Indian Birthwort (Aristolochia indica) Information, Uses and Side-effects

Aristolochia indica is a medicinal plant. It is used in India to induce vomiting and to treat poisons, intestinal parasite, swelling, menstrual irregularities, dropsy, low appetite, ulcers and fever. The roots of plant are used as antidote in scorpion sting, bites of poisonous insects and snake bite. This plant is used both internally and externally. For white leprosy, the roots are rubbed with honey. The plant possesses emmenagogue, abortifacient, anti-spermatogenic, anti-fertility, anti-arthritic, anti-inflammatory, antiperiodic, diuretic and anti-bilious properties. The leaves of plant are applied externally in skin diseases.

Indian birthwort Medicinal UsesBy Yercaud-elango (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

General Information

Aristolochia indica is a glabrous, shrubby or herbaceous perennial plant with woody root stock and long, slender, grooved, glabrous branches.

The leaves are variable, fiddle shaped tolinear. They are 2 – 4 inches long, 3-5 nerved at the base. It is glabrous with a slightly undulate margin.

The shape and appearance of flower has close resemblance to a cobra's hood.

The flower is pale green on the outer surface. The rim of the moth is dark purple in colour. Flowers bloom between June and October. Flowers occur in axillary racemes with few flowers. Bracts small, perianth 1-1.5 inches long with a glabrous inflated, lobed base, which is suddenly narrowed, into a cylindrical tube about 0.5 inches long. It terminates in a funnel shaped mouth.

Fruits are 6 valved dehiscent, ribbed capsule, 1.5 – 2 inches long. Seeds are flat triangular and winged all around.

Root is considerably long, cylindrical, a few irregularly bent; 2-10 mm in diameter. Surface is almost smooth with fine longitudinal wrinkles and transverse cracks. External surface is light greyish-brown, inner whitish. Odour is camphoraceous. The taste is strongly bitter.

Scientific Classification

The botanical name of is Aristolochia indica. It belongs to plant family Aristolochiaceae. The name is derived from Greek words, aristo (best) and lochia (delivery). The species name indica, indicates it is indigenous to India.

Below is given taxonomical classification of plant.

  1. Kingdom: Plantae – Plants
  2. Subkingdom: Tracheobionta – Vascular plants
  3. Superdivision: Spermatophyta – Seed plants
  4. Division: Magnoliophyta – Flowering plants
  5. Class: Magnoliopsida – Dicotyledons
  6. Subclass: Magnoliidae
  7. Order: Aristolochiales
  8. Family: Aristolochiaceae – Birthwort family
  9. Genus: Aristolochia L. – dutchman's pipe
  10. Species: Aristolochia indica - Indian Birthwort
  11. Part(s) used for medicinal purpose: Roots and rhizomes, stem, leaves, seeds
  12. Plant type: Climber
  13. Distribution: Throughout the low hills and plains of India from Nepal to the south of Konkan. Distributed in tropical, subtropical, and Mediterranean countries.
  14. Habitat: Dry and deciduous forests.
  15. Flowering: June to October
  16. Fruiting: November to March
  17. Safety profile in pregnancy: UNSAFE, it has oxytocic, abortifacient and emmenagogue action. It causes abortion.

Vernacular Names / Synonyms

  • Scientific name: Aristolochia indica
  • Sanskrit: Ahigandha, Arkamula, Garuda, Ishvara, Ishvari, Nakuieshtha, Nakuli, Sunanda, Rudrajata, Ishwari, Naakuli, Arkmuula, Gandhnakuli, Nagadamani
  • Siddha: Adagam
  • Hindi: Isharmul, Hooka bel
  • Assamese: Jarvande
  • Bengali: Ishormul, Isheri
  • English: Indian Birthwort, Snake root
  • Sinhalese: Sapsanda
  • Gujarati: Sapsan, Ruhimula, Iswarimool
  • Marathi: Sapasan
  • Malayalam: Garudakkoti, Garudakkodi, Karaleyan, Cheriya arayan
  • Kannada: Isvaberusa, Ishwari Beru, Toppalu
  • Konkan: Sapsikaddula
  • Oriya: Gopikaron
  • Tamil: Adagam, Isadesatti, Isura, Isuramuli, lyavari, Karudakkodi, Kirttikkodi, Neya, Perumarindu, Perumaruntu, Perunkilangu, Sarsugadi, Talaichuruli
  • Telugu: Ishveraveru, Esvaraveru
  • Urdu: Zarawand Hindi
  • Arabic: Zaravande-hindi
  • Trade name: Serpent root plant, Indian birth wort

Chinese Aristolochia

Many plants of genus Aristolochia are used as medicine in traditional Chinese medicine. These plants are used interchangeably.

  • Aristolochia fangchi (Root) Guang Fang Ji
  • Aristolochia manshuriensis (Stem) Guan Mu Tong
  • Aristolochia contorta (fruit), Aristolochia debilis (Fruit) Ma Dou Ling
  • Aristolochia contorta (Herb), Aristolochia debilis (Herb) Tian Xian Teng
  • Aristolochia debilis (Root) Qing Mu Xiang

Constituents of Aristolochia indica

The plant contain aromatic oil (0.5%), coloring material and an alkaloid (aristolochine 0.05-0.07%).

  • Aristolochic acid (0.06-0.07%), glycosides and steroids are present in rhizome.
  • Aristolochic acids
  • Aristolochic acids are a family of carcinogenic, mutagenic, and nephrotoxic compounds commonly found in the birthwort family of plants. It functions as a phospholipase A2 inhibitor, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and bactericidal agent. Aristolochic acid is composed of a 1:1 mixture of two forms, Aristolochic acid I and Aristolochic acid II.

