Hin: Kajra, Kuchila;
Mal: Kanjiram; ;
Tam: Itti, Kagodi, Kanjirai Mar:Jharkhatchura;
Kan: Hemmushti, Ittangi;
Tel: Mushti, Mushidi; Ori: Kora, Kachila
Importance: It is a large deciduous tree, with simple leaves and white fragrant flowers.
Strychnos is highly toxic to man and animals producing stiffness of muscles and convulsions, ultimately leading to death. However, in small doses it can also serve as efficacious cure forms of paralysis and other nervous disorders. The seeds are used as a remedy in intermittent fever, dyspepsia, chronic dysentery, paralytic and neuralgic affections, worms, epilepsy, chronic rheumatism, insomnia and colic. It is also useful in impotence, neuralgia of face, heart disease, spermatorrhoea, skin diseases, toxins, wounds, emaciation, cough and cholera. Leaves are applied as poultice in the treatment of chronic wounds and ulcers and the leaf decoction is useful in paralytic complaints. Root and root bark used in fever and dysentery (Nadkarni, 1982; Kurup et al, 1979).
Distribution: The plant is distributed throughout India in deciduous forests up to 1200m. It is also found in Sri Lanka, Siam, Indochina and Malaysia.
Botany: Strychnos nux-vomica Linn. is a large tree belonging to the family Loganiaceae. Leaves are simple, opposite, orbicular to ovate, 6-11.5×6-9.5cm, coriaceous, glabrous, 5 nerved, apex obtuse, acute or apiculate, transverse nerves irregular and inconspicuous. Inflorescence is many flowered terminal cymes, 2.5-5cm across. Bracts (5mm) and bracteoles (1.5mm) small. Flowers are white or greenish white and fragrant. Calyx 5 lobed, pubescent and small (2mm). Corolla salver shaped, tube cylindrical slightly hairy near the base within and greenish white, tube much elongate than the lobes. Tube 7mm and lobes 2.5mm long. Lobes 5 and valvate. Stamens 5, filaments short, 0.1mm long. Anthers 1.5mm subexerted, linear oblong. Ovary 1.5 mm, pubescent, 2 celled, ovules one to many. Style 9mm, stigma capitate. Fruit is a berry, 5-6cm diameter, globose, indehiscent, thick shelled, orange red when ripe with fleshy pulp enclosing the seeds. Seeds 1-many, discoid, compressed, coin like, concave on one side and convex on the other, covered with fine grey silky hairs.
The leaf fall is during December (do not shed all the leaves at a time) and new foliage appears in February. Flowering is during March – April and fruiting during May – December. Fruits take about 8-9 months to mature.
Properties and activity: Strychnine and brucine are the most important and toxic alkaloids present in the plant. They occur not only in the seeds but also in roots, wood, bark, fruit pulp and hard fruit shells. The minor alkaloids present in the plant are vomicine, -colubrine, -colubrine, pseudostrychnine and N-methyl-sec-pseudobrucine (novacine). Loganin a glycoside is also present (Warnat, 1932; Martin et al, 1953; Guggisberg et al, 1966; Bisset and Chaudhary, 1974). Chatterji and Basa (1967) reported vomicine as the major constituent alkaloid along with unidentified alkaloid in leaves and identified another alkaloid kajine (N-methyl pseudostrychnine) from the leaves of very young plants.
Root bark of S. nux-vomica yeilded 4-hydroxy-3-methoxy strychnine, 4 hydroxy strychine, nor-macusine, a new alkaloid 12 , 13 dihydro-12 -hydroxy isostrychnine named protostrychnine (Baser et al, 1979) methoxy strychnine, and mavacurine (Guggisberg et al, 1966). Leaves and root bark also yeilded 11 new alkaloids. 10-hydroxy strychnine, 3-12-dihydroxystrychnine, 12-hydroxy–11- methoxy strychnine, 3-12-dihydroxy- 11-methoxy strychnine,12-hydroxy strychnine-N- oxide 12-hydroxy-11-methoxy strychnine- N-oxide-19,20–dihydro isostrychnine, 16 , 17 dihydro-17 -hydroxy isostrychnine, O- methyl-macusine B, 16-epi-o-methyl–macusine B and normelinone B (Baser and Bisset, 1982).
