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(Moonseed family)


Mabberley (2017) noted that the family comprised 450 species of mainly lianes and scandent shrubs in 72 genera. Eighty genera are now accepted at Plants of the World Online.a Many members of this family contain toxic alkaloids and other classes of toxins that have found use as dart and arrow poisons and as fish poisons.

[Summary yet to be added]

Anamirta cocculus (L.) Wight & Arn.
[syns Anamirta paniculata Colebr., Cocculus indicus Royle, Menispermum cocculus L.]
Fishberry, Levant Nut, Poison Berry, Kokkelskörner

An external application of the dried ripe fruit / seed in the form of a powder or an ointment (Unguentum Cocculi) has been used to destroy pediculi. It has also been used in some obstinate skin diseases, as porrigo [= historically, a skin condition of the scalp marked by eruption or pustules], but its use requires caution, especially where the skin is not entire, on account of the danger of absorption (Pereira 1842). 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. Indeed, an extensive catalogue of adverse drug reactions associated with the therapeutic [internal and/or external] use of a tincture prepared from the seeds can be found in the historical literature. Many reports of dermatologic adverse effects described itching; but also a case of an eruption of red irregular spots on the skin, as if coloured by red wine, over the whole chest and behind the ears without heat and without sensation; a case where an eruption resembling scarlatina; and an eruption of red miliary pimples (see Allen 1862). Piffard (1881), who cited Allen as the source of his information, noted that following an application of a preparation of the plant to the scalp, the body and arms became covered with a scarlet eruption. But Allen had in fact cited a case reported by Thompson (1852) where an Infusion of Cocculus Indicus had been applied to the scalp of two young girls (6- and 4-year old sisters) to treat "porrigo of the scalp, infected with vermin". Both experienced tetanic spasms. "[A] warm bath was ordered, into which [they were] placed as soon as the first spasm was over; a mustard plaster was applied over the abdomen and to the legs and feet as high as the knee; injections of the tincture of assafetida were thrown into the rectum and a few drops administered by the mouth every hour." On the morning of the day after the treatment "the patient’s body and arms were […] covered with an eruption resembling scarlatina, which gradually faded away during the day." The 6-year old died despite receiving the same treatment as the 4-year old. So, it is not clear that the scarlatiniform eruption was caused directly by the topical application of the Infusion of Cocculus Indicus.

The seeds contain the highly toxic picrotoxin, also known as cocculin, which is actually an equimolecular mixture of two sesquiterpenoids, namely picrotin and picrotoxinin, only the latter being pharmacologically active (Ramwell 1963). It was formerly used as a CNS stimulant in the treatment of barbiturate poisoning (Todd 1967).

Burasaia madagascariensis DC.

Oyen (2008) noted that the sap from the wood is irritant to the skin but provided no further information.

Fibraurea recisa Pierre
Yellow Root

The stems of this climbing woody vine, sliced and dried, provide the traditional Chinese medicine known as huang teng (黄藤), Caulis Fibraurea, or Common Fibraurea Stem. Amongst its numerous internal and external applications, an aqueous decoction has been used to treat sores and carbuncles, blisters, and red eyes, and to wash gunshot wounds and burns to prevent inflammation and suppuration.a,b Rao et al. (2009) further noted that in the south of Yunnan Province of China, the plant has been commonly used for the treatment of [unspecified] skin diseases, skin ulcers, and fungal infections characterised by itching.

The plant yields isoquinoline / protoberberine / tetrahydroprotoberberine alkaloids, including palmatine, jatrorrhizine, columbamine, and berberine together with minor quantities of aporphine alkaloids and furanoditerpenoids (Barbosa-Filho et al. 2000, Zhang et al. 2008, Rao et al. 2009).

Fibraurea Recisa Root Extract [INCI; of uncertain composition (see Schmidt 2017)], is a recognised cosmetic product ingredient purported to have skin conditioning properties (Standing Committee on Cosmetic Products 2019, CosIng 2023/4).

Fibraurea tinctoria Lour.
[syn. Fibraurea chloroleuca Miers]
Yellow Root

A Sumatran orangutan [Pongo abelii Lesson, 1827 (fam. Hominidae)] was observed to chew the leaves of this plant, which is known locally in the Indonesian province of Central Kalimantan as akar kuning, and apply the masticated plant material to a wound on the face, seemingly to good effect as an aid to the healing of the wound (Laumer et al. 2024).

Menispermum canadense L.
[syn. Menispermum mexicanum Rose]
Canadian Moonseed, Common Moonseed, Moonseed, Texas Sarsaparilla, Yellow Parilla, Yellow Sarsaparilla, Vine Maple, Ménisperme du Canada, Kanadischer Mondsame

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 (Engl.) Diels
[syn. Heptacyclum zenkeri Engl.]

The root shavings from this tropical West African plant, when put on wounds, produce a burning sensation; and the bark is prepared [in an unspecified way] as a dressing for abscesses and as an enema for [unspecified] venereal diseases (Irvine 1961).

Sphenocentrum jollyanum Pierre

The plant is held by medicine-men of the Ivory Coast to have unusual haemostatic and healing properties. Sores are washed with a decoction (Dalziel 1937). The effects of aqueous extracts of the plant on the mechanism of wound healing in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats have been described (Adeleke et al. 2021, 2022, 2023).

