Rosary Pea (Abrus precatorius) Jequirity bean Gunja Uses, Warnings, Poisonous Effects and Treatment

Abrus precatorius is also known as Rosary Pea, Jequirity bean, Gunja, Ratti, Chirmiti, Kunrimani, Kunrivittu, Kundumani, Gundumani, Bead tree Ghungchi, Ghunghchi Surkh, Ghunghchi Safaid, Raktika, Kakananti etc.

Jequirity beans look beautiful and used for decorating small boxes, baskets, etc., and are made into necklaces and rosaries which can be used for praying and, hence the plant given botanical name Abrus (= graceful, delicate) precatorius (= praying). These beautiful red seeds with a black eye are known as Ratti and were used by goldsmiths in India as weights for weighing silver and gold due to their uniform shape, size and weight. Each Ratti weigh about 1.75 grains.

Abrus precatorius is a climber plant and its roots, leaves and beans have been used for medicinal purposes in India from very ancient times. The seeds contain abrin, abrine and abarnin while roots contain precol, abrol and two alkaloids abraime and orecasine.

The seeds are used as purgative, emetic, tonic and aphrodisiac.  The roots are emetic and alexiteric. The seeds are poisonous and used in Ayurveda only after proper detoxification. Raw seeds are never used as a medicine. Locally, the leaf juice mixed with oil is applied on painful swellings of the body. The root is also used as a substitute of Liquorice.

While all parts of the plant are toxic, the highest concentrations are found in the seeds.

The ingestion of seeds can kill. Abrin present in the seeds leads to disrupted cellular protein synthesis throughout the body. The symptoms are shown after few hours of ingestion and include significant vomiting and diarrhea with resultant hypovolemia and electrolyte disturbances.  There are a few reported cases of abrin causing acute demyelinating encephalitis.   There is no known physiological antidote for Jequirity beans. The treatment of Jequirity beans poisoning is essentially symptomatic.

WARNING: The page is intended to give you information about this poisonous plant. DO NOT USE Abrus precatorius for Self-treatment. It can kill.

Abrus precatorius Seeds

Jequirity refers to the seeds of plant. These red-back seeds are remarkable. They are small egg-shaped and have brilliant scarlet colour with a black scar indicating the place where they were attached to the pods.

The seeds are ovoid or sub globular, 5 to 8 mm long, 4 to 5 mm. broad with the smooth, glossy surface and bright scarlet colour and hilum a black patch. The weight of 100 seeds is about 12 to 13 grams.

The seeds are described as poisonous and are used internally in affections of the nervous system due to stimulatory action on nerves and externally in skin diseases, ulcers, affections of the hair etc.

Abrus precatorius Family

Abrus precatorius is a climber belonging to plant family, Fabaceae ⁄ Leguminosae or Pea family. It is a vine native to India and other tropical and subtropical areas of the world.

It is commonly found in the plains of India and in the Himalayas ascending to 900 meters.

Ayurvedic Gunja Shodhana – Purification of Ratti Seeds

In Ayurveda, the seven drugs which are described, as minor poisons are opium, datura, roots of Nerium odorum (karavirdan), Gloriosa superba, the milky juices of Calotropis gigantea (arka), Euphorbia neriifolia (Snuhi) and Gunja.

All these drugs must not be used as home remedies due to toxic action on body.

In Ayurvedic text, there are two varieties of Ratti namely, white Gunja and red seeded Gunja. Both have same action. Both types of seeds are poisonous and used in Ayurveda after subjecting to purification process before use.

In Shodhana of Gunja seeds, they are subjected to the svedana in dola yantra with Godugdha or Kanji for 3-6 hours. The Shodhita material is then subjected to washing with hot water and drying under shade. The boiling of seeds breaks down the toxins present in the seeds. During the Shodhana process, color of the media changes due to the removal of colored materials from the endosperm of the seeds and subsequently there is loss in weight.

Though Gunja is used for medicinal purpose. BUT, it cannot be administered as a single drug and should be used only in combination.

Constituents of Ratti Seeds

In Ratti seeds many phytochemicals such as abrine, hypaphorine, choline, trigonelline, precatorine, 5 β-cholanic acid, antitumour proteins – abrin A and B, globulin, arabinose, hemagglutin glucoside, abralin, stigmasterol, β- sitosterol, abrus saponin I and II are present.

