Abrus precatorius

Abrus precatorius L. (Fabaceae)

(2n = 22)






Syn : Abrus minor and A. pauciflorus Desv.

English names: Indian liquorice, Crab's eye.

Sanskrit name: Krishna gunja.

Vernacular names: Asm : Latuwani; Ben: Rati, Kunch; Guj: Gumchi; Hin and Pun: Rati; Kan : Gurgunn, Gulaganji; Ori : Kaincha, Gunja; Mal: Kunnikkura; Tam: Kunthamani; Tel: Gumginja.

Trade names: Rati, Kunch.

Traditional use: SANTAL: (i) grind the roots, make small pills, encase the pills in molasses and eat the same to treat night-blindedness; (ii) make a plaster by grinding the roots of white-fruited variety and apply the plaster on the painful part of inflammated sections of the gum; (iii) to treat white-coloured urine they drink a mixture made by grinding roots of the following: (a) white-fruited A. precatorius, (b) Indigofera pulchella, (c) Panicum repens and (d) Spatholobus roxburghii; (iv) to treat gravel they drink a mixture made of the following: (a) roots of A. precatorius, (b) the refuse of molasses, (c) exudation from a sapling of Diospyros tomentosa, (d) exudation from Acacia catechu, (e) little saltpeter, and (f) pinch of sulphur; (v) to treat the variety of childbed complaints (usually caused by anaemia) characterized by profuse diarrhoea, roots of A. precatorius are used in preparing two different varieties of mixtures; the ingredients of the mixtures are given below: (a) first variety: roots of A. precatorius, Elaeodendron roxburghii, Coix lachryma-jobi, Piper longum, Ruellia suffruticosa, white onion, rhizome of Zingiber officinale; (b) second variety: roots of A. precatorius, Coix lachryma-jobi, Embelia robusta, Piper longum, bark of Casearea tomentosa, Elaeodendron roxburghii, Gmelina arborea, Emblica officinalis, white onion, leaves of Ocimum sanctum, rhizome of Curcuma angustifolia and Zingiber officinale - all these are ground together, boiled and mixed with the refuse of molasses; (vi)roots as abortifacient and in paralysis; (vii) apply leaf-paste with lime-water (2:1) on swelling of glands; (viii) grind the leaves of white-flowered A. precatorius, warm slightly and plaster on the loins to kill pain there; (ix) grind leaves of A. precatorius along with leaves of Lawsonia alba and Tamarindus indica (1:1:1), add a little salt, boil a little and apply the plaster on the whole body to get relief from muscular pain caused by over­exhaustion; (x) make a paste of leaves of A. precatorius along with roots of Carissa carandas and Gossypium arboreum, warm the paste slightly and plaster the same over the whole body of the patient suffering from stealth convulsions; (xi) leaf-paste in leucoderma; (xii) seed-paste in skin diseases; (xiii) seeds after some processing as contraceptive. MUNDA: Root-paste in gonorrhoea. ORAON: dried root-powder as mild purgative.

AGNI PURANA: (i) husks of A. precatorius along with the same of Vitis vinifera and the decoction of Polyalthia longifolia, Moringa pterigosperma, payomuca and tripha/a (fruits of Terminalia belerica, Terminalia chebula and Emblica officinalis) destroys all intestinal worms; (ii) the mixture of powder of A. precatorius, marine salt and pathya in warm water removes all fevers; (iii) consumption of the seeds of A. precatorius along with the fruits of Melia azadiracta, Holarrhena antidysenterica (leaves). Acorus calamus (young leaves) and Glycyrrhiza glabra (powder of stem) causes vomiting; (iv) regular drinking of A. precatorius along with Acorus calamus, G/oriosa superba, vasa, nisagada, Zingiber officinalis, Glycyrrhiza glabra and marine salt daily in the morning enhances memory of young boys; (v) A. precatorius can enhance the span of a man's life, if it is eaten with marine salt and some other plants (Tinospora cordifolia, pathya, citraka, dried rhizome of Zingiber officinalis).

Modern use: Roots: emetic and alexiteric; Decoction of roots and leaves: for cough, cold and colic; Seeds: purgative, emetic, tonic, aphrodisiac, used in nervous disorder and cattle poisoning; Poultice of seeds: as suppository to bring about abortion; Paste of seeds: applied locally in sciatica, stiffness of shoulder joints and in paralysis.

Phytography : Copiously branched climber with slender branches; leaves alternate, pinnately compound with numerous deciduous leaflets; flowers small, in dense racemes on axillary peduncles or short branches; pods 2.5-3.7 by 1.0-1.25 cm; seeds bright scarlet and black or whitish or black or mixed black and white, large like pea.

Phenology: Flowering: August and September; Fruiting : January to March (even up to May).

Distribution: Occurring throughout greater parts of India, ascending the outer Himalaya up to 1200 m, occasionally planted in gardens.

Ecology and cultivation: Naturalised in tropical countries.

Chemical contents: Root and Leaf: glycyrrhizin, isoflavanquinones, abrusquinone A, B & C; leaves taste sweet and roots less so; roots also contain precol, abrol, abrasine and precasine. Seed: poisonous, principal constituents being 'abrin'; a fat-splitting enzyme, haemaagglutinin, urease; alkaloid (abrin), a glucoside (abralin) and a small quantity of fatty oil have also been isolated from seed. Pharmacologically,abrin is considered to be intensely poisonous. Besides abrin, a seed contains hypaphorine, two steroids­one oily and the other crystalline- β-sitosterol, stigmasterol, 5 B-cholanic acid, abricin, abridin, cholesterol, lectins and toxic proteins.

Remark: Root is used as an adulterant of the root of Glycyrrhiza glabra (Fam. Fabaceae).

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