Indian Podophyllum

Botanical Name: Podophyllum hexandrum
Family: Berberidaceae
Genus: Podophyllum
Species: P. hexandrum
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Ranunculales

Synonyms : Podophyllum   emodi.

Common Name : Himalayan mayapple or Indian may apple

Indian Name: Papri or Banbaigan

Habitat :  Indian Podophyllum  is native to E. Asia – Afghanistan to China. It grows on   the scrub forests and alpine meadows, usually in humus rich soils, 2000 – 3500 metres in the Himalayas. Very abundant in fir forests in Kashmir.

Description and Composition
Indian Podophyllum is an erect, succulent herb with a creeping root stalk. It has flower-bearing erect branches leafy at top. The plant has toothed, purple spotted leaves, deeply divided in 3 to 5 lobes. The flowers are white or pinkish, cup-shaped and solitary. Its fruit is egg-shaped and scarlet in colour. The dried rhizomes of the plant constitute the drug.

The perennial herb Podophyllum hexandrum (syn. P. emodi), bearing the common names Himalayan mayapple or Indian may apple, is native to the lower elevations in and surrounding the Himalaya. It is low to the ground with glossy green, drooping, lobed leaves on its few stiff branches, and it bears a pale pink flower and bright red-orange bulbous fruit. The ornamental appearance of the plant make it a desirable addition to woodland-type gardens. It can be propagated by seed or by dividing the rhizome. It is very tolerant of cold temperatures, as would be expected of a Himalayan plant, but it is not tolerant of dry conditions.


The plant is poisonous but when processed has medicinal properties. The rhizome of the plant contains a resin, known generally and commercially as Indian Podophyllum Resin, which can be processed to extract podophyllotoxin, or podophyllin, a neurotoxin. It has been historically used as an intestinal purgative and emetic, salve for infected and necrotic wounds, and inhibitor of tumor growth. The North American variant of this Asian plant contains a lower concentration of the toxin but has been more extensively studied.

The active principle of Podophyllum is contained in the resinous mixture known as podophyllin. The other constituent of the root is podophyllotoxin. The rhizomes yield podophyllol, a sticky resin, quercetin and podophyllotoxin.

According to Viehoever and Mack (1938), the only active crystallisable substance isolated from either podophyllum or podophyllin is podophyllotoxin. Probably, it is not the chief cathartic principle, which is still to be isolated.

Podophyllum Emodi (Indian Podophyllum), a native of Northern India. The roots are much stouter, more knotty, and about twice as strong as the American. It is not identical with, nor should it be substituted for, the American rhizome. It contains twice as much podophyllotoxin, and in other respects exhibits differences. Indian podophyllum is official in India and the Eastern Colonies, where it is used in place of ordinary podophyllum.

Cultivation :    

Prefers a moist peaty soil and filtered light or shade. Grows well in a moist open woodland. Hardy to about -20°c, it takes some years to become established but is very long lived in a suitable habitat. Young leaves may be damaged by late frosts but otherwise the plants are quite hardy. Over collection of the plant from the wild is becomimg a cause for concern as local populations are being endangered. Young plants only produce one leaf each year, older plants have 2 or 3 leaves each year. Plants in this genus have excited quite a lot of interest for the compounds found in their roots which have been shown to have anti-cancer activity. There are various research projects under way (as of 1990). The sub-species P. hexandrum chinense. Wall. has larger flowers and more deeply divided leaves.

Seed – best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame. Sow stored seed in a cold frame in early spring. The seed germinates in 1 – 4 months at 15°c. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and grow on in a shady part of the greenhouse for at least 2 growing seasons. Plant them out into their permanent positions in the winter when the plants are dormant. Division in March/April

Edible Uses:     Fruit  is eaten raw. It must only be eaten when it is fully ripe. Juicy but insipid. The fruit is about 5cm long. The leaves are edible according to one report but this must be treated with some caution, see notes on toxicity above

Constituents.  ”The chief constituents of Indian podophyllum are podophyllotoxin (2 to 5 per cent.) and podophylloresin (compare Podophylli Rhizoma). The drug yields from 6 to 12 per cent. of podophyllin when treated in the same way as the American rhizome, but the podophyllin so obtained is not identical with, nor should it be substituted for, that from the American drug, since it contains approximately twice as much podophyllotoxin, and in other respects exhibits differences (compare Podophylli Rhizoma).

Action and Uses. Indian podophyllum rhizome is official in India and the Eastern Colonies, where it is used in place of ordinary podophyllum; it is stated to be twice as active as the latter.

Healing Power and Curative Properties
The herb Podophyllum is used as a hepatic stimulant and as an agent to promote the flow of bile. It is also useful as a purgative and as a drug to correct disordered processes of nutrition and to restore the normal function of the system. It is a bitter tonic which helps induce vomiting.

Chronic Constipation
The drug is highly beneficial for treating chronic constipation and is used as a purgative. The safe single dose is 0.01 gm. Its action is slow but strong. In large doses, it can cause acute irritation and griping. It should therefore be administered either in combination with belladonna or Indian aloe.

Skin Disorders
Podophyllum is reported to be useful in many skin diseases and tumorous growths. It has acquired importance in recent years for its possible use in controlling skin cancer.

Other Uses:  A medicinal resin is obtained from the plant. It is extracted with alcohol

Podophyllin greatly irritates the eyes and the mucous membranes. The resin does not affect normal skin but may be absorbed by irritated or abrased skin and helps purging. It is an effective purgative, but in toxic or over doses it produces intense enteritis or inflammation of the small intestines which may sometimes result in death.

The information presented herein  is intended for educational purposes only.Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.


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