Medicinal uses of Rauwolfia serpentina (Sarpagandha)

Rauwolfia serpentina (also spelled Rauvolfia serpentina), a member of the Apocynaceae family and known as ‘Indian snake root’ or ‘Sarpagandha’, is one of the most important medicinal plants for treating high blood pressure. It calms the central nervous system, regulates heart rate and reduces high blood pressure. 

Rauwolfia serpentina (also spelled Rauvolfia serpentina), a member of the Apocynaceae family and known as ‘Indian snake root’ or ‘Sarpagandha’


Indian medicine has recognized the soothing and relaxing effect of the plant for thousands of years. The root has been used to fight against fever, snake bites and mental illness. It is reported that after a hard day's work, Gandhi always took a cup of soothing Rauwolfia tea. 


It is a plant, the history of which is most fascinating. It has found its place in the literature of Charak, as early as 1000-800 B.C., who has mentioned it; by its Sanskrit name Sarpgandha. It was believed that snakes run away after finding the scent of this vegetation’s. According to others, the root of this plant looks like a serpent, but both assumptions look unrealistic and unfounded. The more appropriate reason for this name is that it has got therapeutic values in the victims of snake bite. 


There is popular folklore and belief that before fighting with the cobra the mangos first chew its leaf to gain strength. There is also believe that it serves as an antidote when its leaves are grounded, made a paste and applied to the toes of snake bitten victim. 


The generic name was given in the honour of a French Botanist and a well-known sixteenth-century German Physician, traveller and author Leonard Rauwolf of Augsburg. 


 Morphology of the Plant

 
The Sarpagandha plant is an evergreen perennial under shrub, growing to a height of 60-90 cm. Its leaves are simple, 7.5 cm long and 3.5 – 5 cm broad, elliptic or lanceolate, glabrous, bright-green above and pale green beneath pointed and occurring in whorls of 3-5. The inflorescence is a many flowered corymbs with white or pink flowers. 


The fruit is a drupe, 0.5 cm in diameter and shiny black when fully ripe. The root system consists of a prominent, tuberous, soft tap-root. The root system consists of a prominent, tuberous, soft tap-root. The root system consists of a prominent, tuberous, soft tap root reaching a length of 30-50 cm in a 2 year old plant. Its diameter at the thickest portion varies from 1.2 to 2.5 cm. The root-bark, which constitutes 40-60% of the whole root, is rich in alkaloids. The fresh roots emit a characteristic acrid aroma and are very bitter in taste. (Dey and De, 2010., Bein and Mukerji, 1965). 


Rauwolfia serpentina
(L.) Benth. ex. Kurz.

Rauwolfia serpentina (L.) Benth. ex. Kurz. is an under shrub, belongs to Apocynaceae family of dicotyledonous. It is indigenous to India and other tropical countries of Asia and is pan tropic in distribution. This species is declared as endangered.  It is known as sensitive species of Rauwolfia.


Rauvolfia caffra
Rauvolfia caffra is a tree which grows up to 35 m in height and its diameter is 1.5 m with a dense crown, bole straight, slightly buttressed. The bark light brown or grayish-white with irregular fissures; slash cream, exuding bitter white latex. 


The leaves in crowded whorls, simple, stipules absent, blade oblanceolate to linear oblanceolate, 6-32 x 1.5-7 cm, apex obtuse to acute or sub acuminate, base cuneate, margins entire, glabrous, shiny green above, paler below and lateral nerves 18-30 pairs. The petiole is 0.5-6 cm long. Inflorescences are terminal compound umbel, peduncle is 2 to 6 cm long, bracts minute; flowers bisexual, 5merous, white, pedicles 1 mm long.


Rauvolfia tetraphylla
It is very common species known as Devil Pepper, Be Still Tree, American serpent wood, devil root and milk bush. It is native of Tropical America. It is a small tree or shrub. It grows up to height of 6 ft. The leaves are acute in shape, medium to dark green in color, and occur in groups of 4 unequally-sized leaves at each node. The flowers are white coloured and very small up to length of 5 mm. leaves develop in the late summer to early fall. The leaves are used in urinary retention, epilepsy, insomnia, wounds, and fever. 


