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(Moonseed family)


350 species in 65 genera are found in warm regions.

A few species are medicinal on account of a bitter principle in the root.

[Summary yet to be added]

Anamirta cocculus

The fruits are used as a fish-poison. Cavities in the plants are inhabited by mites (acarodomatia). Application of a preparation of the plant to the scalp reportedly produced a scarlet eruption on the body and arms (Piffard 1881).

Waring (1883) noted that in India, the seeds, beaten into a paste then incorporated into lard, kokum butter or ghee, have been used to destroy pediculi. He cautioned that care has to be taken to avoid abraded or ulcerated skin on account of the danger of absorption of the poisonous principle.

Burasaia madagascariensis

The alkaloids of the wood may be injurious to wood-workers (Pernet 1957, Hausen 1970).

Coscinium fenestratum
[syn. Menispermum fenestratum]
Columbo Wood

The wood of this Sri Lankan tree may be injurious to woodworkers from a content of berberine (Hausen 1973). Reactions to berberine are noted under Berberis (fam. Berberidaceae).

In Ceylon a dye and a bitter tonic are extracted from the wood. Vorreiter (1958) lists it as a toxic wood causing vomiting, diarrhoea and cramps. The plant is only a climber and produces no timber (Gamble 1902).


Three species are found in temperate eastern Asia, Atlantic North America and Mexico.

Menispermum canadense L.
Yellow Parilla, Yellow Sarsaparilla, Texas Sarsaparilla, Moonseed, Canadian Moonseed, Vine Maple

The root of this plant like that of sarsaparilla (Smilax spp., fam. Smilacaceae) has been used in folk medicine for skin diseases (Wren 1975).

The rough sharp ridges of the fruit pips can cause mechanical injury (Der Marderosian 1966).

Penianthus zenkeri

The root shavings from this tropical West African plant, when put on wounds, produce a burning sensation (Irvine 1961).

Sphenocentrum jollyanum Pierre

The roots are acid in the mouth but cause things eaten thereafter to taste sweet (Dalziel 1937; Menninger 1967). This property is also noted with Synsepalum dulcificum Daniell (fam. Sapotaceae) and Thaumatococcus daniellii Benth. (fam. Marantaceae).

The genus Sphenocentrum is monotypic. it is found in tropical West Africa.

Tinospora smilacina Benth.
Poison Ivy

The common name of this vine, which is found in Western Australia, might cause it to be confused with Toxicodendron radicans Kuntze (fam. Anacardiaceae).


  • Dalziel JM (1937) The Useful Plants of West Tropical Africa. Being an appendix to The Flora of West Tropical Africa by J. Hutchinson and J.M. Dalziel. London: Crown Agents for the Colonies [WorldCat]
  • Der Marderosian, A. (1966) Poisonous plants in and around the home. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education 30: 115.
  • Hausen, B.M. (1970) Undersuchungen über Gesundheitsschädigende Holzer. Thesis, Hamburg.
  • Hausen, B.M. (1973) Holzarten mit Gesundheitsschädigenden Inhaltsstoffen. DRW Verlags GmbH, Stuttgart.
  • Gamble, J.S. (1902) A Manual of Indian Timbers. 2nd edn. Reprinted by Bishen Singh Mahendra Pal Singh, Dehra Dun, 1972.
  • Irvine FR (1961) Woody Plants of Ghana. With special reference to their uses. London: Oxford University Press [doi] [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Menninger EA (1967) Fantastic Trees. New York: Viking Press [WorldCat] [url]
  • Pernet, R. (1957) Les plantes medicinales malgaches. Catalogue de nos connaissances chimiques et pharmacologiques. Mém. Inst. Scient. Madagascar Sér. B 8: 1.
  • Piffard HG (1881) A Treatise on the Materia Medica and Therapeutics of the Skin. New York: William Wood & Company [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Vorreiter, L. (1949) Holztechnologisches Handbuch. Wien, Fromme (later edition 1958).
  • Waring EJ (1883) Remarks on the Uses of some of the Bazaar Medicines and Common Medical Plants of India with a Full Index of Diseases, Indicating their Treatment by these and other Agents Procurable throughout India. 4th edn. London: J & A Churchill
  • Wren RC (1975) Potter's New Cyclopaedia of Botanical Drugs and Preparations. (Re-edited and enlarged by Wren RW). Bradford, Devon: Health Science Press [WorldCat] [doi] [url] [url-2]

Richard J. Schmidt

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