Akinwumi & Sonibare (2022) have reviewed the ethnomedicinal, pharmacological, and phytochemical literature. A volatile oil as well as clerodane type diterpenoids and ecdysteroids have been isolated and characterised.

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.


  • Adeleke OV, Adefegha SA, Oboh G (2021) Sphenocentrum jollyanum root and leaf extracts enhanced wound closure by improving the glycemic state of diabetic rats induced by high-fat diet/streptozotocin. Comparative Clinical Pathology 30(6): 881-889 [doi] [url]
  • Adeleke O, Oboh G, Adefegha S, Osesusi A (2022) Effect of aqueous extract from root and leaf of Sphenocentrum jollyanum Pierre on wounds of diabetic rats: Influence on wound tissue cytokines, vascular endothelial growth factor and microbes. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 293: 115266 [doi] [url] [pmid]
  • Adeleke OV, Adefegha SA, Oboh G (2023) Mechanisms of medicinal plants in the treatment of diabetic wound. Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine 13(6): 233-241 [doi] [url] [url-2]
  • Akinwumi IA, Sonibare MA (2022) Sphenocentrum jollyanum Pierre (Menispermaceae): From traditional medicine to pharmacological activity and chemical constituents. Trends in Phytochemical Research 6(4): 301-313 [doi] [url]
  • Allen TF (Ed.) (1862) The Encyclopedia of Pure Materia Medica. A record of the positive effects of drugs upon the healthy human organism, Vol. III. New York / Philadelphia: Boericke & Tafel [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Barbosa-Filho JM, Vasconcelos Leitão da-Cunha E, Gray AI (2000) Alkaloids of the Menispermaceae. In: Cordell G (Ed.) The Alkaloids: Chemistry and Biology, 54, pp. 1-190. San Diego, CA: Academic Press [doi] [WorldCat] [url]
  • CosIng (2023/4) COSING Ingredients-Fragrance Inventory. [online article]: https://ec.europa.eu/growth/tools-databases/cosing/pdf/COSING_Ingredients-Fragrance%20Inventory_v2.pdf ; accessed March 2023 [url] [url-2]
  • 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, UK: Crown Agents for the Colonies [doi] [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Der Marderosian A (1966) Poisonous plants in and around the home. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education 30(1): 115-140 [doi] [url]
  • Irvine FR (1961) Woody Plants of Ghana. With special reference to their uses. London: Oxford University Press [doi] [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Laumer IB, Rahman A, Rahmaeti T, Azhari U, Hermansyah, Atmoko SSU, Schuppli C (2024) Active self-treatment of a facial wound with a biologically active plant by a male Sumatran orangutan. Scientific Reports 14(1): 8932 (7 pp.) [doi] [url] [url-2]
  • Mabberley DJ (2017) Mabberley's Plant-Book. A portable dictionary of plants, their classification and uses, 4th edn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press [WorldCat] [doi] [url]
  • Menninger EA (1967) Fantastic Trees. New York: Viking Press [WorldCat] [url]
  • Oyen LPA (2008) BURASAIA MADAGASCARIENSIS DC. In: Schmelzer GH, Gurib-Fakim A (Eds) Plant Resources of Tropical Africa 11(1). Medicinal plants 1, pp. 128-129. Wagenigen, Netherlands: PROTA Foundation / Backhuys Publishers / CTA [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Pereira J (1842) Elements of Materia Medica and Therapeutics, 2nd edn, Vols 1 & 2. London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Piffard HG (1881) A Treatise on the Materia Medica and Therapeutics of the Skin. New York: William Wood & Company [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Ramwell PW, Shaw JE (1963) Some observations on the physical and pharmacological properties of picrotoxin solutions. Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology 15(9): 611-619 [doi] [url] [url-2] [pmid]
  • Rao G-X, Zhang S, Wang H-M, Li Z-M, Gao S, Xu G-L (2009) Antifungal alkaloids from the fresh rattan stem of Fibraurea recisa Pierre. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 123(1): 1-5 [doi] [url] [pmid]
  • Schmidt RJ (2017) Regulation (EC) No 1223/2009 – a recast of the Cosmetic Products Directive 76/768/EEC – in regard to the safety of plant-derived cosmetic product ingredients. The Expert Witness (20): 35-37 [doi] [url] [url-2]
  • Standing Committee on Cosmetic Products (2019) Commission Decision (EU) 2019/701 of 5 April 2019 establishing a glossary of common ingredient names for use in the labelling of cosmetic products. Official Journal of the European Union 62(L 121): 1-370 [url] [url-2]
  • Thompson WB (1852) A case of poisoning from the external application of the Cocculus Indicus. The Medical Examiner and Record of Medical Science 8(88): 227-228 [url] [url-2]
  • Todd RG (Ed.) (1967) Martindale. The Extra Pharmacopoeia. 25th edn. London: Pharmaceutical Press [WorldCat]
  • 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. To which are Added Directions for Treatment ion Cases of Drowning, Snake-Bites, &c, 4th edn. London: J & A Churchill [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • 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]
  • Zhang H, Li Z, Zhang S, Cai C, Rao K (2008) 栽培黄藤药材的化学成分研究 [Study on the chemical composition of cultivated yellow vine medicinal materials]. 云南中医学院学报 ~ Yunnan zhongyi xueyuan xuebao ~ Journal of Yunnan College of Traditional Chinese Medicine (5): 28-31 [url]

Richard J. Schmidt

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