Curculigo orchioides (PROSEA)

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Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

1, flowering plant; 2, rhizome; 3, flower; 4, fruit; 5, seed (Achmad Satiri Nurhaman)

Curculigo orchioides Gaertner

Protologue: Fruct. sem. pl. 1: 63 (1788).
Family: Hypoxidaceae
Chromosome number: 2n= 18, 36

Vernacular names

  • Papua New Guinea: tupa-aui (Kenemote, Eastern Highlands)
  • Philippines: taloangi (Bagobo), tataluangi (Bukidnon), sulsulitik (Bontok)
  • Thailand: waan phraao (northern)
  • Vietnam: ngải cau, sâm cau, tiên mao.

Origin and geographic distribution

C. orchioides occurs from the subtropical Himalayas of Pakistan and India, to Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos, southern China, Taiwan, southern Japan, to Thailand and Malesia (at least known with certainty from Java and the Philippines), and possibly also to northern and eastern Australia. The distribution in Malesia is very incompletely known.


A decoction of the powdered rhizomes ("Curculiginis Rhizoma") is used in Chinese traditional medicine as a general tonic and analeptic in the treatment of decline (especially of physical strength). In the Philippines, Nepal and India, the rhizome is used as diuretic and aphrodisiac, and to cure skin diseases (externally), peptic ulcers, piles, gonorrhoea, leucorrhoea, asthma, jaundice, diarrhoea and headache. In Thailand, the rhizome is used as a diuretic and to treat diarrhoea. In Papua New Guinea, the rhizome and leaves are softened by being heated over a fire, before being rubbed on the body to serve as a contraceptive. In China, additional reported indications include the treatment of lumbago, arthritis, chronic nephritis, hypertension and the use as an emmenagogue, and in India, C. orchioides is used to induce abortion. Powdered rhizomes are normally used in decoction, but are also sometimes given with an equal quantity of sugar in a glass of milk. It is reported that the rhizomes are also used to produce flour in India.

Production and international trade

Sliced and dried rhizomes of C. orchioides are traded in small quantities in local markets in China and Indo-China.


The rhizome tastes slightly bitter and is mucilagenous. The alcoholic extract from the rhizome is reported to have adaptogenic, anti-inflammatory, anticonvulsive, sedative, androgenic and immuno-stimulating activity. The water extract of the rhizomes exhibits andrenergic receptor blocking (alpha 2), cholecystokin receptor binding, hypoxanthine-guanine phosporibosyltransferase inhibition and uterine activating activity. Swelling of the tongue has been reported as a side-effect after drinking a decoction from the rhizome; in China the recommended antidote is a decoction of Rheum tanguticum Maxim. ex Balf. with sodium sulphate.

A series of 10 triterpenoidal saponins (curculigosaponins A-J) have been isolated from the rhizomes. All these compounds have curculigenine A (3β,11α,16β-trihydroxycycloartane-24-one) as the aglycone. Pharmacological studies have shown that curculigosaponins C and F can promote the proliferation of spleen lymphocytes in mice very significantly, and that curculigosaponins F and G increase the weight of the thymus in vivo in mice. The triterpene alcohol, curculigol (24-methylcycloart-7-en-3β,20-diol), whose structure is very similar to curculigenine A, has also been isolated.

Four phenolic glycosides have been isolated and identified: curculigoside, orcinal glycoside, curculigine A and corchioside A. Curculigoside from the rhizomes exerts immunological and protective effects. It has been found a characteristic constituent of "Curculiginis Rhizoma", and a quantitative determination method using HPLC has been developed. The determination was performed indirectly by measuring the content of 2,6-dimethoxybenzoic acid, the hydrolysis product of curculigoside. Using this method, an average content of 0.2% curculigoside has been found in rhizomes from China.

Several aliphatic hydroxy-ketones (e.g. 27-hydroxytriacontan-6-one) have been reported from C. orchioides. The powdered rhizomes furthermore contain approximately 8% water, 4% alcohol-extractable matter, 1.5% ether-extractable matter, 15% crude fibre, 20% mucilage and 8.5% ash.

