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Indian acalypha

Category: Medicines - plant based



Introduction and description


Acalypha indica is a plant in the family Euphorbiaceae.  It occurs widely throughout the tropics of the Old World.  It has an absolutely enormous number of different names -

  • English: Indian acalypha, Indian nettle, three-seeded mercury, Cancer Herb, Copperleaf, Indian Acalypha, Indian Nettle, Three-Seeded-Mercury
  • French: Ricinelle des Indes, oreille de chatte, herbe chatte,
  • Bengali - Muktajhuri,
  • Tamil: Poonamayakki,Kuppaimeni
  • Sinhalese: කුප්පමේනිය)

Acalypha indica  occurs throughout tropical Africa and South Africa, in India and Sri Lanka, as well as in Yemen and Pakistan. It occurs in Nigeria and from Sudan east to Somalia and south through DR Congo and East Africa to southern Africa including South Africa. It is also widespread in the Indian Ocean islands and occurs furthermore in South-East Asia and Oceania. It was introduced into the warmer parts of the New World.

Throughout the area where the plant grows, it is widely known for its effect on domestic cats, which react very strongly and favorably to the root of the plant. In this regard it is very similar to catnip, but the effect is much more pronounced. Due to this ability it is called Poonamayakki in Tamil, and Pokok Kucing Galak (Excited Cat Tree) in Malay.

In West and East Africa the plant is used as a medicinal plant. 


Prota4U [a database of plants]
Monoecious, annual to sometimes short-lived perennial herb up to 1.5(–2.5) m tall; stems sparingly to densely hairy.

Leaves arranged spirally, simple; stipules linear, c. 2 mm long; petiole up to 12 cm long; blade broadly ovate to ovate-lanceolate, 2–9 cm × 1–5 cm, base cuneate, apex acute, margins toothed, membranous, sparingly shortly hairy to almost glabrous on both surfaces, more hairy along the midrib, 5-veined at base and with 4(–5) pairs of lateral veins.


Inflorescence an axillary, solitary or paired spike up to 6(–10) cm long, lower 75% with laxly arranged female flowers, upper part with densely congested male flowers, usually terminated by a female flower; bracts in female flowers transversely ovate to almost orbicular, 0.5–1 cm × 1–1.5 cm, toothed, each subtending 1–2(–5) flowers. Flowers unisexual, sessile, petals absent; male flowers with 4-lobed, minute, granular dotted, greenish calyx, stamens 8; female flowers with 3 triangular-ovate, c. 1 mm long, ciliate sepals, ovary superior, c. 0.5 mm in diameter, 3-celled, slightly 3-lobed, styles 3, fused at base, c. 2 mm long, fringed, white.

Fruit a 3-lobed capsule c. 1.5 mm × 2 mm, granular dotted, shortly hairy, splitting into 3 cocci, each 2-valved and 1-seeded.

Seeds ovoid, c. 1.5 mm × 1 mm, smooth, grey, caruncle linear, appressed; terminal flower producing 1 seed.

Medicinal uses

The following also comes from Prota4U, a database of plants

The dried aerial parts contain a cyanogenic glycoside, acalyphin (0.3%) which is a 3-cyanopyridone derivative. Flavonoids, notably the kaempferol glycosides mauritianin, clitorin, nicotiflorin and biorobin, have been isolated from the flowers and leaves. The plant also contains tannins, ß-sitosterol (0.1%), acalyphamide, aurantiamide, succinimide and the pyranoquinolinone alkaloid flindersin.


Some of the compounds of Acalypha indica cause intense, dark chocolate-brown discolouration of blood, and gastro-intestinal irritation in rabbits. Furthermore, ingestion of herbal medicine containing Acalypha indica may lead to haemolysis in patients suffering from glucose-6-phosphatase dehydrogenase deficiency.

Ethanol extracts of Acalypha indica show significant selective activity against vesicular stomatitis viruses. Cytotoxic activity was observed against HeLa cell lines.

An ethanol leaf extract showed significant inhibition to Viper russelli venom-induced lethality, haemorrhage, necrotizing and mast cell degranulation in rats and the cardiotoxic and neurotoxic effects in isolated frog tissue. Administration of an ethanol extract also significantly inhibited venom-induced lipid peroxidation and catalase levels of rat kidney tissue.

Petroleum ether and ethanol extracts of the whole plant showed significant post-coital antifertility activity in female rats, and this anti-implantation activity was reversible on withdrawal of the extracts. Both extracts showed estrogenic activity at 600 mg/kg body weight.

An ethanol extract of the aerial parts showed moderate wound-healing activity when topically applied to rats.

Crude extracts as well as hexane, chloroform, acetone and methanol fractions of shoots, leaves and roots showed antibacterial and antifungal activity; the chloroform extract of shoots and leaves demonstrated the highest activity. It also showed larvicidal activity against the larvae of Aedes aegypti and Tribolium casteneum. A leaf paste showed significant in vitro (48 hr) and in vivo (14 days) acaricidal activity against Psoroptes cuniculi infesting rabbits.

Acalyphin is used as a substitute for ipecacuanha from Psychotria ipecacuanha (Brot.) Stokes, as a vermifuge, expectorant and emetic.

Analysis of the shoots yielded per 100 g edible portion: water 80 g, energy 269 kJ (64 kcal), protein 6.7 g, fat 1.4 g, carbohydrate 6 g, fibre 2.3 g, Ca 667 mg, P 99 mg, Fe 17 mg and ascorbic acid 147 mg


References and further reading

A lot more fascinating detail can be obtained by using the PROTA4U search page using the name of the plant. 


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