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(Custard Apple family)


This large family of 2050 species in 125 genera is found mainly in the tropics (Mabberley 1987; Brummitt 1992). Although most occur in the Old World, the genus Annona L. is particularly well represented in the tropical regions of the Americas. Almost all are either trees of shrubs.

Many species, especially in the genera Annona and Artabotrys R.Br. bear edible fruit for which they are cultivated. Others, for example Cananga odorata Hook.f. & Thomson provide perfumery materials.

The sap and seed of many species of Annona and to a lesser extent other genera have been described as irritant. In common with other fragrance materials from plants, volatile oils from Cananga odorata have proved to be weak contact allergens.

Annickia polycarpa Setten & Maas
[syns Enantia polycarpa Engl. & Diels, Unona polycarpa DC., Xylopia polycarpa Oliv.]
African Yellow Wood

The bark extract from Enantia polycarpa is applied locally to ulcers and leprous spots, and a decoction is used for washing wounds, and is believed by Africans to be antiseptic (Irvine 1961).

Annona cherimola Mill.
[syns Annona pubescens Salisb., Annona tripetala Aiton]
Cherimoya, Cherimola, Cherimoyer, Custard Apple

This Peruvian species (to which the names Annona cherimolia and Annona cherimoya are widely misapplied), which is now widely distributed in the tropics, has edible fruit. The crushed seeds used in an alcoholic antiparasitic shampoo are said to have caused corneal ulcers (Romero 1947; Valdecacas 1947) and blindness (Allen 1943).

Annona chrysophylla Bojer

The sap of the trunk is said to be irritant (Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk 1962).

Annona muricata L.
Sour Sop, Corossol Épineux, Guanábana, Graviola, Durian Belanda, Durian Europa, Durian Makkah

The seeds contain a yellow oil which in India and Mexico is applied to the hair to kill lice, though it is irritant to the eyes (Burkill 1935, Irvine 1961). The fruit, which is covered with curved prickles, contains an edible pulp.

Annona reticulata L.
Custard Apple, Bullock's Heart, Nona, Lonang, Lonnek

The juice that exudes from cut branches is so acrid and irritant that it produces severe inflammation if it comes into contact with the conjunctiva (Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk 1962).

Annona senegalensis Pers. var. senegalensis Robyns & Ghesquière
Wild Custard Apple

Irvine (1961) records that the pulverised dried leaves and roots are applied to guinea worm sores [= dracunculiasis or dracunculosis or dracontiasis, caused by Dracunculus medinensis, fam. Dracunculidae. The guinea worm is a threadworm or filiarial worm. Human infestation is caused by drinking raw water containing water fleas infested with this worm].

Annona squamosa L.
[syns Annona asiatica L., Guanabanus squamosus M.Gómez, Xylopia frutescens Sieb. ex Presl, Xylopia glabra L.]
Custard Apple, Scaly Custard Apple, Sugar Apple, Sweet Sop, Pomme Cannelle, Pinha, Nona, Seri Kaya

The powdered seed is irritant. It is used as a pesticide; however, if the powder is brought into contact with the eyes, it can produce total blindness (Burkill 1935, Morton 1958). A tincture of the seeds caused dermatitis of the face and eyelids (Barreto 1949).

Asimina triloba Dunal
[syns Annona triloba L., Uvaria triloba Torr. & A.Gray]
Pawpaw, Papaw, Poor Man's Banana, Custard Apple

Some individuals develop dermatitis after handling the edible fruits (Muenscher 1951, Kingsbury 1964, Hardin & Arena 1974). Others who may not react to contact with the fruits may develop gastrointestinal symptoms after eating the fruit (Barber 1905).

According to Grieve (1931), the leaves are used as an application to boils and ulcers.

This and other species of Asimina Adans. are natives of eastern North America. The more widely distributed and cultivated tree Carica papaya L. (fam. Caricaceae) also provides edible fruit known as pawpaw or papaw.

Cananga odorata Hook.f. & Thomson
Ylang-Ylang Tree, Kenanga, Cananga, Chenanga, Kenanga Utan, Nyai, Nerian

The kenanga is a common village tree in Malaysia. Its fragrant flowers are worn for personal adornment. It was introduced to the island of Réunion in the western Indian Ocean in the late 18th century, and from there to Nossi-Bé and the Comoro Islands about a century ago (Klein 1975). The oil distilled from the flowers is known as cananga oil or more commonly ylang-ylang oil, and is used in perfumery (Arctander 1960, Klein 1975). This oil, when added to coconut oil and other ingredients makes the Macassar oil (Corner 1952) so familiar to the well groomed Edwardian male. The term Macassar oil is also applied to a product of Schleichera Willd. species (fam. Sapindaceae).

The constituents of ylang-ylang oil include geraniol and its acetate, linalool, eugenol, isoeugenol, α- and β-pinenes, p-cresyl methyl ether, various methylbutenols, etc., together with the sesquiterpenes caryophyllene, humulene, various isomers of cadinene, etc. (Greenberg & Lester 1954, Klein 1975). Cananga oil extracted from the flowers of plants growing in Java is said to contain fewer esters and more sesquiterpenes than ylang-ylang oil extracted from flowers growing in Réunion, Madagascar, and the Comoro Islands (Nakayama 1973).

Ylang-ylang oil has been accepted as an allergen and therefore removed from certain cosmetics (Anon 1973).

