Medicinal Herb Indian Heliotrope/Scorpion Tail

Indian heliotrope is a medicinal plant found as weed in tropical and subtropical regions of world. It is used for treatment of variety of diseases in Asia and Africa. In Sanskrit, it is known as Vrischikali as its aerial parts look like scorpion tail. Whole plant is used to treat skin diseases, rheumatism, insect stings, scorpion bites etc. Its external use is safe but oral use should be done cautiously.

Indian Heliotrope/Scorpion Tail health benefits
By Biswarup Ganguly (Own work)[GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Vernacular names

COMMON NAME: Indian heliotrope, Hastishundi ENGLISH: Scorpion Tail SIDDHA/TAMIL: Thaelkodukku SANSKRIT: Hastishundi, Shrihastini, Vrischikali HINDI: Hastisura

ANDHRA PRADESH: Nagadanthi TAMIL NADU (TAMIL): Thelkodukku MALAYALAM: Thekkadda, Vena pacha ORIYA: Hatisur TRADE NAME: Indian Turnsole


The botanical name of Indian heliotrope/Vrischikali is Heliotropium indicum and it belongs to the family Boraginaceae. The genus Heliotropium was derived from Helios (Sun) and trope (turn), as the flowers of plant turn towards the Sun.

Its taxonomical classification is as given below:-

  • Kingdom: Plantae
  • Phylum: Magnoliophyta
  • Class: Magnoliopsida
  • Order: Lamiales
  • Family: Boraginaceae
  • Genus Heliotropium
  • Botanical name: Heliotropium indicum
  • Synonym: Tiaridium indicum

Plant description

Terrestrial, annual, erect herb, up to 75 cm tall;Taproot white or brown;Stems erect, grooved, hollow, hairy, Stipules absent;Leaves simple, not lobed or divided, alternate, spiral, or sometimes basal ones opposite, stalked, ovate, more than 2 cm long/wide, hairy, scabrous, margin entire, apex acute, base obtuse or rounded, pinnately veined;Flowers bisexual, grouped together in a many-flowered, terminal, elongated cyme, blue with an orange throat, petals 5, fused;Fruit nut-like.

Propagation: by seeds and stem cutting

Origin and geographic distribution

The plant has a pantropical distribution, and it is probably native of tropical America. It is widespread and common weed in waste places and settled areas, found throughout India and Africa.


Waste places, ditch borders, dried-up pools and ditches, on spread mud, along roads, and similar place with less man activity.

Medicinal use of Indian heliotrope/Scorpion Tail

Indian Heliotrope has therapeutic properties due to presence of chemical components viz. Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids, Tannins and Saponins. Alkaloid component (indicine principal base, echinatine, supinine, heleurine, heliotrine, lasiocarpine and lasiocarpine N-oxide) is responsible for anti-inflammatory, wound healing, antiseptic, antimicrobial, febrifuge, stimulation of gall bladder functions and menstruation stimulating properties. The most important local application of plant is for skin lesions, wounds, abscesses, gastric and varicose ulcerations, rashes and warts.

The infusion of the flowers taken in small doses regulates menstruation, where large doses are abortive.

Leaves decoction is used as a vermifuge. Leaves juice is antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and applied topically wounds, sores, boils, gum-boils and pimples on the face, warts, tumours, yaws, skin allergy, scabies, eczema etc. It is also used locally in inflammation of eyes. To prepare eyewash, 3 leaves are boiled in 1 cup water for 10 min and strained.

The leaves poultice is applied on rheumatic pain, insect stings and wounds. For scorpian sting and snakebites the paste of leaf is applied topically.

This plant has diuretic properties. Diuretics are also known as water pills as they increase the urinary output and electrolyte excretion. They are useful in various diseases such as high blood pressure, fluid retention, oedema, acute and chronic renal failure, sciatica, kidney stones, lymphatic swelling, glaucoma, liver disorders and many more diseases. The infusion of leaves have strong diuretic action.

Contraindications, Caution/Warning, and Side Effects

The leaves of the plant have emmenagogue action. The oral administration stimulates menstruation and causes abortion in pregnancy.

The plant can be toxic if drunk regularly or in large doses (carcinogenic and/or liver toxicity).

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