De and Datta (1988) isolated 5 tertiary indole alkaloids viz. strychnine, brucine, vomicine, icajine and novacine from S.nux-vomica flowers. Bisset et al (1989) isolated and identified two phenolic glycosides salidroside and cuchiloside – a compound consisting of salidroside and an attached xylose unit, from the fruit of S.nux-vomica.
Rodriguez et al (1979) isolated an indole alkaloid from the seeds of S. nux- vomica and identified as a 3-methoxy icajine. A new alkaloid 15-hydroxy strychnine has been isolated from the seeds and the structure of the alkaloid established by spectroscopic data (Galeffi et al, 1979). Cai et al (1990a) isolated 4 new alkaloids isobrucine, isobrucine N-oxide, isostrychnine N-oxide and 2 hydroxy–3-methoxy strychnine from the heat treated seeds of S. nuxvomica and the structure of the alkaloids were determined by 13 CNMR (Cai et al, 1994). Cai et al (1990 b) studied the changes in the alkaloid composition of the seeds during drug processing. Saily et al (1994) determined the mineral elements in Strychnos nux-vomica. Corsaro et al (1995) reported polysaccharides from the seeds of Strychnos species.
Seeger and Neumann (1986) reviewed the physico-chemical characteristics, occurrence, identification, utilisation, poisoning, toxicity, kinetics, differential diagnosis and therapeutic uses of strychnine and brucine. Aspergillus niger, A. flavus and Pencillium citrinum showed regular association with Strychnos seeds and effectively deteriorated the alkaloid content of the seeds (Dutta, 1988; Dutta and Roy, 1992). Nicholson (1993) described the history, structure and synthesis of strychnine which occur in the seeds of S. nux-vomica. Rawal and Michoud (1991) developed a general solution for the synthesis of 2- azabicyclo (3.3.1) nonane substructure of Strychnos alkaloids.
Villar et al (1984) and Hayakawa et al (1984) developed HPLC method for the analysis of strychnine and brucine. Graf and Wittliner (1985), Kostennikova (1986) and Gaitonde and Joshi (1986) suggested different methods for the assay of strychnine and brucine. Biala et al, (1996) developed new method for the assay of alkaloids in S. nux- vomica.
The seeds are bitter, acrid, alexeteric, aphrodisiac, appetiser, antiperiodic, anthelmintic, digestive, febrifuge, emmenagogue, purgative, spinal, respiratory and cardiac stimulant and stomachic. The bark is bitter, and tonic and febrifuge (Nadkarni, 1954; Kurup et al, 1979; Warrier et al, 1996).
The quarternery alkaloid from the root bark of the Sri Lankan plant exhibited muscle-relaxant activity (Baser and Bisset, 1982). Antimicrobial activity of indole alkaloid isolated from the Strychnos nux-vomica was studied by Verpoorte et al, 1983. Shukla et al (1985) evaluated the efficacy of Rasnadigugglu compound consisting of S. nux-vomica, on rheumatoid arthritis and found to be effective in reducing inflammatory oedoma and rheumatoid arthritis. It also exhibited analgesic activity. A compound Unani formulation containing S. nux-vomica significantly attenuated withdrawal intensity in morphine dependent rats (Zatar et al, 1991). Shahana et al (1994) studied the effect of Unani drug combination (UDC) having Strychnos nux-vomica on the abstinence syndrome in moderately and severely morphine dependent rats. The UDC strikingly suppressed the abstinence syndrome was seen to possess central depressant and analgesic action.
Melone et al (1992) reported brucine-lethality in mice. Panda and Panda (1993) and Satyanarayanan et al (1994) reported antigastric ulcer activity of nux vomica in Shay rats. Banerjee and Pal (1994) reported the medicinal plants used by the tribals of plain land in India for hair and scalp preparation and S. nux-vomica being used to cure alopecia (baldness) by the tribals. Tripathi and Chaurasia (1996) studied the effect of S. nux-vomica alcohol extract on lipid peroxidation in rat liver.