cholera, typhus, leprosy, smallpox, sexually transmitted diseases, and many types of internal parasites. Tough pathogens often need tough treatment.
Pericarditus can be caused by viruses. In recent studies colchicine has been tested to see if it can help.
Pericarditis is the inflammation of the pericardium, the membranous sac surrounding the heart. Recurrent pericarditis is the most common complication of acute pericarditis, causing severe and disabling chest pains. Recurrent pericarditis affects one in three patients with acute pericarditis within the first 18 months. Colchicine has been suggested to be beneficial in preventing recurrent pericarditis………………..Colchicine, ….. is effective in reducing the number of pericarditis recurrences in patients with recurrent pericarditis or acute pericarditis. However, evidence is based on a limited number of small trials. Patients with multiple resistant recurrences were not represented in any published or on-going trials, and it is these patients that are in the most need for treatment. PMID: 25164988
We have included other observations to show that potentially this plant's seeds are exceptionally important medicinally.
- Dr Duke's list of Chemicals and their Biological Activities in: Gloriosa superba L. (Liliaceae) -- Glory Lily 018893
- Dr Duke's list of Plants containing SALICYLIC ACID 020467
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with AntiBehcet's Activity 018891
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with AntiPaget's Activity 019159
- In vitro anti-proliferative activity on colon cancer cell line (HT-29) of Thai medicinal plants selected from Thai/Lanna medicinal plant recipe database "MANOSROI III" 018896
- Potent anti-proliferative effects against oral and cervical cancers of Thai medicinal plants selected from the Thai/Lanna medicinal plant recipe database "MANOSROI III" 018895
- Potent Antiproliferative Effect on Liver Cancer of Medicinal Plants Selected from the Thai/Lanna Medicinal Plant Recipe Database "MANOSROI III" 018894
- Purification of 3 monomeric monocot mannose-binding lectins and their evaluation for antipoxviral activity: potential applications in multiple viral diseases caused by enveloped viruses 018892