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Discovering Poisonous Plants by Tasting: The Case of Children in Mumias Sub-County, Kenya Introduction

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Plants are like a two-edged sword, which cuts on either pointing side. All living organisms exclusively depend on plants for their survival while, on the other hand, the same plants, just like the two-edged sword, are capable of killing any living organisms engaged with it. Identifying the fulcrum point of balancing the engagement level to avoid any harm, is a critical challenge to humanity! Jatropha curcas is an example of such a two-edged sword plant. All parts of J. curcas have been used in a folk remedy as human and veterinary medicines for a long time without any harm while its products such as oil have been conventionally applied in many industrial processes. Surprisingly, the seeds of J. curcas contain highly poisonous jatrophin, toxalbumin curcin and carcinogenic phorbol. Ingesting as few as three untreated seeds can be fatal to humans. The discussion in this case report is based on children who ate raw seeds of J. curcas. This is a testimony that children's knowledge about plants is limited and more effort should therefore be dedicated to teaching about poisonous plants. Lessons from this report are, before exploiting any plant for whatever application in the society, it is critical to have an in-depth scientific study of each part of the plant and generate information and henceforth knowledge to advise accordingly. More efforts should be concentrated on the identification and scientific evaluation of the unknown plants in our respective environments and any information generated should be put in the public domain to avoid any future calamity.
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Arabian Journal of Medicinal & Aromatic Plants Plant poisoning in Mumias Sub-County, Kenya
AJMAP 2016 V2 N(2) 99
Discovering Poisonous Plants by Tasting: The Case of Children in Mumias
Sub-County, Kenya
Wycliffe Wanzala
1
, Cornelius C. W. Wanjala
2
1
Department of Biological Sciences, School of Science and Information Sciences, Maasai Mara University, P.O. Box
861 – 20500, Narok, Kenya.
2
Department of Chemistry, School of Pure and Applied Sciences, South Eastern Kenya University, P.O. Box 170 –
90200, Kitui, Kenya.
Received: May 20th, 2016; Accepted: September 01th, 2016
Plants are like a two-edged sword, which cuts on either pointing side. All living organisms
exclusively depend on plants for their survival while, on the other hand, the same plants, just
like the two-edged sword, are capable of killing any living organisms engaged with it.
Identifying the fulcrum point of balancing the engagement level to avoid any harm, is a
critical challenge to humanity! Jatropha curcas is an example of such a two-edged sword
plant. All parts of J. curcas have been used in a folk remedy as human and veterinary
medicines for a long time without any harm while its products such as oil have been
conventionally applied in many industrial processes. Surprisingly, the seeds of J. curcas
contain highly poisonous jatrophin, toxalbumin curcin and carcinogenic phorbol. Ingesting
as few as three untreated seeds can be fatal to humans. The discussion in this case report is
based on children who ate raw seeds of J. curcas. This is a testimony that children’s
knowledge about plants is limited and more effort should therefore be dedicated to teaching
about poisonous plants. Lessons from this report are, before exploiting any plant for
whatever application in the society, it is critical to have an in-depth scientific study of each
part of the plant and generate information and henceforth knowledge to advise accordingly.
More efforts should be concentrated on the identification and scientific evaluation of the
unknown plants in our respective environments and any information generated should be put
in the public domain to avoid any future calamity.
Keywords: Euphorbiaceae, Jatropha curcas, Jatrophin/Toxalbumin curcin, Mumias,
Poisonous, Seeds
Corresponding author: Prof. Dr. Wycliffe Wanzala, PhD; School of Science and Information Sciences, Maasai Mara
University, P.O. Box 861 – 20500, Narok, Kenya. E-mail: osundwa1@yahoo.com or wanzala@mmarau.ac.ke
Arabian Journal of Medicinal & Aromatic Plants Plant poisoning in Mumias Sub-County, Kenya
AJMAP 2016 V2 N(2) 100
Introduction:
Human discoveries of useful and poisonous plants were made much earlier than the earliest
records of medicinal plants by the Chinese in 2800 BC, Ayuverda in 5000 BC, Egyptians in 1500
BC, Greeks in 400 BC and Holy religious books such as the Bible, Koran, Vedas etc. (Maitai
1996). In fact, the identification and use of plants and plant products is as old as human origin
and civilization! The ingenious exploitation of plant resources was indeed a manifestation of
humans’ separation from the rest of animals in the Kingdom Animalia and subsequent quest for
independence and the management of food security, housing and health at all costs in life.
