Acalypha indica (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
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Acalypha indica L.

Protologue: Sp. pl. 2: 1003 (1753).
Family: Euphorbiaceae
Chromosome number: 2n = 20, 28

Vernacular names

  • Indian acalypha, Indian nettle, three-seeded mercury (En).
  • Ricinelle des Indes, oreille de chatte, herbe chatte (Fr).

Origin and geographic distribution

Acalypha indica occurs in Nigeria and from Sudan east to Somalia and south through DR Congo and East Africa to southern Africa including South Africa. It is also widespread in the Indian Ocean islands and occurs furthermore in India, South-East Asia and Oceania. It was introduced into the warmer parts of the New World.


In East Africa the leaf sap is used as eye drops to treat eye infections. In Namibia ground leaves in water are used for this purpose. Leaf powder is applied to maggot-infested wounds. In Comoros a leaf decoction is used as a massage cream to treat pain of the joints. In the Seychelles and Réunion a root infusion or decoction is taken to treat asthma, and also to clean the liver and kidneys. In the Seychelles a root decoction is also taken to treat intestinal worms and stomach-ache. A leaf infusion together with a tuber infusion of Jumellea fragrans (Thouars) Schltr. and sweetened with honey is taken to treat bronchitis. The leaves are emetic and an infusion together with the roots of Tylophora indica (Burm.f.) Merr. is taken in Réunion in case of poisoning. A leaf infusion is also taken as a purgative. In Madagascar the crushed aerial parts are applied to skin parasites and an infusion is taken as a purgative and vermifuge. In Mauritius the juice of the crushed leaves mixed with salt or a decoction of the aerial parts is applied to scabies and other skin problems. A poultice made from the whole plant is applied to treat headache. The leaf sap is taken as an emetic and the root decoction as a laxative. Acalypha indica was formerly listed in the British Pharmacopoeia. It has numerous medicinal uses in India and is listed in the Pharmacopoeia of India as an expectorant to treat asthma and pneumonia.

In north-eastern Africa Acalypha indica is browsed by sheep and goats. In India and Indonesia the plant is cultivated for its edible shoots and leaves, which are cooked as a vegetable.


The dried aerial parts contain a cyanogenic glycoside, acalyphin (0.3%) which is a 3-cyanopyridone derivative. Flavonoids, notably the kaempferol glycosides mauritianin, clitorin, nicotiflorin and biorobin, have been isolated from the flowers and leaves. The plant also contains tannins, ß-sitosterol (0.1%), acalyphamide, aurantiamide, succinimide and the pyranoquinolinone alkaloid flindersin. Some of the compounds of Acalypha indica cause intense, dark chocolate-brown discolouration of blood, and gastro-intestinal irritation in rabbits. Furthermore, ingestion of herbal medicine containing Acalypha indica may lead to haemolysis in patients suffering from glucose-6-phosphatase dehydrogenase deficiency.

Ethanol extracts of Acalypha indica show significant selective activity against vesicular stomatitis viruses. Cytotoxic activity was observed against HeLa cell lines.

An ethanol leaf extract showed significant inhibition to Viper russelli venom-induced lethality, haemorrhage, necrotizing and mast cell degranulation in rats and the cardiotoxic and neurotoxic effects in isolated frog tissue. Administration of an ethanol extract also significantly inhibited venom-induced lipid peroxidation and catalase levels of rat kidney tissue. Petroleum ether and ethanol extracts of the whole plant showed significant post-coital antifertility activity in female rats, and this anti-implantation activity was reversible on withdrawal of the extracts. Both extracts showed estrogenic activity at 600 mg/kg body weight. An ethanol extract of the aerial parts showed moderate wound-healing activity when topically applied to rats.

Crude extracts as well as hexane, chloroform, acetone and methanol fractions of shoots, leaves and roots showed antibacterial and antifungal activity; the chloroform extract of shoots and leaves demonstrated the highest activity. It also showed larvicidal activity against the larvae of Aedes aegypti and Tribolium casteneum. A leaf paste showed significant in vitro (48 hr) and in vivo (14 days) acaricidal activity against Psoroptes cuniculi infesting rabbits.

Acalyphin is used as a substitute for ipecacuanha from Psychotria ipecacuanha (Brot.) Stokes, as a vermifuge, expectorant and emetic.

Analysis of the shoots yielded per 100 g edible portion: water 80 g, energy 269 kJ (64 kcal), protein 6.7 g, fat 1.4 g, carbohydrate 6 g, fibre 2.3 g, Ca 667 mg, P 99 mg, Fe 17 mg and ascorbic acid 147 mg.


