Boerhavia repens (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
List of species

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Boerhavia repens L.

Protologue: Sp. pl. 1: 3 (1753).
Family: Nyctaginaceae
Chromosome number: n = 52

Vernacular names

  • Creeping spiderling (En).
  • Trevinha (Po).
  • Mkwayakwaya (Sw).

Origin and geographic distribution

Boerhavia repens has a pantropical distribution, and possibly originates from the Old World. It occurs throughout Africa, including the Mediterranean countries and South Africa, and is especially common in regions with a distinct dry season.


Boerhavia repens is considered to have similar properties to Boerhavia diffusa L., and the root is applied in India especially as a diuretic, but also as a stomachic, cardiotonic, hepatoprotective, laxative, anthelmintic, febrifuge, expectorant and, in higher doses, as an emetic and purgative. In West Africa decoctions of the roots and leaves of Boerhavia repens are taken in moderate doses to cure asthma, and in larger doses as an emetic, diuretic and laxative and to cure leprosy and syphilis. The roots are boiled and applied as a poultice to cure ulcers, including those resulting from Guinea worm infections, while ground roots are applied to yaws. The ground roots mixed with ground seeds of Blighia sapida K.D.Koenig are applied to the body to cure chicken pox. An infusion of the whole plant is taken to cure convulsions and amenorrhoea. The Yoruba people of Nigeria give an infusion as a mild laxative and febrifuge to children. The pounded plant is applied externally against dropsy. An infusion of the leaves is taken as an abortifacient, ecbolic and to cure jaundice, and the whole plant is pulped for poulticing sprains. In Central Africa a root decoction is taken as an aphrodisiac or to cure stomach-ache, while root sap is used as eye drops to treat filaria infection. In Nigeria Boerhavia repens is preferred over Boerhavia diffusa and Boerhavia erecta L. because it is considered the most effective.

In West Africa the leaves are sometimes prepared in a sauce as a vegetable, and the seeds are added to cereals or other food in Senegal and Mali. In Nigeria the root is added to cake and the Hausa people eat the plant as a cure for faintness due to hunger. The leafy stems are widely eaten by sheep and cattle, and may also be cut as a fodder.

Production and international trade

Boerhavia repens is used at a local scale, except in India where the plant enters into popular medicinal formulations, in the same way as Boerhavia diffusa and Boerhavia erecta.


All plant parts of Boerhavia repens contain flavonoid glycosides and the alkaloid punarnavine. A methanol extract of the entire plant inhibited bone resorption induced by parathyroid hormone in mouse bone tissue culture; some flavonoid glycosides were isolated as active compounds.


Annual to perennial, prostrate or straggling herb, with stems up to 60 cm long, with a slender taproot; stem few- to much-branched, fleshy, green, often flushed with red, finely hairy or glabrescent, nodes swollen. Leaves opposite, simple, unequal; stipules absent; petiole 0.5–1.5 cm long; blade broadly ovate to elliptical, 1–2.5 cm × 0.5–1.5 cm, base cuneate, rounded or truncate, apex rounded to acute, margins sinuate, pale green to whitish beneath, finely hairy, glandular hairy or glabrescent. Inflorescence an axillary, congested, irregular umbel or cyme, ( 3–)5–7(–13)-flowered; peduncle (2–)4–7 cm long; bracts and bracteoles small, fimbriate, caducous. Flowers bisexual, regular; pedicel (0–)1–1.5 mm long; perianth tubular-campanulate, distinctly constricted halfway, lower part ellipsoid, surrounding the ovary, 5-ribbed, green, upper part 5-lobed, up to 3.5 mm × 3 mm, lobes emarginate, white, pink or mauve, soon falling; stamens ( 1–)2(–3), slightly exserted; ovary superior, seemingly inferior, 1-celled, style slightly exserted, stigma head-shaped. Fruit an achene enclosed by the thickened lower part of perianth (collectively called anthocarp); anthocarp obovoid to ellipsoid, 3–3.5 mm × 1.5–2 mm, apex rounded, 5-ribbed, with rounded ribs, with glandular hairs all over, 1-seeded. Seed ovoid, pale brown. Seedling with epigeal germination.

Boerhavia repens can be found flowering and fruiting throughout the year, when sufficient water is available.