Initial discoveries of useful plants (for food, medicines, clothing, energy/fuel, ornamental,
timber, ethnically based plants with cultural and traditional values etc.) by tasting, observations
of how animals use them and by the doctrine of signatures, was truly accidental and caused many
humans a fatality (Ayensu 1978), (Maitai 1996), (Wanzala et al. 2012). Poisonous plants were
similarly discovered by a method of trial and error, nevertheless the discovery of arrow poisons
remains to date, unexplained mystery in the evolutionary history of humanity. Plants normally
cause poisoning by ingestion, contact, absorption or inhalation. Given that the existence of
poisonous plants is a fact and research on herbal medicine has so far failed to confirm the
usefulness of some herbs, this, however, contributes to making the application of edible plants
and traditional medicine very contentious issues in agriculture and pharmaceutical industry,
respectively (Maitai 1996), (Kipkore et al. 2014).
Human-based discoveries have been the trend in human evolutionary history until the advent of
laboratories where the scientific tests beyond human “guinea pig” can be conducted and results
objectively verified through acceptable scientific methodologies. This is in fact, less risky and
safe for humans as “guinea pigs” in the laboratory. However, whichever method is applied, it is
costly, risky, tedious and not just easy to look at a plant and make judgment as to whether it is
poisonous or not.
In modern era, choosing to eat fruits of a plant with no prior knowledge was a bold decision by
children to innocently revert to old tactics of discovering poisonous plants as “guinea pigs” in the
laboratory, the current case being reported from Mumias Sub-County in Kenya. Nevertheless,
worldwide, plants are known to be one of the top 10 most frequent causes of poisoning in young
children under the age of 6 (Dolan and Welch-Keesey 2016). Plants are ubiquitous in our
environments and everyday life is wholly dependent on plants and plant resources in a variety of
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ways for our survival. Unfortunately, it is sad to note that in the entire Kingdom Plantae, there
are potentially harmful plant species to humans, children becoming the most vulnerable group in
the human population in spite of precautionary efforts being advanced worldwide (Fančovičová
and Prokop 2011). This may be due to poor identification skills of poisonous plants by children,
thus posing a very high risk of poisoning effect amongst them. This case report is a manifestation
of how plants, albeit the fact that they support life in entirety (Agbogidi et al. 2013), can, on the
other hand, create a huge risk on human livelihoods if care is not taken.
2. Making distinction between poisonous and non-poisonous plants
This is challenging and it is not easy to make the distinction between poisonous and non-
poisonous plants in the world of unregulated “alternative medicine’’, no research on edible/non-
edible plants in the wild, rocketing food insecurity and in the light of looming poverty in every
sector of life. For instance, hunger may make anything look like food, particularly when the
nasty wild plants look appetizing; being caught in the wild environments without food, becomes
an even more dangerous scenario (
MacWelch 2015
). The poisoning effect may range from mild
irritation to severe illness or death (Dolan and Welch-Keesey 2016), partly depending on the
chemical composition of the plant. For instance, one plant usually has so many phytochemicals
found in unique proportions in different parts (flowers, buds, fruits, seeds roots, stems, leaves
etc.) and at a certain specific time during the growth and development of the plant (Duke 1983),
(Prasad et al. 2012). Choosing therefore, which part(s) of such a plant has an appropriate
proportion of the phytochemicals considered safe for human consumption, is a trial and error
mechanism, which positions humans as “guinea pigs” in a laboratory. Further, determination of
such proportions are indeed very perplexing, time consuming and just costly by any means. This
may help explain why the whole of medicinal or edible plants are rarely used; instead only
specific parts of a given plant are considered (Wanzala et al. 2012).
Case report:
Background
On Sunday, February 1st, 2015 at Mwikunda ‘B’ village in Mumias Sub-County, about 18
children admired ripe fruits of Jatropha curcas while passing by (Figure 3). The appetizing fruits
coupled with their hunger, left the 18 children, aged between 5 and 12 years, with no option
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other than sampling the sweet fruits competitively. After consumption of fruits, particularly the
seeds the children started complaining of stomachache before their condition worsened and
became complicated with severe vomiting, diarrhea and acute abdominal pains. The children
were taken to Matungu Sub-County Hospital where they were given first aid and thereafter
referred to St. Mary’s Hospital Mumias for specialized treatment while in critical conditions
(Figure 1).
