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

Know about Indian Birthwort botanical description, medicinal properties, medicinal uses in Ayurveda, It’s health benefits, dosage, contraindications and side-effect of different parts of this plant.

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 the plant are used as antidote in scorpion sting, bites of poisonous insects, and snake bite.

indian birthwort ayurveda

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 the plant are applied externally in skin diseases.

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 color. 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 the 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 a 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 the 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 tumors at multiple sites in the body of animals.

The oral administration of aristolochic acid to rats caused a dose-, and time-dependent tumor 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 tumors, 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 tumors 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 tumors 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 the treatment of Visha (poison).
  • Rasa (taste on the 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 the property of digestion, vomiting, and purging, and gives a 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 the plant are 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 the 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 the 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.


  1. Ayyappan Ramasamy

    Anti-Indians are in habit of mocking Indian medicines
    But allopathy is not best to cure many deceases. It only controls temporarily, without solution

  2. Dr.Mukesh Shukla, Scientist

    truely speaking any substance or object in access is poison.
    I have taken clinical trials (Composition) taking 300 mg. A.indica with *** 200 mg. has shown most significant results in malarial fever. The LD50 had been done first and found to be safe in appropriate dosage regimn. (706 Clinical trials)

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