The genus Desmodium (Fabaceae)-traditional uses in Chinese medicine, phytochemistry and pharmacology
Ethnopharmacological relevance: Plants of the genus Desmodium (Fabaceae), such as Desmodium styracifolium (Osbeck) Merr. and Desmodium gyrans (L. f.) DC., have a long history of medical use in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat various ailments including rheumatism, pyrexia, dysentery, wounds, cough, malaria, hepatitis, hemoptysis, etc. In the theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine, most species have the effect of relieving internal heat or fever, neutralizing toxins, inhibiting pain, invigorating blood circulation, suppressing cough and alleviating dyspnea. Materials and methods: A bibliographic investigation was accomplished by analyzing secondary sources including Chinese Herbal Classics, and worldwide accepted scientific databases (Pubmed, Scopus and Web of Science, SciFinder) were scrutinized for the available information on the ethnopharmacological uses in Chinese medicine, phytochemistry, pharmacology and toxicology of Desmodium species. Results: The genus Desmodium is a large member of the Papilionaceae (Fabaceae) family. It contains about 350 plant species used for both feeding stuffs and herbal medicines, of which only about 30 species have been phytochemically or pharmacologically investigated. Desmodium plant extracts, as well as the active principles, have been experimentally studied for their anti-inflammatory, cytotoxic, antidiabetic, antinephrolithic, antibacterial, and nootropic activities in vitro or in vivo. And so far, a total of 212 compounds have been isolated from 15 Desmodium species and characterized mainly as flavonoids and alkaloids, followed by terpenoids, steroids, phenols, phenylpropanoids, glycosides and a number of volatile oils. The remaining unrevealed species are recorded chiefly in Asia and Africa being used in empirical treatment for various diseases. Conclusions: Desmodium species have long been used in TCM to treat various ailments. Available scientific references revealed that the traditional medical uses of some important Desmodium species in TCM have been evaluated by modern pharmacological studies. As literature demonstrated, flavonoids and alkaloids are perhaps responsible for most of the activities shown by the plants of this genus. Further studies are still required to reveal the structure-activity relationship of these active constituents.