Figure 1. A section of the 18 children from one family recuperates at St. Mary's Hospital
Mumias morning of Monday, February 2, 2015. They were admitted after eating wild fruits of
Jatropha curcas. Adopted from Wakhisi and Sakwa (2015).
http://www.standardmedia.co.ke/article/2000150269/panic-as-18-children-in-a-mumias-hospital-
after-eating-poisonous-fruits, as retrieved on Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015 at 10:00 GMT +3.
Cultural beliefs beyond Jatropha curcas Linn. poisoning – Is this ritual medicine?
When it became apparent that the sickness of the 18 children was due to the fruits they ate, it
caused panic among residents who claimed the tree had grown on a community grave since
1993. The children’s sickness therefore was a punishment from the disturbed evil spirit of the
dead. While some residents claimed that the tree had grown naturally but unfortunately on the
grave of their relative wife. Culturally, it was believed that the children had disturbed the peace
of the evil spirit, which became annoyed and caused the sickness in children and they may
therefore die. Community old men and women were therefore assembled at the site so that the
specific tree of Jatropha curcas Linn. to be ceremoniously uprooted while the evil spirits were
appeased by shading blood of an animal and roasting meat at the site as a sign of reconciliation,
Arabian Journal of Medicinal & Aromatic Plants Plant poisoning in Mumias Sub-County, Kenya
AJMAP 2016 V2 N(2) 103
recognition, asking for forgiveness from the disturbed evil spirit. This was therefore believed to
restore the lost relationship between the living and the dead. The residents claimed that the tree
on which the fruits grew had been there for many years (more than 20 years), but they had never
known that the plant was poisonous! They could not therefore understand why the tree became
poisonous all of sudden when their children ate its fruits. The residents wondered because most
plants causing acute and sub-acute poisoning are well known to the local community where they
grow, as the cause-effect relationship is easy to establish (Maitai and Mungai 2005). However,
some people claimed that certain trees were usually planted by the family members of the
deceased as one way of ensnaring the person who killed their beloved one, so this could be the
case. In the framework of these complaints and counter accusations, what did not come out
clearly was, whether the fruits of these trees of Jatropha curcas Linn. had been eaten in the past
or not? As no one appeared to be associated with the fruits of this tree any more, answers this
question was not forthcoming and residents remained elusive on this particular issue but
determined to conduct the suggested ceremony.
According to the traditions of the AbaWanga people, if the tree was to be uprooted from the
grave, then a sheep, a goat or cattle, depending on circumstances, has to be slaughtered to
appease the dead and prevent the dead from causing any calamity. An animal of a certain color,
usually brown, black or white, was to be provided by the relatives of the dead and/or the parents
of the affected children and had to be slaughtered in a specific special way closer to the tree to be
uprooted.
The panic of the sickness of the children and clamor to conduct this ceremony intensified until it
attracted the attention of local Governor of Kakamega County, Kenya News Agencies
(KNA)/media houses and plant scientists in Kenya. The Governor, however, ordered the tree to
be uprooted and warned residents to avoid planting unknown trees in their homes to avoid such
incidents in future and as one of the remedies of preventing plant poisoning in human
environments.
Whether or not the alleged ceremony was to provide some healing powers to the sick children, it
remained a mystery up to date! However, ideologically, this way of thinking to save life is a
reflection of the value of traditional and cultural lifestyle of the AbaWanga people in Mumias,
the former Wanga Kingdom. This is a testimony of ritual medicine inherent in the
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ethnoknowledge of the AbaWanga people. This community still retains their traditional Kingship
(Obunabongo) up to date and henceforth, their cultural values, taboos and norms.
Identity of the plant species
Following the news by KNA about the poisonous fruits of a wild plant in Mumias Sub-County,
we visited the site (Mwikunda ‘B’ village) and sampled the candidate plant species. The plant
specimens were harvested, prepared, packaged and stored according to the Herbarium rules and
regulations until transported to the Herbarium of the University of Nairobi, School of Biological
Sciences for authentic botanical identification using voucher specimens. The plant taxonomy
also used the Hutchinson system of plant taxonomy based on the plants’ probable phylogeny.
