English: Snakeweed, Hindi: Dudhi,
The plant has a reputation for increasing milk flow in women, because of its milky latex, and is used for other female complaints as well as diseases of the respiratory tract. Other species of Euphorbia are sometimes substituted but this should be done with great care as many of these contain poisonous diterpene esters.
The plant is native to India but is a pantropical weed, found especially on roadsides and wasteland.
A small, erect or ascending annual herb reaching up to 50 cm, with hairy stems. The leaves are opposite, elliptical, oblong or oblong-lanceolate, with a faintly toothed margin and darker on the upper surface. The flowers are small, numerous and crowded together in dense cymes about 1 cm in diameter. The fruits are yellow, three-celled, hairy, keeled capsules, 1-2 mm in diameter, containing three brown, four-sided, angular, wrinkled seeds.
Traditional and modern use
The plant has been used for female disorders but is now more important in treating respiratory ailments, especially cough, coryza, bronchitis and asthma. In India it is used to treat worm infestations in children and for dysentery, gonorrhoea, jaundice, pimples, digestive problems and tumours.
The fresh milky latex is applied to wounds and warts and the root of the plant is used in sprains and inflammation, miscarriage, epilepsy, maggots in wounds and irregular growth of teeth.
Major chemical constituents
Euphorbianin, leucocyanidol, camphol, quercitrin and quercitol.
Gallic acid, myricitrin, 3,4-di-O-galloylquinic acid,2,4,6-tri-O-galloyl-D-glucose,
1 ,2,3 ,4,6-penta-O-galloyl-ß- D-glucose.
Euphorbins A, B, C, 0, E.7
Triterpenes and phytosterols
ß-Amyrin, 24-methylenecycloartenol, and ß-Sitosterol.
Heptacosane, n-nonacosane and others.
Medicinal and pharmacological activities
Antiamoebic activity: The polyphenolic extract of the whole plant inhibited the growth of Entamoeba histolytica with a minimum active concentration of less than 10 pg/ml.
Antispasmodic activity: The same extract, at a concentration of 80 µg/ml in an organ bath, also exhibited more than 70% inhibition of acetylcholine and/or KCI solution-induced contractions on isolated guinea pig ileum.
Antidiarrhoeal activity: The antidiarrhoeal activity of a lyophilised decoction of the whole plant was investigated in mice. It demonstrated activity in experimental models of diarrhoea induced by castor oil, arachidonic acid and prostaglandin E. Quercitrin, a flavonoid glycoside isolated from Euphorbia hirta, showed anti diarrhoeal activity, at doses of 50 mg/kg, against castor oil- and PGE2-induced diarrhoea in mice, but not when magnesium sulphate was used as a cathartic agent. It also delayed small intestinal transit in the rat if this was accelerated with castor oil, but did not modify the fluid transport across the colonic mucosa when administered intraluminally. However, quercetin, the aglycone of quercitrin, increased colonic fluid absorption in the presence of secretagogue compounds, suggesting that the antidiarrhoeal activity of quercitrin is due to its aglycone, which is released by the glycoside in the intestine.
Antiinflammatory activity: The n-hexane extract of the aerial parts of E. hirta and its main constituent triterpenes, ß-amyrin, 24-methylenecycloartenol, and ß-Sitosterol were evaluated for antiinflammatory effects in mice. Both the extract and the triterpenes exerted significant and dose-dependent anti. inflammatory activity in the model of phorbol acetate-induced ear inflammation in mice.n The lyophilised aqueous extract showed analgesic, antipyretic and antiinflammatory activity in mice and rats. A central depressant activity, expressed by a strong sedative effect associated with anxiolytic effect, was also observed.
Anticancer activity: Extracts of Euphorbia hirta have been found to show selective cytotoxicity against several cancer cell lines. The plant is useful in effective treatment of cancers, particularly malignant melanomas and squamous cell carcinomas.
Antibacterial activity: The antibacterial effects of a methanol extract of E. hina was demonstrated in vitro using species of Shigella. The extract was non-cytotoxic and antibacterial.
Immunomodulatory activity: Aqueous and aqueous-alcoholic extracts, containing flavonoids, polyphenols, sterols and terpenes, demonstrated immunostimulant activity. The aqueous extract affected lectin-induced lymphoblast transformation in vitro.
Antifungal activity: An ethanolic extract displayed antifungal activity when tested against the plant pathogens Colletotrichum capsici, Fusarium pallidoroseum, Botryodiplodia theobromae, Alternaria alternata, Penicillium citrinum, Phomopsis caricae-papayae and Aspergillus niger using the paper disc diffusion techniq ue.
Aflatoxin inhibition activity: An aqueous extract significantly inhibited aflatoxin production on rice, wheat, maize and groundnut.
Galactogenic activity: The powdered plant, given to female guinea pigs before puberty, increased the development of the mammary glands and induced secretion.
Antifertility activity: Euphorbia hirta at a dose level of 50 mg/kg body weight reduced the sperm motility and density of cauda epididymal and testis sperm suspension significantly, leading eventually to 100% infertility.
Antiasthmatic activity: The drug is reported to have a relaxation effect on the bronchial tubes and a depressant action on respiration.
Maximum tolerated dose of 50% alcoholic extract of whole plant when given IP to mice was found to be 1000 mg/kg body weight.
Dried plant: 120-300 mg or as infusion Liquid extract (1:1 in 45% alcohol): 0.1-0.3 ml
- Guna: Snigdha (unctuous)
- Rasa: Madhur (sweet)
- Veerya: Shita (cold)
- Vipaka: Madhur (sweet)
- Dosha: Pacifies pitta