Monoecious, annual to sometimes short-lived perennial herb up to 1.5(–2.5) m tall; stems sparingly to densely hairy. Leaves arranged spirally, simple; stipules linear, c. 2 mm long; petiole up to 12 cm long; blade broadly ovate to ovate-lanceolate, 2–9 cm × 1–5 cm, base cuneate, apex acute, margins toothed, membranous, sparingly shortly hairy to almost glabrous on both surfaces, more hairy along the midrib, 5-veined at base and with 4(–5) pairs of lateral veins. Inflorescence an axillary, solitary or paired spike up to 6(–10) cm long, lower 75% with laxly arranged female flowers, upper part with densely congested male flowers, usually terminated by a female flower; bracts in female flowers transversely ovate to almost orbicular, 0.5–1 cm × 1–1.5 cm, toothed, each subtending 1–2(–5) flowers. Flowers unisexual, sessile, petals absent; male flowers with 4-lobed, minute, granular dotted, greenish calyx, stamens 8; female flowers with 3 triangular-ovate, c. 1 mm long, ciliate sepals, ovary superior, c. 0.5 mm in diameter, 3-celled, slightly 3-lobed, styles 3, fused at base, c. 2 mm long, fringed, white. Fruit a 3-lobed capsule c. 1.5 mm × 2 mm, granular dotted, shortly hairy, splitting into 3 cocci, each 2-valved and 1-seeded. Seeds ovoid, c. 1.5 mm × 1 mm, smooth, grey, caruncle linear, appressed; terminal flower producing 1 seed.

Other botanical information

Acalypha comprises about 460 species and occurs throughout the tropics, subtropics and warm temperate regions, excluding Europe. In tropical Africa about 65 species occur and in Madagascar and other Indian Ocean islands about 35 species. Several other annual Acalypha species with male and female flowers in the same inflorescence have medicinal uses.

Acalypha supera

The leaf sap of Acalypha supera Forssk. (synonym: Acalypha brachystachya Hornem.), from Central and East Africa and other parts of the Old World tropics, is used as eye drops in Gabon to treat headache.

Acalypha lanceolata

The leaf powder of Acalypha lanceolata Willd. from Central and southern Africa and other parts of the Old World tropics, mixed with castor oil (Ricinus communis L.) is applied to scabies. In South-East Asia the uses of Acalypha lanceolata are similar to those of Acalypha indica; in India the plant is cultivated for its edible shoots, which are eaten as a cooked vegetable.

Growth and development

Acalypha indica flowers throughout the year in regions without a pronounced dry season.


Acalypha indica occurs on sandy margins of rivers and seasonal water courses, usually in the shade of thickets, also on rocky hillsides, often in disturbed localities and as a weed of fields, from sea-level up to 1350 m altitude.

Propagation and planting

Acalypha indica is only propagated by seed.


Although Acalypha indica is cultivated in India for its edible shoots, not much information is available on its management. The plants need fair amounts of water and nutrients to grow quickly and stay tender. Acalypha indica is often considered a noxious weed.

Diseases and pests

The leaves of Acalypha indica may suffer from Alternaria leaf spot; in India the plant is sometimes severely affected by Pseudocercospora acalyphae. It is also a host of several plant viruses, e.g. pumpkin yellow vein mosaic virus, okra yellow vein mosaic virus, leaf curl virus and Nicotiana virus 10, often resulting in very severe and recurrent outbreaks in crops. Roots may suffer from nematode infestation (e.g. Meloidogyne spp.). In India Acalypha indica is a host of the spiralling whitefly (Aleurodicus dispersus).


Leaves, roots or whole plants of Acalypha indica are harvested when in full bloom.

Handling after harvest

After harvesting, the plants are used fresh or simply dried for future use.

Genetic resources

Acalypha indica is a common plant with a weedy nature and is therefore not threatened by genetic erosion.


Acalypha indica is an important medicinal plant in the Indian Ocean islands as well as in India for its expectorant properties. It also has significant antibacterial and antifungal activities, both against human and plant pathogens, and it would be worthwhile continuing research to isolate the active compounds. Care needs to be taken when using the species as a vegetable as it contains several alkaloids as well as hydrocyanic acid.

Major references

  • Burkill, H.M., 1994. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 2, Families E–I. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 636 pp.
  • Gopalakrishnan, V., Rao, K.N.V., Loganathan, V., Shanmuganathan, S., Bollu, V.K. & Sharma, T.B., 2000. Antimicrobial activity of extracts of Acalypha indica L. Indian Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences 62(5): 347–350.
  • Gurib-Fakim, A., Guého, J. & Bissoondoyal, M.D., 1996. Plantes médicinales de Maurice, tome 2. Editions de l’Océan Indien, Rose-Hill, Mauritius. 532 pp.
  • Hiremath, S.P., Rudresh, K., Badami, S., Patil, S.B. & Patil, S.R., 1999. Post-coital antifertility activity of Acalypha indica L. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 67(3): 253–258.
  • Lavergne, R. & Véra, R., 1989. Médecine traditionelle et pharmacopée - Contribution aux études ethnobotaniques et floristiques à la Réunion. Agence de Coopération Culturelle et Technique, Paris, France. 236 pp.
  • Masih, S.E. & Singh, B.G., 2005. Studies of fungistatic properties of leaf extract of some plants against dermatophytes. Advances in Plant Sciences 18(1): 435–438.
  • Nahrstedt, A., Hungeling, M. & Petereit, F., 2006. Flavonoids from Acalypha indica. Fitoterapia 77(6): 484–486.
  • Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
  • Shirwaikar, A., Rajendran, K., Bodla, R. & Kumar, C.D., 2004. Neutralization potential of Viper russelli russelli (russell’s viper) venom by ethanol leaf extract of Acalypha indica. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 94(2–3): 267–273.
  • Siregar, A.H., 2001. Acalypha L. In: van Valkenburg, J.L.C.H. & Bunyapraphatsara, N. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 12(2): Medicinal and poisonous plants 2. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 31–36.