The plant was confirmed to be Jatropha curcas Linn. While in the Herbarium, further non-
experimental validation studies were conducted and a voucher specimen prepared and deposited.
Non-experimental validation studies:
Secondary data evaluation and analysis
This involved the collection of comparative and contrasting secondary data on ethnopractices
and various conventional studies conducted on Jatropha curcas Linn. in time and space. An
extensive literature search was conducted on the taxonomy of the plant specimen collected and
their ethnobotanical and conventional applications from the internet, research institutions, non-
governmental organizations (NGOs), East Africa and the University of Nairobi herbaria libraries
and laboratories.
The Jatropha curcas Linn.
Jatropha curcas Linn. is a flowering semi-evergreen shrub or small tree of Euphorbiaceae family
(Figure 2). It reaches a height of 6 m. The plant is native to the American tropics (Mexico and
Central America) but is cultivated in tropical and subtropical regions around the world,
becoming naturalized in some areas. It is resistant to a high degree of aridity, allowing it to be
grown in deserts. Contrary to this observation, the plant requires more water for its growth and
development than it was thought before (Achten et al. 2007), (Achten et al. 2008) (Mogaka et al.
2014). The specific epithet, "curcas", was first used by a Portuguese Doctor, Garcia de Orta
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more than 400 years ago and is of uncertain origin. Common names include: Barbados nut,
purging nut, physic nut, or JCL (an abbreviation of Jatropha curcas Linnaeus).
Figure 2. The aerial parts of Jatropha curcas Linn. with its mature fruits.
The medicinal and industrial values of Jatropha curcas Linn.
Traditionally, Jatropha curcas Linn. has shown several potentials in medical and industrial
applications (Duke 1983) (Gübitz et al. 1999) (Openshaw 2000) (Prasad et al. 2012). The plant
has a long curative history in many parts of the world as well as among several African countries
like Gabon, Nigeria, Kenya, South Sudan and Ghana (Thomas et al. 2008) (Orwa et al. 2009)
(Prasad et al. 2012) (Mogaka et al. 2014). Most parts of this plant are used for the treatment of a
wide range of human and veterinary ailments. For instance, industrially, it is used for making
soap, candles, a synthetic detergent, lubricants, softeners and dyeing assistants while, on the
other hand, the plant is medically used as a contraceptive and for the treatment of a wide range of
diseases like cancer, piles, snakebite, paralysis, dropsy, etc. (Duke 1983). Additionally, the
boiled and roasted seeds are used as food, as this kind of treatment has been known to reduce the
effect of plant poisoning (Maitai and Mungai 2005). However, this method is not exhaustive in
removing poisonous compounds from target plants and should not be relied on to declare some
plants safe for human consumption after treatment. Nevertheless, Bones (2012), the Biology
Professor at Norwegian University of Science and Technology think otherwise and has
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AJMAP 2016 V2 N(2) 106
demonstrated that plants can be genetically programed to reduce the toxic substances they
produce thus making them more palatable than ever before in a sustainable manner. Nonetheless,
this option may not work well with countries, which have banned genetically modified
organisms within their boundaries like France and Norway in Europe.
The eminence and value of J. curcas Linn. was strongly highlighted in 2004/2005, when the
plant began to be viewed globally as a possible source of biofuel (Tomomatsu and Swallow
2007), (Fairless 2007), (Slingerland and Tjeuw 2014). The seeds contain 27-40% oil that can be
processed to produce a high-quality biodiesel fuel, usable in a standard diesel engine.
Figure 3. Fruits (a) and seeds (b) of
Jatropha curcas Linn. Each inflorescence yields a bunch of
approximately 10 or more ovoid fruits. A three, bi-valved cocci is formed after the seeds mature
and the fleshy exocarp dries. The seeds become mature when the capsule changes from green to
yellow, after 2 to 4 months (b). As retrieved from
http://www.biodieselmagazine.com/articles/9008/sgb-confirms-genetic-diversity-of-jatropha-is-
comparable-to-corn and http://www.reuk.co.uk/Jatropha-for-Biodiesel-Figures.htm, respectively
on Saturday, May 14, 2016 at 6:58 PM East Africa Time.
