Nigeria’s medicinal plants: Andrographis paniculata (meje meje)

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Andrographis paniculata belongs to the family Acanthaceae. It is an erect branched annual. The leaves are lanceolate and the flowers are small, white with a rose coloured mark. The seeds are many, rugosely pitted and yellowish brown when dry.

Here comes the king of bitters! That name fits it perfectly because it is very bitter. I have the powdered form of the leaves and without even tasting it, each time I open the container it is kept, I feel the bitter taste in my throat!  My mum visited, so, because I have told her so much about the plant, I opened the bowl I kept it in for her to see. She also felt the bitterness in her throat as I opened it. I was almost rolling on the floor laughing when she said, “I can smell something as you opened the bowl.” I reminded her that she does not have the sense of smell (it is hereditary for her). I told her it was the bitterness of the herb that she felt in her throat. It is sometimes referred to as ewe korobi-jogbo (bitter like jogbo leaf) but popularly called meje meje (seven- seven) among the Yoruba because an average dosage comprises seven leaves eaten raw once or twice daily for about five days. I got to know that it is sold in capsules.

Andrographis paniculata is an important medicinal plant that is widely used around the world. It is ethnobotanically used for the treatment of snake bite, bug bite, diabetes, dysentery, fever and malaria. The aerial parts of the plant contain a large number of diterpenes, whilst the presence of flavones in the root has also been reported. This plant exhibits various biological activities such as anti-microbial, cytotoxicity, anti-protozoan, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, immunostimulant, anti-diabetic, anti-infective, anti-angiogenic, hepato-renal protective, sex hormone modulatory, liver enzymes modulatory and insecticidal activities. It also has anti-cancer, anti-diarrheal, anti-hepatitis, anti-HIV, anti-hyperglycemic, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial and anti-malarial activities.

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The roots and leaves are primarily used to reduce fever, tone the stomach, increase appetite and generally improve overall health condition. It also has a significant anti-inflammatory effect and it inhibits oedema. Decoction of the leaves or roots can be used as treatment for stomach pain, dysentery, typhus, cholera, influenza and bronchitis. Infusion can be used for treating female disorders, dyspepsia, hypertension, gonorrhoea, jaundice, rheumatism, amenorrhoea and torpid liver. When used as a poultice, it cures swollen legs or feet, vitiligo and piles. It can also be a remedy for diabetes when used together with Orthosiphon aristatus. It is used to treat hepatitis, gastrointestinal tract and upper respiratory infections, fever, herpes and a variety of other chronic and infectious diseases.

Trials using the leaf extract have concluded that the powdered leaves have the capacity to significantly shorten the duration of common colds and that the leaves can be as effective as paracetamol in relieving fever and sore throat of people with pharyngotonsillitis. The leaves have also been shown to have significant anti-inflammatory effects and also significantly inhibit oedema. An ethanol extract of the leaves stimulates both antigen-specific and nonspecific immune responses more than the purified leaf extracts. An ethanol extract has also shown significant antipyretic activity. A standardised leaf extract exhibits significant antipyretic properties and is an effective analgesic. The crude water extract of the leaves as well as the semi-purified n-butanol and aqueous fractions have shown significant hypotensive activity.  An extract of the leaves has also been shown to lower cholesterol levels, whilst anti-thrombotic effects were also observed. It is believed that these effects might be at least partially due to flavones present in the extract.

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Various preparations and compound formulas of the herb have been used to treat infectious and non-infectious diseases with significant efficacy reported in case of epidemic encephalitis B, neonatal subcutaneous annular ulcer, vaginitis, cervical erosion, pelvic inflammation, herpes zoster, chicken pox, mumps, neurodermatitis, eczema, and burns. Administered intraperitoneally, the diterpenes andrographiside and neoandrographolide (found in the leaves) have a significant protective effect on the liver. An extract of the leaves has shown antidiarrhoeal activity. The diterpenes andrographolide and neoandrographolide isolated from the alcoholic extract showed potent antisecretory activity against Escherichia coli enterotoxin induced secretions. Various compounds have shown significant anti-ulcer properties. It is suggested that this effect is due to the antisecretory activity and protective effect on the gastric mucosa. Oral administration of 20mg of the dry leaf powder for 60 days has an antifertility effect in males. The alcoholic extract of the rhizomes exhibits good in vitro anthelmintic activity against Ascaris lumbricoides. Neoandrographolide, isolated from the leaves, exhibits significant antimalarial activity. An infusion or sap from the crushed leaves has been recommended for the treatment of fever, as a tonic and for itching skin eruptions. A decoction of the leaves or roots is used against stomach-ache, dysentery, typhus, cholera, influenza and bronchitis, as a vermifuge and is considered a diuretic. Pills or infusions are also recommended to treat female disorders, dyspepsia, hypertension, rheumatism, gonorrhoea, amenorrhoea, torpid liver and jaundice. Another use is as a poultice on swollen legs or feet, vitiligo and piles.

It is used for digestive complaints including diarrhoea, constipation, intestinal gas, colic, and stomach pain; for liver conditions including an enlarged liver, jaundice, and liver damage due to medications; for infections including leprosy, pneumonia, tuberculosis, gonorrhoea, syphilis, malaria, cholera, leptospirosis, rabies, sinusitis, and HIV/AIDS; and for skin conditions including wounds, ulcers and itchiness. Some people use andrographis for sore throat, coughs, swollen tonsils, bronchitis and allergies. It is also used for “hardening of the arteries” (atherosclerosis) and prevention of heart disease and diabetes. Other uses include treatment of snake and insect bites, loss of appetite, kidney problems (pyelonephritis), haemorrhoids, and an inherited condition called familial Mediterranean fever. Andrographis is also used as an astringent, bacteria killing agent, painkiller, fever reducer, and treatment for worms. The plants are also recommended for the use in cases of leprosy, gonorrhoea, scabies, boils, skin eruptions, and chronic and seasonal fever because of its high “blood purifying” properties.

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 In a study titled, “Antimicrobial and Antioxidant Activities of Crude Methanol Extract and Fractions of Andrographis paniculata leaf,’’ by Banji Adaramola et al, the conclusion is that the crude methanol extract of A. paniculata leaf and its fractions showed considerable antimicrobial and antioxidants activities. It was therefore concluded that the ethyl acetate fraction of the leaves’ crude methanol extract contained most of the bioactive components with both antibacterial and anti-candida activities. However, the best antioxidant activity was exhibited by the crude methanol extract and this was attributed to its possession of the highest flavonoid content. The study further supports the traditional use of this plant for the treatment of various infections and diseases, such as food poisoning, typhoid, diarrhoea, urinary tract infection, boil, skin rashes, inflammation, ageing, heart diseases, cataracts etc.

This is another plant that has been reported to have a broad range of pharmacological effects. It is “a must have” in your home.

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