Traditional medicine practitioners have used Trichosanthes tricuspidata in the treatment of a wide range of ailments. The authors review current scientific knowledge and call for further research to explore the potential of this little-exploited plant.
The uses to which practitioners of traditional medicine
and ayurveda put plants are well known
to those communities, yet in many cases they are not well documented in
English. We present this mini-review of the uses of one such plant as part of
an occasional series highlighting herbal remedies that would benefit from additional
India, with its great biodiversity, has a tremendous
potential and advantage in the emerging field of herbal medicines. Medicinal
plants as a group comprise approximately 7500 species and include
representatives of about 17,000 species of higher flowering plants (1). Three
hundred species are used by 7800 medicinal drug manufacturing units in India
(2) which consume about 2000 tons of herbs annually (3).
There are estimated to be more than 717,319 registered
practitioners of ayurveda, siddha, unani and homeopathy in India (4)
and in recent years, the growing demand for herbal products has led to the
extinction of many important herbs. Trichosanthes tricuspidata is a
little-exploited plant with immense medicinal potential (5,6). Considering its
importance, more research is needed to explore the potential of this plant.
Traditional medicine systems are part of India’s
culture. Today the whole world has become increasingly interested in Indian ayurveda
and other traditional health systems. The demand for medicinal plants is
increasing in both developing and more-developed countries as a result of
recognition of the non-narcotic nature, lack of side effects and easy
availability of many herbal drugs. Most often the medicinal plants are
collected from the wild. This uncontrolled harvesting has resulted in the
extinction of many plants and created huge issues related to the potency and
quality of medicinal products derived from those plants.
There are numerous data on the uses of medicinal
plants. Gadgil and Vartak (7) have reported the uses of such plants in India.
The therapeutic potential of various herbal drugs ranges from the use of parts
of plants to simple extracts to isolated active constituents. In the present
paper we have attempted to briefly summarize the information available on the
potency of Trichosanthes tricuspidata because of its immense medicinal
Botany and distribution
T. tricuspidata, also known as T. palmata
Roxb., T. bracteata Lamb., T. pubera Blume or Modeccca bracteata,
belongs to the family cucurbitaceae and is known by various vernacular names.
In Hindi it is known as Lal Indrayan; in English, Redball snakegourd; in
Malaya, Kalayar; in Marathi, Kaundal; in Telugu, Avuduta;
in Thai, Khe- Ka- Daeng and in Nepal, Indreni.
T. tricuspidata is a vine which is found at an
elevation of 1200 to 2300 m. It ranges from the Eastern Himalayas in India and
southern China through southern Japan, Malaysia, and tropical Australia. In India
it is a large climber, often attaining a height of 9-10 meters. It has a robust
stem that is woody below, and has 3-cleft tendrils. The leaves are variable, palmately
3-5 lobed with a cordate base, and the lobes are ovate to oblong with serrate
or dentate margins. Male flowers are in axillary 5-10 flowered racemes with
large bracts, while the female flowers are solitary. The corolla petals are
wedge-shaped, fringed and white in color. The fruits are globose, and when ripe
are red with ten orange streaks.
T. tricuspidata is considered to be medicinally
important in several traditional systems. In ayurvedic medicines, the
fruits are used in the treatment of asthma, earache and ozoena (intranasal
crusting, atrophy and fetid odor). In the Unani system of medicine, the fruits
are used as a carminative (an agent that relieves flatulence), a purgative, and
an abortifacient, to lessen inflammation, cure migraines, and reduce heat of
the brain, as a treatment for opthalmia (inflammation of the eye), leprosy
(infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium leprae), epilepsy (episodic
impairment or loss of consciousness, abnormal motor phenomenon) and rheumatism,
(painful local inflammation of joints and muscles) as well as other uses. The
seeds are emetic and a good purgative. In the Thai traditional system of
medicine, the plant is used as an anti-fever remedy, a laxative, an anthelmintic
as well as in migraine treatments (8). The roots of the plant are used to treat
lung diseases in cattle and for the treatment of diabetic carbuncles and
headaches (9). Gaur (10) has reported the use of this plant in curing
bronchitis, and the application of seed paste for hoof and mouth disease in
The vaidyas, or practictioners of ayurveda,
also use the fruits in treating stomatitis. The oil extracted from the roots is
used as a pain killer. In Bastar District, Chhattisgarh, India, the plant is
used for curing snakebite poisoning and the juice of the plant is applied
externally for skin eruptions. In Nepal the roots are used to cure bleeding in
Mohamed (11) isolated a tetrahydroxy pentacyclic triterpene
“trichotetrol” from the root extract of this vine. From the fruits of T. tricuspidata,
14 cucurbitane glycosides were isolated (8). An extract of the fruits of this
plant was found to be cytotoxic in KB cells, and two new cucurbitacins were
reported: tricuspidatin and 2-O-glucocucurbitacin J. (12). Kaneda and Uchikoba
(13) reported a protease from the sarcocarp of the fruits of this plant. The
root contains methyl palmitate, palmitic acid, suberic acid, α-spinasterol,
glyceryl 1-palmitate, glyceryl 1-stearate, bryonolic acid, cucurbitacin B, isocucurbitacin
B, 3-epi-isocucurbitacin B, 23,24-dihydrocucurbitacin D, isocucurbitacin D and
D-glucose. The roots of T. tricuspidata contain more than 6 times more cucurbitacin
than the roots of T. kirilowii Maxim. Var. japonicum Kitam. (14).
Kasai et.al., (15) isolated 3 new cycloartane glycosides, named cyclotricuspidosides
A, B and C, from the leaf and stem parts.
A perusal of the literature shows that T. tricuspidata
has been widely used for curing asthma, migraine, fever, diabetic carbuncles
and other maladies. A number of pharmacologically important phytochemicals,
such as cucurbitacins and trichotetrol, have been isolated from this plant.
This report has provided an introduction to the panoply of reported therapeutic
uses of T. tricuspidata. Clearly, further efforts are required in order
to better understand the biological activities reported, and to isolate,
purify, and chemically characterize the active principles of T. tricuspidata.
Randomized trials should ultimately be conducted to rigorously evaluate the
safety and efficacy of some of the most widely reported curative applications
of this popular medicinal plant.
(Click to enlarge)
Figure 1: Botanical drawing of Trichosanthes tricuspidata
(Click to enlarge)
Figure 2: T. tricuspidata in its flowering stage
(Click to enlarge)
Figure 3: The fruiting stage of T. tricuspidata
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