The leaves said to contain abrin, and the leaves and roots glycyrrhizin.

The seeds have also been found to contain a crystalline nitrogenous compound called abrine and an amorphous glucosidic substance abraline with a mild bitter taste.

What is Abrin?

Abrin (toxalbumin) is a lectin composed of two polypeptide chains connected by a disulfide bridge. It is a natural poison. Effects of abrin poisoning depend on whether abrin was breathed in, swallowed, or injected.

Abrin kills by getting inside the cells of a person’s body and preventing the cells from making the proteins. Without the proteins, cells are destroyed. Eventually this kill.

Abrus precatorius Medicinal Uses

For medicinal purpose the roots, seeds, and leaves of Gunja or Ratti plant are used. Seeds are used in cough, colds colic complaints, gonorrhea, jaundice and uric bile. The root of the plant is described as emetic and useful in poisoning. The seeds constitute the Ratti weight used by jewelers and in Ayurveda.

Gunja seed has been used traditionally for its purgative, emetic, tonic, aphrodisiac, and hair growth promoting properties. The seeds are used only after being processed through Shodhana.

The leaves have a sweetish taste and their juice is used as a cure for hoarseness of voice.  Leaf juice mixed with bland oils is applied to painful swellings. The juice of the fresh leaves is also believed to be effective against leukoderma. The root is sometimes used as a substitute for Liquorice, but, although it is said to contain glycyrrhizin, it is a poor substitute.

Leucoderma

Plumbago zeylanica (Chitrak) roots are mixed with Abrus precatorius and used in leucoderma.

In white leprosy, a paste composed of gunja seed and plumbago root is applied as a stimulant dressing.

Scorpion sting and snakebite.

Abrus precatorius Root powder is taken orally along with cow’s milk to treat scorpion sting and snakebite.

Contraceptive

In Tripura, as a folk remedy the seeds are used contraceptive and abortifacient. The ½ tea spoon paste in tablet form twice a day in empty stomach for 3 days just after completion of menstrual period is used as Contraceptive.

WARNING: This is for information. Do not TRY. This can be Lethal.

Sciatica, Stiffness of the shoulder joint, paralysis and other nervous diseases

The seeds of Abrus precatorius reduced to a paste are recommended to be applied topically in sciatica, stiffness of the shoulder joint, paralysis and other nervous diseases.

Paraplegia

Gunja Bhadra Rasa, is an Ayurvedic formulation with other ingredients to be used internally for Paraplegia.

Gunja Bhadra Rasa

The seeds of Abrus precatorius six parts, purified mercury three parts, purified sulphur twelve parts, neem seeds, Cannabis sativa leaves and croton seeds, each one part is taken, rubbed together and soaked for one day in each of the following fluids, namely, lemon juice, juice of the leaves of Cannabis sativa, of datura leaves and of the leaves of Solarium nigrum (kakamachi). This medicine is given in doses of about eight grains, with rock salt and asafetida in paraplegia.

Leucorrhea

Take root part to be chewed. The root 5 gm is taken and chewed twice a day. This is done for 3 days.

Urinary Trouble

The root part of the plant is dried and powdered. 5 gm of this powder is taken with old gur twice a day for 5 days.

Rheumatism

Powder of leaf and root is mixed with the stem bark of Crataeva adansonii, stem of Coscinium fenestratum, Naravelia zeylanica and seeds of Abrus precatorius. The mixture is heated with castor, coconut and gingelly oils and applied externally on affected places to treat rheumatism.

Abrus Precatorius for Hair

The efficacy studies on hair growth and antibacterial effect of the shodhita Gunja show significant result in hair care.

Dandruff, seborrhoeic dermatitis, prurigo (intensely itchy spots) and other skin disease

For this purpose, Gunjadi Tailam is used.

Gunjadi Tailam

Sesamum oil four seers, juice of the leaves of Bhringraj sixteen seers, seeds of Abrus precatorius are reduced to a paste, one seer, and boiled together oil. This oil is used as a local application in scurf of the scalp, prurigo and other skin diseases.

Alopecia

In alopecia a paste of gunja seed is recommended to be rubbed on the bare scalp.