Toxicity property of Jatropha curcas Linn.
Much like other members of the family Euphorbiaceae, members of the genus Jatropha contain
several toxic compounds (Prasad et al. 2012). The seeds of Jatropha curcas contain highly
poisonous toxalbumin curcin, a lectin dimer and carcinogenic phorbol (Anonymous 2008).
Despite this, the seeds are occasionally eaten after roasting, which reduces some of the toxicity.
Its sap is a skin irritant, and ingesting as few as three untreated seeds can be fatal to humans as
they are the source of the highly poisonous toxalbumin curcin or jatrophin. In 2005, Western
Australia banned Jatropha gossypiifolia as invasive and highly toxic to people and animals
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(MacIntyre 2007). While, on the other hand, Jatropha oil is not suitable for human consumption,
as it induces strong vomiting and diarrhea.
Comparative analysis and conclusion
Jatropha curcas is a unique plant, compared to a two-edged sharp sword, cutting in either
direction! The toxicity property and the industrial/medical value of this plant is well documented
in literature. Various parts of the plant have different phytochemical composition and some of
which are highly poisonous like toxalbumin curcin and jatrophin found in seeds, which were
consumed by the 18 children being reported in this case. The same seeds contain a lot of oil,
which induces strong vomiting and diarrhea, the critical conditions in which the 18 children were
admitted at St. Mary’s Hospital Mumias for specialized treatment. Since previously, J. curcas
had been praised for its several potentials in industrial application and medicinal values (Prasad
et al., 2012), (Agbogidi et al. 2013), it follows with logical necessity that before exploiting any
plant for any application, it is crucial to have an in-depth scientific evaluation of each part of the
plant and advice accordingly (Prasad et al. 2012). If such knowledge could have existed amongst
the people of Mumias, probably the 18 children would not have eaten the seeds of J. Curcas as
early warning strategies would have been put in place.
Although cooking and roasting of poisonous plants to make them less poisonous and henceforth
edible is a practice (Maitai and Mungai 2013), may not be a sustainable solution as such for not
all active ingredients causing poisoning effect may become affected by heat. Probably genetic
engineering may offer an everlasting solution to the problems of poisonous plants in the society
when it is used to develop once inedible plants to become fit for human consumption and help
solve world hunger problem (Bones 2012).
Reducing the risk of plant poisoning in your environment
As an effort towards reducing the risk of poisoning from plants in one’s environment, the
following steps are recommended as adopted from Dolan and Welch-Keesey (2016). These
recommendations need to be observed all the time because there are about 250,000 plant species
known in the world, but only 5,000 to 10,000 plant species are considered edible, the rest are
considered as either poisonous or just inedible for humans (Bones 2012). From this database
therefore, it follows with logical necessity that the unknown plant species, which are still in the
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wild, pose the greatest risk in the society, particularly to children who, more often than not
encounter them ignorantly in their respective environments while playing (Fančovičová and
Prokop, 2011).
1. Keep all plants up off the floor and out of reach of children and pets.
2. Think about using fake instead of real flowers and plants if young children or pets live in
or visit your home.
3. Store bulbs and seeds locked away, out of sight and reach of children.
4. Never eat any part of an unknown plant.
5. Teach children not to eat anything straight from a plant or bush.
6. Teach children to show all plants and berries to an adult before eating.
7. Never chew on jewelry, etc., made from plant material or allow children to do so.
8. Don’t rely on cooking and/or roasting to destroy poisonous compounds in plants.
9. Remember that plants can also be a choking danger for children and pets.
10. Fence off or remove known poisonous or dangerous plants in your environment.
11. Keep the Poison Information Center phone number in your country near your phone or in
the contact list of your mobile phone.
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Arabian Journal of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants
www.ajmap.org ISSN 2458-5920
... The other common names are Jungle Erandi, Ratanjot, Bagranda, purging nut tree and Barbados nut tree [2], also known as mbono kaburi in Swahili language and michakaburi in local language. Children are regularly exposed to toxic plants and usually poisoned when plants are mistaken for common, edible plants e.g., Jatropha curcas is often mistaken for nuts [3] [4] [5] [6] [7]. There are fewer datasets on paediatric poisoning from developing countries than from developed countries, likely due to underreporting of cases and lack of proper data management systems [8]. ...