Undiluted ylang-ylang oil was found not to irritate mouse skin. However, cananga oil was irritating to rabbit skin. Ylang-ylang oil was slightly irritating to rabbit skin when applied for 24 hours under occlusion. Neither cananga oil nor ylang-ylang oil showed irritancy when applied to human skin at a concentration of 10% in petrolatum for 48 hours in a closed patch test. Allergenicity testing in human volunteers has been inconclusive. A repeated insult patch test carried out on 40 subjects using 10% ylang-ylang oil in petrolatum sensitised 5% of subjects in one study but no sensitisation potential could be demonstrated in two further studied using 105 and 43 subjects respectively. Maximisation tests each on 25 volunteers have also been performed using both cananga oil and ylang-ylang oil (both 10% in petrolatum) but no sensitisation reactions were produced (Opdyke 1973, Opdyke 1974).

No phototoxic effects could be demonstrated either with ylang-ylang oil or with ylang-ylang oil extra (Opdyke 1974, Forbes et al. 1977).

Cananga oil (15% in petrolatum) induced positive patch test reactions in 26 of 183 Japanese persons who had dermatitis from cosmetics. One of 40 control subjects showed a weak positive reaction. Ylang-ylang oil (5% in petrolatum) induced positive patch test reactions in 25 of 183 of the patients, but there were no positive reactions in 40 control subjects (Nakayama et al. 1974).

Duguetia staudtii Chatrou
[syns Pachypodanthium staudtii Engl. & Diels, Uvaria staudtii Engl. & Diels]

A decoction prepared from the bark of Pachypodanthium staudtii is used for killing head-lice (Irvine 1961).

Monodora myristica Dunal
Calabash Nutmeg, Jamaica Nutmeg

The aromatic seeds form a common ingredient in African medicines. When roasted and ground they are considered effective applied to sores, including those from Guinea worm. The powdered seeds are used for removing lice; when chewed and rubbed on the forehead, the seeds cure headache (Irvine 1961). [The Guinea worm is a threadworm or filiarial worm, Dracunculus medinensis. Human infestation is caused by drinking raw water containing water fleas infested with this worm.]

Monodora tenuifolia Benth.

After roasting and grinding, the seeds are rubbed on the skin for [unspecified] skin diseases (Irvine 1961).

Neostenanthera gabonensis Exell
[syn. Stenanthera bakuana A.Chev. ex Hutch. & Dalziel]

The dried pulverised leaves are used like snuff in Liberia for tumour of the nose (Irvine 1961).

Oxandra lanceolata Baill.
[syn. Uvaria lanceolata Scheffer]

This species provides a commercially valuable timber known as lancewood. Following a report by Maiden (1919) that splinters of Australian lancewood (Acacia shirleyi Maiden, fam. Leguminosae) could cause painful wounds, this and other lancewoods have been included in lists of dermatologically hazardous woods (Schwartz et al. 1947, Schwartz et al. 1957, McCord 1958) without any published evidence (Woods & Calnan 1976).

Polyalthia elongata Merr.

According to an herbarium note found by von Reis Altschul (1973) on a plant collected in the Philippine Islands, the plant when chewed produces itching.

Popovia diclina Sprague

The scented leaves are used as a body pomade in Liberia (Irvine 1961).

Stelechocarpus burakol Hook.f. & Thomson
Keppel Tree

The keppel tree produces its sweet, juicy fruit on the trunk and lower branches. Consumption of keppel apples causes all bodily excrements to smell like violets (Viola odorata L., fam. Violaceae). The trees was formerly planted about the palace harems in Java. In a harem lacking modern sanitary conveniences, the aroma of violets could be of great advantage (Menninger 1967).

Uvaria narum Wall.
[syn. Unona narum Dun.]

Referring to Uvaria natrum [sic], Grieve (1931) noted that the aromatic root bruised in salt water is used in India as an application to certain skin diseases. Nadkarni (1976) mentioned only that the root is used in erysipelas without providing any further detail.

Uvaria versicolor Pierre ex Engler & Diels
[syn. Uvaria chamae P.Beauv.]

According to Irvine (1961), the crushed root of Uvaria chamae, with Capsicum and other rubefacients, is a local counter-irritant. The juice of roots, stem, or leaves is commonly applied to wounds and sores, and leaf infusion is used as a lotion for injuries, swellings, ophthalmia, etc. The fruit juice heals cuts and wounds. The crushed seeds, with those of Piper guineense Schumach. & Thonn., are rubbed on the body.

Xylopia aethiopica A.Rich.
Ethiopian Pepper, Guinea Pepper, Piment Noir de Guinée, Negro Pepper, Spice Tree

The fruits and seeds are hot to the taste and are sold as a spice and as a substitute for pepper (Piper nigrum L., fam. Piperaceae). The crushed seeds rubbed on the forehead cure headache and neuralgia; a poultice of the fruit and/or leaves is similarly used. A decoction of the fruit is used as a lotion for boils and eruptions, and as a liniment for lumbago. The plant is used as a counter irritant. An extract of the bark is used by the Hausas as an ointment for sores. In Ghana the fruits and seeds are crushed together with other spices and the mixture, called kurobow in Twi, is applied to the skin, to which it imparts a whitish colour and a fragrant odour (Irvine 1961).

Xylopia quintashi Engl. & Diels

The soft inner bark is beaten, and rubbed on hands with knotty swellings (Irvine 1961).


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Richard J. Schmidt

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