Abrus precatorius Beans are Poison

Abrus precatorius beans are poison. They contain proteid poisons with properties similar to the toxic agents of snake venom.

Abrus seeds contain a toxic lectin, abrin (an albumotoxin), a fatsplitting enzyme, a glucoside (abrussic acid), urease, abarnin, trigonelline, choline, hypaphorine, and steroidal oil that have abortive effects.  The toxalbumin, abrin consists of a globulin and a proteose.

Effects of Abrus precatorius on Body organs

  • Central Nervous System: Drowsiness, convulsions, hallucinations, and trembling of the hands.
  • Gastrointestinal: Severe gastroenteritis with nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, dysphagia and abdominal cramps
  • Haematological: haemagglutination and haemolysis by direct effect on red cells.
  • Liver: Necrotizing action of the toxin causes liver damage.
  • Renal:  Oliguria and anuria may result. Focal degeneration of the tubular cells.
  • Respiratory: Cyanosis secondary to hypotension and shock.

Abrus precatorius Poisoning

Initial signs and symptoms of abrin poisoning by breathing in or swallowing are likely to occur within 8 hours of exposure. However, symptoms may also be delayed for 1 to 3 days.

The effects of poisoning with abrin resemble very closely those of the toxalbuminricin, obtained from the seeds of Ricinus communis Linn., and the globulin has been found to be more powerful than the albumose proteose.

Abrin has the property of agglutinating the red blood corpuscles in a manner similar to ricin and it exerts its action after a period of incubation, regardless of the channel of introduction.

The toxicity of the seeds depends upon the manner in which they are administered. The whole seed may be swallowed with impunity, because action the outer covering is so hard that it escapes disintegration and the toxin is not freed. If chewed before it is swallowed, half a seed may cause poisoning in humans.

Abrin has a fatal dose of 0.1–1 μg/kg in humans and it is reported that boiling renders the seed harmless.

Since ancient times, Jequirity Bean has been used as fish poison, arrow poison and also for criminal purposes of poisoning both humans and cattle.

Accidental contact with eyes can cause conjunctivitis and even blindness in dose dependent manner.

Symptoms of Gunja Poisoning

The symptoms of Jequirity beans poisoning may develop after few hours to several days.

Symptoms may begin after delay of up to several days and may persist for as long as 10–11 days. Typical GI symptoms include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, resulting in more serious poisonings with severe dehydration and shock. Seeds affect liver, spleen, kidney, and the lymphatic system. Contact with the eyes can cause conjunctivitis and even blindness.

The symptoms of Jequirity beans poisoning include:

  • Abnormally rapid heart rate
  • Burning of the mouth and oesophagus
  • Cold sweat
  • Collapse
  • Convulsions
  • Dehydration
  • Diarrhea
  • Flushing of skin
  • Focal necrosis in the liver and kidneys
  • Hallucination
  • Hypertension
  • Multiple serosal hemorrhages
  • Muscular weakness
  • Nausea
  • Pulmonary edema
  • Retinal hemorrhages early in course of intoxication
  • Severe gastroenteritis
  • Swelling and inflammation of retroperitoneal lymph nodes
  • Swelling and inflammation of the Peyer’s patches
  • Trembling
  • Vomiting
  • Widely dilated pupils

How Abrin Poisoning is Treated

As a first-aid measure remove all seed particles from the mouth, induce vomiting and then seek medical help. Ensure patient’s airway is clear and that there is adequate ventilation. If the eyes are contaminated, wash eyes with running water for ten minutes.

The treatment of Jequirity beans poisoning is symptomatic as no antidote exists for abrin.

Supportive medical care is given in hospital to minimize the effects of the poisoning. Supportive measures include parenteral fluids and electrolytes.

  • If exposed, the most important factor is getting the abrin off or out of the body as quickly as possible.
  • The treatment involves aggressive gastric decontamination and supportive care.
  • The most important factors are avoiding abrin exposure. For this,
  • Do not allow children to play with seeds of Abrus precatorius.
  • Do not grow Abrus precatorius plants in home gardens.
  • Educate older children and the public of the dangers of ingesting seeds.
  • Keep seeds or ornaments made out of seeds away from children.

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