... When plants are to be utilized for treatment, how- ever, it is essential to be mindful of their toxic potential ( Botha and Penrith, 2008). Plant poisoning in humans usually arises either from unintentional use of toxic plants as food, particularly by inexperienced children (Van Wyk, Van Heerden, and Van Oudtshoorn, 2002; Wanzala and Wanjala, 2016) or from the use of poisonous plants for medicinal purposes. In South Africa, for instance, 2% of the people admitted to acute poisoning, compared to 15% of the patients poisoned by traditional plant medicine ( Gaillard and Paquin, 1999). ...
Article
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Human cognition is influenced by natural selection which results in better information retention related to survival and faster visual recognition of potential threat. Plants are excellent models for studying human preferences because of the long evolutionary connectedness of humans with plants as food sources, although research in this field is scarce. We created visual detection tasks to investigate human responses to toxic and non-toxic plants using a sample of children (N = 80) and adolescents (N = 80). As predicted, toxic plants were detected significantly sooner than non-toxic plants. Children showed faster plant detection times than adolescents and females were faster in identification of plants than males. There were, however, no differences in toxic plant identification skills with respect to age and gender. These results suggest that plant toxicity, as an example of survival-relevant information, meets with increased attention on the part of humans and needs to be incorporated into teaching botany.
... [1][2][3][4][5] Children are regularly exposed to toxic plants and usually poisoned when plants are mistaken for common, edible plants e.g., Jatropha curcas is often mistaken for nuts. [3][4][5][6][7] Similar cases have been reported in Thailand, India and Israel. [8][9][10] All of these studies show that children are more susceptible to J. curcas poisoning because of their highly curious nature, which often leads to ingestion of the seeds. ...
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The semi-evergreen shrub, Jatropha curcas is native to Central and South America, but now occurs worldwide. Four children suffered severe symptoms of abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting after ingesting the seeds of J. curcas. These cases support the listing of J. curcas as a noxious weed. As a result of this, and a few other incidents, municipal authorities are urged to discourage the use of highly toxic plants such as J. curcas for hedges and garden plants, and to monitor the occurrence of such species. We present a case report about J. curcas poisoning.
Chapter
Ethnoknowledge is practical information inherently accumulated by humanity and passed on from one generation to the next mostly by word of mouth in time and space. The knowledge is mainly esoteric, localized, and manifests in many different, unique, and useful formats with ethnopractitioners. This chapter demonstrates that the AbaWanga people of Kenya have developed potentially useful ethnomedicine systems based on ethnobotany, with more males than females participating as ethnopractitioners. This gendered divide is shaped and influenced by culture and practices that privilege men in the ethnopractitioner profession. In part, then, this chapter is anchored in feminist pedagogy and andragogy theories. Communities of practice and use of technology are offered as part of the strategies that can democratize and change learning processes amongst ethnopractitioners. Lastly, the chapter offers recommendations, suggests future research possibilities, and provides implications for ethnopractitioner learning.
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Plants are a rich source of many natural products most of which have been extensively used for human welfare, and treatment of various diseases. Jatropha curcas, a multipurpose, drought resistant, perennial plant belonging to Euphorbiaceae family is gaining a lot of economic importance because of its several potentials in industrial application and medicinal values. J. curcas has been used as traditional medicine to cure various infections. Researchers had isolated and characterized numerous biologically active compounds from all parts of this plant. In addition, the mechanisms of action of these active compounds have been studied in relation to the applications in traditional medicine. Before exploiting any plant for medicinal application, it is crucial to have complete information about the medicinal uses of each part of the plant. The medicinal uses of the leaves, fruit, seed, stem bark, branches, twigs, latex and root of J. curcas are discussed in this review. If the full potential of the plant is to be revealed, much more research is required to develop herbal medicine using modern science and technology. A potential aspect based on markets for all of its medicinal products should be conducted thoroughly, to promote the ability of this plant to cure so many illnesses.
