Herbs & Plants

Euphorbia Tirukalli(Milk bush)

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Botanical Name:Euphorbia tirucalli L. (Euphorbiaceae)

Family: Euphorbiaceae

Genus: Euphorbia

Species: E. tirucalli

Other Names:Indian Tree Spurge, pencil tree or milk bush

English name
: Milk bush, Indian tree spurge.

Sanskrit names : Shatala, Trikantaka.

Vernacular names: Ben: Ganderi, Lankasij, Latadoona; Guj : Thor dandalio; Konpol, Sehund; Hin :Kan : Bantakalli; Mar: Shera; Tam: Tirukalli, Kalli; Tel: Chemudu.

Trade name:

Habitat: Introduced from tropical Africa, naturalised in the drier parts of India; elsewhere largely cultivated as hedges and fuel plants.

Euphorbia tirucalli is an Erect tree, 3-6 m high, branches thin, cylindrical, spreading, scattered, clustered, whorled, latex extraordinarily abundant, sticky and acrid; leaves alternate, linear, caducous, petioles modified to phylloclade; involucres clustered in the forks of branches, inconspicuous, flowers shortly pedicelled, bracteoles numerous; cocci dark brown, velvety, compressed; seeds ovoid, smooth.


Flowering: very scarce, mainly in June-July; Fruiting: July-October.

Ecology and cultivation: Xerophytic.
According to Melvin Calvin, Euphorbia tirucalli “will grow in the same soils sugarcane will grow in, even without irrigation” (Gogerty, 1977). Calvin notes that 5 cm cuttings take readily and increased one-thousand fold in one growing season, attaining more than 50 cm height in the first growing season (Calvin, 1980).

General Uses:
Euphorbia tirucalli is a shrub that grows in semi-arid tropical climates. Milk bush produces a poisonous latex which can, with little effort, be converted to the equivalent of gasoline. This led chemist Melvin Calvin to propose the exploitation of milk bush for producing oil. This usage is particularly appealing because of the ability of milk bush to grow on land that is not suitable for most other crops. Calvin estimated that 10 to 50 barrels of oil per acre was achievable.

Chemical contents: Root: cycloartenol, euphorbol and its hexacosanoate, taraxerone, tinyatoxin; Bark: euphorbol and its hexacosanate, euphorginol=taraxer­14-en-6-01, ingenol and its triacetate, taraxerone; Latex: a-amyrin, β-sitosterol, cycloartenol, cycloeuphordenol, 4-deoxyphorbol and its esters, euphol, euphorbinol, isoeuphorbol, palmitic acid, taraxerol, tinyatoxin, tirucallol, trimethyl ellagic acid; it may be noted that there are differences in chemical contents of latex of plant growing in differenet countries; Stem: campesterol, hentriacontane, hentriacontanol, kaempferol, stigmasterol, methyl ellagic acid.

Different  Uses:
Probably most familiar as a subtropical and tropical ornamental, aveloz has recently made popular headlines as a potential “cancer cure” and more important, as an energy source. Growing in rather arid zones as well as more mesophytic zones, the species makes a good living fence post. A large shrub, Euphorbia tirucalli, is used as a hedge in Brazil. According to Calvin, these plants grow well in dry regions or land that is not suitable for growing food. He estimates that the plants might be capable of producing between 10 and 50 barrels of oil per acre. Cut near the ground, they would be run through a mill like a cane crushing mill, while the plants would regrow from the stumps. Crude obtained from these plants would run $3.00 to $10.00 per barrel. Calvin discussed this concept with Petrobas, the Brazilian national petroleum company, which is investigating. Calvin’s most exciting statement, if true, would be a boon to Brazil and the United States. “He estimates, assuming a yield of 40 barrels per acre (100 barrels per hectare) that an area the size of Arizona would be necessary to meet current requirements for gasoline” (in the U.S.). (Science 194: 46, 1976). The latex is toxic to fish and rats. Africans regard the tree as a mosquito repellent. In Ganjium, rice boiled with the latex is used as an avicide. Aqueous wood extracts are antibiotic against Staphylococcus aureus. The wood, weighing 34 pounds per cu. ft., is used for rafters, toys, and veneer. The charcoal derived therefrom can be used in gun powder. Since the latex contains rubber, whole plant harvesting seems most advisable from an energy point-of-view (if the tree coppices well) with rubber, petroleum, alcohol as energy products, and resins, which may find use in the linoleum, oil skin, and leather industries. In Brazil, Euphorbia gymnoclada, very similar to tirucalli (both are called aveloz), is much used for firewood. One cu. m. of wood yields 2 kg latex with the fibrous residue usable for paper pulp.