Other references

  • Adjanohoun, E.J., Abel, A., Aké Assi, L., Brown, D., Chetty, K.S., Chong-Seng, L., Eymé, J., Friedman, F., Gassita, J.N., Goudoté, E.N., Govinden, P., Keita, A., Koudogbo, B., Lai-Lam, G., Landreau, D., Lionnet, G. & Soopramanien, A., 1983. Médecine traditionelle et pharmacopée - Contribution aux études ethnobotaniques et floristiques aux Seychelles. Agence de Coopération Culturelle et Technique, Paris, France. 170 pp.
  • Adjanohoun, E.J., Aké Assi, L., Ali Ahmed, Eymé, J., Guinko, S., Kayonga, A., Keita, A. & Lebras, M. (Editors), 1982. Médecine traditionelle et pharmacopée - Contribution aux études ethnobotaniques et floristiques aux Comores. Agence de Coopération Culturelle et Technique, Paris, France. 217 pp.
  • Ali, A.M., Mackeen, M.M., El-Sharkawy, S.H., Hamid, J., Ismail, H., Ahmad, F.B.H. & Lajis, N.H., 1996. Antiviral and cytotoxic activities of some plants used in Malaysian indigenous medicine. Pertanika Journal of Tropical Agricultural Science 19(2–3): 129–136.
  • Andriamanga, N., 1995. Les plantes médicinales anthelmintiques Malagasy. FOFIFA, DRZV (Direction des Recherches Zootechniques et en Vétérinaires), Antananarivo, Madagascar. 100 pp.
  • Gurib-Fakim, A., Sewraj, M., Guého, J. & Dulloo, E., 1993. Medical ethnobotany of some weeds of Mauritius and Rodrigues. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 39(3): 177–185.
  • Hiremath, S.P., Shrishailappa, B., Swamy, H.K.S., Biradar, J.S. & Badami, S., 1993. Antimicrobial activity of various extracts of Acalypha indica (Euphorbiaceae). Indian Journal of Microbiology 33(1): 75–77.
  • Lamabadusuriya, S.P. & Jayantha, U.K., 1994. Acalypha indica induced haemolysis in G6PD deficiency. Ceylon Medical Journal 39(1): 46–47.
  • Prema, P., 2004. Antimicrobial activity of selected medicinal plants. Journal of Ecobiology 16(5): 333–337.
  • Reddy, J.S., Rao, P.R. &, Reddy, M.S., 2002. Wound healing effects of Heliotropium indicum, Plumbago zeylanica and Acalypha indica in rats. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 79(2): 249–251.
  • Samy, R.P., Ignacimuthu, S. & Raja, D.P., 1999. Preliminary screening of ethnomedicinal plants from India. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 66(2): 235–240.
  • Singh, D.A.P., Raman, M., Saradha, V., Jayabharathi, P. & Kumar, V.R.S., 2004. Acaricidal property of kuppaimeni (Acalypha indica) against natural Psoroptes cuniculi infestation in broiler rabbits. Indian Journal of Animal Sciences 74(10): 1003–1006.
  • Solomon, D.J., Kallidass, S. & Vimalan, J., 2005. Isolation, identification and study of antimicrobial property of a bioactive compound in an Indian medicinal plant Acalypha indica (Indian nettle). World Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology 21(6–7): 1231–1236.
  • Talapatra, B., Goswami, S. & Talapatra, S.K., 1981. Acalyphamide, a new amide and other chemical constituents of Acalypha indica. Indian Journal of Chemistry, section B Organic Chemistry including Medicinal Chemistry 20(11): 974–977.

Sources of illustration

  • Siregar, A.H., 2001. Acalypha L. In: van Valkenburg, J.L.C.H. & Bunyapraphatsara, N. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 12(2): Medicinal and poisonous plants 2. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 31–36.


  • G.H. Schmelzer, PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article

Schmelzer, G.H., 2007. Acalypha indica L. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. Accessed 27 June 2022.