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Between 2004 and 2007, NGOs, community based organisations and private investors promoted jatropha in Kenya with the aim of generating additional income and producing biofuel for rural development. By 2008 it became gradually evident that jatropha plantations (both mono- and intercropping) are uneconomical and risky due to competition for land and labour with food crops. Cultivation of jatropha hedges was found to have better chances of economic success and to present only little risks for the adopting farmers. Still, after 2008 a number of farmers went on adopting jatropha in plots rather than as hedges. It is hypothesised that lack of awareness about the low economic prospects of jatropha plantations was the main reason for continued adoption, and that smallholder farmers with higher resource endowments mainly ventured into its cultivation.
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Jatropha curcas is a drought resistant, perennial plant that grows even in the marginal and poor soil. Raising Jatropha is easy. It keeps producing seeds for many years. In the recent years, Jatropha has become famous primarily for the production of biodiesel; besides this it has several medicinal applications, too. Most parts of this plant are used for the treatment of various human and veterinary ailments. The white latex serves as a disinfectant in mouth infections in children. The latex of Jatropha contains alkaloids including Jatrophine, Jatropham and curcain with anti-cancerous properties. It is also used externally against skin diseases, piles and sores among the domestic livestock. The leaves contain apigenin, vitexin and isovitexin etc. which along with other factors enable them to be used against malaria, rheumatic and muscular pains. Antibiotic activity of Jatropha has been observed against organisms including Staphylococcus aureus and Es-cherichia coli. There are some chemical compounds including curcin (an alkaloid) in its seeds that make it unfit for common human consumption. The roots are known to contain an antidote against snake venom. The root extract also helps to check bleeding from gums. The soap prepared from Jatropha oil is efficient against buttons. Many of these traditional medicinal properties of Jatropha curcas need to be investigated in depth for the marketable therapeutic products vis-à-vis the toxicological effects thereof. This mini review aims at providing brief biological significance of this plant along with its up-to-date therapeutic applications and risk factors.
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Jatropha curcas is a multipurpose, drought-resistant, biofuel tree originating from Central and South America, but now growing pantropic. The tree produces seeds containing 27–40% inedible oil, which is easily convertible into biodiesel. Although even some basic agronomic characteristics of J. curcas are not yet fully under-s-tood, the plant enjoys a booming interest, which may hold the risk of unsustainable practice. Our qualitative sustainability assessment, focusing on environmental impacts and strengthened by some socio-economic issues, is quite favorable as long as only wastelands or degraded grounds are taken into J. curcas cultivation. Preliminary lifecycle energy and greenhouse gas (GHG) balances are positive, but the GHG balance is expected to be much dependent on the type of land use which is converted to J. curcas. Removing natural forest will have a severe impact on the global warming potential of the jatropha biodiesel. The cultivation intensity and the distance to markets are expected to have a significant impact on the GHG balance as well. Similar reasoning applies for the impact on soil, water, vegetation structure and biodiversity, although the latter will always depend on local circumstances. Next to biodiesel production and wasteland reclamation, J. curcas also hosts socio-economic development potential. The multipurpose character of the plant and the labor-intensive production chain are thought to be the main drivers for rural development, but are uncertain. In order to achieve best results with respect to both environmental and socio-economic issues, decisions have to be based on local environmental, economical, cultural and social characteristics. © 2007 Society of Chemical Industry and John Wiley & Sons, Ltd
Article
In the last few years the potential of the drought resistant tropical tree Jatropha curcas L. (Euphorbiaceae) for the production of biofuels and industrial products has been assessed by several groups. Various novel methods for the cultivation and genetic improvement of J. curcas have been presented. A trans-esterification process of the seed oil for its use as a biofuel was evaluated on an industrial scale (1500 t/a). Various biologically active substances have been isolated and characterized from all parts of the plant. Their mechanisms of action have been studied in relation to a great number of applications of J. curcas in traditional medicine. Substances such as phorbol esters, responsible for the toxicity of J. curcas to animals and humans, have been isolated and their molluscicidal, insecticidal and fungicidal properties have been demonstrated in lab-scale experiments and field trials. Newly developed biotechnological processes related to the exploitation of J. curcas include the genetic improvement of the plant, biological pest control, enzyme-supported oil extraction, anaerobic fermentation of the press cake and the isolation of anti-inflammatory substances and wound-healing enzymes.