Milk bush also has uses in traditional medicine in many cultures. It has been used to treat cancers, excrescences, tumors, and warts in such diverse places as Brazil, India, Indonesia, Malabar and Malaysia. It has also been used as an application for asthma, cough, earache, neuralgia, rheumatism, toothache, and warts in India. There is some interest in milk bush as a cancer treatment.

In the 1980s the Brazilian national petroleum company – Petrobras – began experiments based on the ideas that Calvin put forth.

.Medicinal Uses:
Traditional use: IRULAR: Latex: in body pain, eczema, scabies; ETHNIC COMMUNITIES OF CHAMPAKARAI and DHOOMANOOR (Tamil Nadu): Latex: on wounds; NAYADI : Latex: in rheumatism; ETHNIC COMMUNITIES OF MADHYA PRADESH: Latex: in earache, rheumatism, warts; ETHNIC COMMUNITIES OF CHHOTANAGPUR : Latex: in earache.

BHAVAPRAKASHA: Itis pungent, bitter, helps digestion, beneficial in oedema, deranged phlegm, epistasis, deranged bile, constipation and dyscrasia.

AYURVEDA : Root: beneficial in colic; Latex of stem and leaf: cures cough, earache, emetic, laxative and rubefacient.

Modern use: Stem-extract: antifungal; Aerial parts (50% EtOH extract) : antiprotozoal.

Folk Medicine :
Recently (SPOTLIGHT July 14, 1980) Alec de Montmorency kindled long-sleeping interests in aveloz (Euphorbia spp. including tirucalli) inferring that it “seems to literally tear cancer tissue apart.” Several Brazilian Euphorbias, E. anomala, E. gymnoclada, E. heterodoxa, E. insulana, E. tirucalli, known as aveloz, have local notoriety as cancer “cures,” and often find their way into the U.S. press as cancer cures. I fear they are more liable to cause than cure cancer. Still the following types of cancer are popularly believed in Brazil to be alleviated by aveloz: cancer, cancroids, epitheliomas, sarcomas, tumors, and warts. Hartwell (1969) mentions E. tirucalli as a “folk remedy” for cancers, excrescences, tumors, and warts in such diverse places as Brazil, India, Indonesia, Malabar and Malaya. The rubefacient, vesicant latex is used as an application for asthma, cough, earache, neuralgia, rheumatism, toothache, and warts in India. In small doses it is purgative, but in large doses it is an acrid irritant, and emetic. A decoction of the tender branches as also that of the root is administered in colic and gastralgia. The ashes are applied as caustic to open abscesses. In Tanganyika, the latex is used for sexual impotence (but users should recall “the latex produces so intense a reaction … as to produce temporary blindness lasting for several days.” In Zimbabwe, one African male is said to have died of hemorrhagic gastroenteritis after swallowing the latex to cure sterility.) The root is used as an emetic for snakebite. In Malabar and the Moluccas, the latex is used as an emetic and antisyphilitic. In Malaya, the stems are boiled for fomenting painful places. The pounded stem is applied to scurf and swelling. In the Dutch Indies, pounded stems are used as a poultice for extracting thorns. The root infusion is used for aching bones, a poultice of the root or leaves for nose ulcers and hemorrhoids. The wood decoction is used for leprosy and for paralysis of the hands and feet following childbirth. Javanese use the latex for skin complaints and rub the latex over the skin for bone fractures.
Remark: The plant is worshipped as a sacred one.

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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