Aristolochic acid I

  • IUPAC Systematic Name: 8-Methoxy-6-nitronaphtho[2,1-g][1,3]benzodioxole-5-carboxylic acid
  • Chemical formula: C17H11NO7
  • Relative molecular mass: 341.27

Aristolochic acid II

  • IUPAC Systematic Name: 6-Nitronaphtho[2,1-g][1,3]benzodioxole-5-carboxylic acid
  • Chemical formula: C16H9NO6
  • Relative molecular mass: 311.25

Aristolochic acid, tested for carcinogenicity in several studies. A study done in mice, and another in rabbits, showed internal administration of this compound induced tumours at multiple sites in body of animals.

The oral administration of aristolochic acid to rats caused a dose- and time-dependent tumour response. Exposure to 50 mg/kg body weight aristolochic acid I for 3 days resulted in neoplastic lesions of the kidney after 6 months.

Rats administered with lower doses over a longer period (1-10  mg/kg body weight for 3–6 months or 0.1 mg/kg body weight for 12 months) developed a variety of benign or malignant tumours, including those of the forestomach, kidney, renal pelvis, urinary bladder, ear duct, thymus, small intestine, and pancreas. Single cases of haematopoietic system, lung, mammary gland, and peritoneal tumours were also reported.

Injecting, 10 mg/kg bodyweight aristolochic acid into rats for 35  daysinduced a low incidence of urothelial carcinomas and fibrohistiocytic sarcomas at the injection site.

Rabbits given intraperitoneal injections of aristolochic acid at 0.1 mg/kg body weight for 17-21 months developed tumours of the kidney, ureter, and of the peritoneal cavity.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns against use of herbs containing Aristolochic acid due to their ill-effects on kidneys. It has been associated with permanent kidney damage and kidney failure. Few people have developed certain types of cancers, most often occurring in the urinary tract.

In May 2000, FDA alerted health care professionals and the dietary supplement industry of two patients in the United Kingdom who had experienced serious, permanent kidney damage following the use of botanical products containing aristolochic acid. These cases, along with the ones previously reported from Belgium and France, resulted in FDA imposing an import alert to detain botanical ingredients that are either labeled as "Aristolochia" or, for other reasons, are suspected to contain aristolochic acid.

FDA has advised consumers to stop using any products that may likely contain aristolochic acid.

Ayurvedic Properties and Action

This plant is known by many names in Ayurveda, such as Ishwari, Nakuli, Iswarimoolam, Garudi, Sunanda and Arkamula. It is astringent, bitter and pungent in taste (Rasa), pungent after digestion (Vipaka), and is hot in effect (Virya).

  • It is used in Ayurveda for treatment of Visha (poison).
  • Rasa (taste on tongue): Kashaya (Astringent), Katu (Pungent), Tikta (Bitter)
  • Guna (Pharmacological Action): Laghu (Light), Ruksha (Dry)
  • Virya (Action): Shita (Cooling), Ushna (Heating)
  • Vipaka (transformed state after digestion): Katu (Pungent)

It is an Ushna Virya herb. Ushna Virya or hot potency herb, subdues Vata (Wind) and Kapha (Mucus) and increases Pitta (Bile). It has property of digestion, vomiting and purging, and gives feeling of lightness. It is considered bad for sperms and fetus.

Karma / Action

  • Kaphavatashamaka (Pacifies Kapha and Vata)
  • Shothahara (Reduces swelling)
  • Grahabadhaghna (Destroys pregnancy)

Important Formulations

  1. Mahavishagarbha Taila (Massage Oil for Rheumatic complaints)
  2. Gorochandi Gutika

Medicinal Uses of Aristolochia indica

In Ayurveda, the root bark of plant is used as antidote for all types of poisons (snake poison, spider poison, scorpion stings etc.).

The tribal people are using this plant from ancient times to treat cobra poison and scorpion stings. The bruised roots are applied to bites of centipedes and scorpion stings. 1.5 inch root is smashed and placed under the tongue for the neutralization of snake venom. In one study, ethanolic extract of plant exhibited protective effect against the red scorpion venom and showed 50% survival benefits in mice.

  1. The plant is administered in low doses to treat low appetite, menstrual disorders and to remove toxins from blood.
  2. The powdered root with honey is given for dropsy, leukoderma, tonsillitis and chronic dyspepsia.
  3. For fever, indigestion, and digestive disorders, one pinch of root powder is taken with warm water.
  4. The fresh leaves ground with water are applied in acute and chronic rheumatism.
  5. For swelling, the seed paste is applied externally.
  6. For headaches, the paste of leaves is mixed with turmeric and applied on forehead, twice a day.
  7. For leucoderma, skin diseases, wounds and swelling the paste of leaves is applied topically on affected areas.

Contraindications, Interactions, Side-effects and Warnings Aristolochia indica

  1. This plant is included in list of poisonous plants found in India.
  2. In large doses the herb acts as a local irritant and provokes nausea, griping pains in the bowels, pain in anus and vomiting. In higher doses, it may prove lethal.
  3. This plant contains Aristolochic acid.

In experimental animals, high doses of aristolochic acids administered either orally or intravenously caused severe necrosis of the renal tubules, atrophy of the spleen and thymus, and ulceration of the forestomach, followed by hyperplasia and hyperkeratosis of the squamous epithelium.

blog comments powered by Disqus