Chemical constiruents

 
Reserpine
Reserpine may be a single organic compound, it’s crystalline in nature, and it’s derived from the roots of Rauwolfia, and it had been initial isolated in 1952. It’s a comparatively weak tertiary base occurring within the natural resin fraction of the roots, and it is employed in the treatment of cardiovascular disease, vessel diseases, and medical specialty diseases. The medicine properties of Rauwolfia roots are attributed to the antihypertensive drug. It was the foremost outstanding of all alkaloids and used in the main as a natural psychotropic agent


Ajmaline
Brugada syndrome is diagnosed exploitation ajmaline and differentiating between subtypes of patients with this unwellness. On the idea of their mechanism of action, these agents are primarily classified into four major teams, i.e., metal channel blockade, betaadrenergic blockade, repolarization prolongation, and atomic number 20 channel blockade. Ajmaline may be a metal channel blocker that shows instant action once given intravenously, that makes it ideal for diagnostic functions


Ajmalicine
Besides having blood pressure lowering properties it restores normal cerebral blood flow by its action on smooth muscles. It is estimated that about 3500 K.G. of Ajmelicine is isolated from Rauvolfia every year. 


Yohimbine
This alkaloid is mainly used in erectile dysfunction. It a selective Alfa blocker, relaxes the smooth muscles of the blood vessel wall, thereby it increases the blood flow to the penis. The other pharmacologically useful alkaloids are Serpentine, Rescinnamine and Deserpidine. 


Phenols
Phenols are secondary plant metabolites. Their presence prevents the growth of pest and pathogens in the plant. It shows significant antidiabetic and hypolipidaemic properties.
 

Tannin and flavonoids
Tannins have astringent properties and they hasten the healing of wounds and control inflammation. Flavonoids are potent water-soluble antioxidants and free radical scavengers. Thus they provide antiinflammatory and anticancer activities.
The Rauvolfia plant contains a large amount of macro and micronutrients. It is rich in calcium and zinc. It is a good source of ascorbic acid, riboflavin, thiamine, and niacin.


Medicinal uses


High blood pressure:

The Rauwolfia herb is the best remedy for high blood pressure and it has been adapted by medical fraternity in most countries. Those alkaloids which have a direct effect on hypertension have been isolated in it and are widely used by the practitioners of modern medicine. But they have certain unpleasant side effects which the drug taken in its raw form, does not have. Half a teaspoon of its powder taken thrice a day is effective in relieving hypertension. 


In insanity:

The Rauwolfia plant is highly beneficial in treating insanity. One gram of powdered root can be taken twice a day with 250 ml of goat’s milk, sweetened with sugar candy. It is unsuitable for those with a low blood pressure, depressed and hypotensive patients. 


In insomnia:
Rauwolfia is a wee-known remedy in treating insomnia because of its sedative properties. The very first dose of Rauwolfia enables the patient of a phlegmatic and gouty nature to go to sleep. About 0.6 to 1.25 grams of the powder of its root is mixed with some scented vehicle and taken. It is non-stimulating and should be given in doses of 0.25 grams to the patient at bedtime for sound sleep. 


In Hysteria:
Rauwolfia is useful in treating hysteria. One gram of powdered root can be administered thrice with milk. Treatment should be continued till a complete cure is obtained. 


Prostate cancer:
Various parts of this plant have been used as a traditional medicine for centuries to treat a variety of ailments including fever, general weakness, intestinal diseases, liver problems and mental disorders. Extracts from the root bark of this plant are enriched with compounds of ß-carboline alkaloid family of which the main constituent is alstonine. 


This compound has been previously reported to reduce tumour cell growth in mice inoculated with YC8 lymphoma cells or Ehrlich ascitic cells. The plant extract has anti-prostate cancer activity in both in vitro and in vivo model systems which, based upon analyses of gene expression patterns of treated prostate cancer cells, may be modulated by its effects on DNA damage and cell cycle control signalling pathways


In itching skin: 
It relieves itching in urticaria. One gram of powdered root can be taken with water
 

Snake, insect and animal bite: 
There are many folk-lore’s about this plant. One of which is that a mongoose would first chew upon its leaves to gain power before combating a cobra. According to another, it’s freshly ground leaves when applied to the toes could serve as an antidote for snake poison. In case of snake-bite, juice extracted from leaves taken twice a day for three days. 


15 g of roots along with roots of Cassia tora and Holarrhena pubescens paste applied twice a day for two days by Khamptis of Arunachal Pradesh, India. The roots and leaves of this plant are crushed with milk and made into a paste and used internally and externally on the affected area in case of snakebite by the people of Bhadra wildlife sanctuary in Karnataka ((Sen et. al., 2008 and  Parinitha et. al., 2004).

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