Other botanical information

Boerhavia comprises 5–20 species, depending on the species concept, and includes several variable pantropical weeds with complex nomenclatural histories.

Boerhavia coccinea

In West Africa the leaf pulp of Boerhavia coccinea Mill., which is related to Boerhavia repens, mixed with peanut oil is burnt and the smoke inhaled to calm toothache. An infusion of the root is taken to treat liver problems. In Nigeria the roots are ground with other herbs and taken in water as a vermifuge. The leaves are sometimes cooked and eaten as a potherb. The nomads of the Sahara cook the protein-rich seeds in a soup.


Boerhavia repens occurs in disturbed sandy and rocky localities, often in occasionally inundated areas, such as ditches along roadsides, dry river beds, flood plains and irrigated fields, up to 1600(–1900) m altitude. Boerhavia repens prefers sunny sites and a seasonal climate with a pronounced dry season.


The harvested parts of Boerhavia repens are often used fresh, except for the roots, which may be dried in the sun for later use.

Genetic resources

Boerhavia repens has a large area of distribution and occurs in disturbed habitats, and is therefore not at risk of genetic erosion.


Boerhavia repens has similar medicinal uses to its better-known relative Boerhavia diffusa, but more research is needed to elucidate its chemistry and pharmacological activities.

Major references

  • Abbiw, D.K., 1990. Useful plants of Ghana: West African uses of wild and cultivated plants. Intermediate Technology Publications, London and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 337 pp.
  • Ayensu, E.S., 1978. Medicinal plants of West Africa. Reference Publication, Michigan. 330 pp.
  • Gilbert, M.G., 2000. Nyctaginaceae. In: Edwards, S., Mesfin Tadesse, Demissew Sebsebe & Hedberg, I. (Editors). Flora of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Volume 2, part 1. Magnoliaceae to Flacourtiaceae. The National Herbarium, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Department of Systematic Botany, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden. pp. 264–273.
  • Li, J., Li, H., Kadota, S., Namba, T., Miyahara, T. & Khan, U.G., 1996. Effects on cultured neonatal mouse calvaria of the flavonoids isolated from Boerhavia repens. Journal of Natural Products 59(11): 1015–1018.
  • Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.

Other references

  • Berhaut, J., 1979. Flore illustrée du Sénégal. Dicotylédones. Volume 6. Linacées à Nymphéacées. Gouvernement du Sénégal, Ministère du Développement Rural et de l’Hydraulique, Direction des Eaux et Forêts, Dakar, Senegal. 636 pp.
  • Burkill, H.M., 1997. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 4, Families M–R. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 969 pp.
  • Codd, L.E., 1966. Notes on Boerhavia in Southern Africa. Bothalia 9(1): 113–121.
  • Le Bourgeois, T. & Merlier, H., 1995. Adventrop. Les adventices d’Afrique soudano-sahélienne. CIRAD-CA, Montpellier, France. 637 pp.
  • Noba, K. & Ba, A.T., 1992. Réexamen de la systématique de 3 espèces du genre Boerhavia L. (Nyctaginaceae). Webbia 46(2): 327–339.
  • Philcox, D. & Coode, M.J.E., 1994. Nyctaginacées. In: Bosser, J., Cadet, T., Guého, J. & Marais, W. (Editors). Flore des Mascareignes. Familles 136–148. The Sugar Industry Research Institute, Mauritius, l’Institut Français de Recherche Scientifique pour le Développement en Coopération (ORSTOM), Paris, France & Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 5 pp.
  • Thulin, M., 1993. Nyctaginaceae. In: Thulin, M. (Editor). Flora of Somalia. Volume 1. Pteridophyta; Gymnospermae; Angiospermae (Annonaceae-Fabaceae). Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. pp. 168–175.
  • Whitehouse, C., 1996. Nyctaginaceae. In: Polhill, R.M. (Editor). Flora of Tropical East Africa. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, Netherlands. 20 pp.


  • M. Muzila, Herbarium (UCBG), Department of Biological Sciences, University of Botswana, Private Bag UB00704, Gaborone, Botswana

Correct citation of this article

Muzila, M., 2006. Boerhavia repens L. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. Accessed 19 August 2022.