From the fruits of Curculigo latifolia Dryander, which grows wild in western Malaysia, 114 amino acids containing the peptide curculin were isolated. Curculin itself elicits a sweet taste (550 times sweeter than sucrose on a weight basis), which disappears rather rapidly after holding it in the mouth. Tasting a lemon (or ascorbic, citric or hydrochloric acid) afterwards then elicits a sweet, orange-like taste. This taste-modifying sensation lasts for about 10 minutes.


  • A perennial herb up to 50 cm tall, with vertical, more or less tuberous, blackish rhizome and rather stout roots.
  • Leaves alternate, clustered and sessile on rhizome, narrowly lanceolate, 20-30 cm × 1-2 cm, long-tapering at base into a pseudo-petiole which is sheath-like at its base, and also long-tapering at apex, plicate, sparsely pilose with long hairs or glabrous, with few to several parallel veins.
  • Inflorescence axillary, inconspicuous among the leaf-bases, spike-like, few-flowered or with a solitary flower, and with a very short scape or peduncle; bracts lanceolate, spathaceous, 2-4 cm long, membranous, surpassing the peduncle and ovary.
  • Flowers long-pilose, lower ones in the inflorescence bisexual, upper ones male; perianth with long slender tube 2-3 cm long (resembling a pedicel) and 6 equal, spreading lobes which are lanceolate to elliptical, 5-8 mm long, few-veined, pale outside and bright yellow inside; stamens 6, inserted on bases of perianth lobes, about half as long as perianth lobes, with short filaments attached to the bases of the linear anthers; ovary inferior, 3-locular, locules imperfect, style short and thick, with 3 stigmas.
  • Fruit berry-like, rather fleshy, ellipsoid, about 1.5 cm in diameter, surpassed by the bract, beaked by the persistent perianth tube, 1-4-seeded.
  • Seeds subglobose to oblong, about 4 mm long, with beak (elaiosome) lateral to hilum; testa crustaceous, striate, black and shiny.

Growth and development

Rhizomes of Curculigo orchioides may reach 30 cm × 11.5 cm. Only 3-5 leaves are found on the plant at a given time. The flowers and fruits are inconspicuous because they are close to the ground and partially covered by the bracts and leaves.

Other botanical information

C. orchioides belongs to a genus of approximately 10 species with pantropical distribution. Curculigo has been variously included in Amaryllidaceae and Liliaceae, but is nowadays usually considered as belonging to the comparatively small family Hypoxidaceae with about 10 genera.

C. ensifolia R. Br., a species recorded for Australia, is possibly conspecific with C. orchioides.


C. orchioides occurs in open fields and grasslands. In Java it grows on periodically very dry, sunny or slightly shaded localities in grasslands and teak forest up to 400 m altitude. In the Philippines it is also found in grasslands, often dominated by Imperata.

Propagation and planting

There is no information about tests on propagation of C. orchioides, but the method described for C. latifolia may be applicable. In trials with tissue culture of C. latifolia for propagation for ornamental purposes, cultures of rhizomes showed the best results. A half-strength Murashige and Skoog medium was used, supplemented with sucrose (30 g/l), thiamine (0.4 g/l), coconut water (150 ml/l), kinetin (5 mg/l) and indole-acetic acid (2.5 mg/l). About 90% of the plants potted out survived.

Diseases and pests

In India, rust (Puccinia hypoxidis) is reported from C. orchioides.


C. orchioides is not planted and rhizomes are collected from the wild.

Handling after harvest

The rhizomes are washed, freed from roots, and sliced; the slices are dried in the shade. Usually the dried slices are powdered, and small amounts of powder are mixed in a glass of milk with sugar or used to prepare a decoction for drinking.

Genetic resources and breeding

C. orchioides has been recorded amongst the rare and endangered ethno-medical plants in India. However, it has a large area of distribution, is locally rather common, is by no means restricted to endangered vegetation types, and therefore does not seem endangered or liable to genetic erosion.


C. orchioides may prove a valuable medicinal plant because its active compounds are known and comparatively well documented and a suitable method has been developed for quantifying one of them (curculigoside), which is important for quality control of the drug. However, more research is needed and appropriate cropping techniques should be developed so that C. orchioides can be cultivated.


  • Backer, C.A. & Bakhuizen van den Brink Jr., R.C., 1968. Flora of Java. Vol. 3. Wolters-Noordhoff, Groningen, the Netherlands. p. 209.
  • Bhaskaran, K. & Padmanabhan, D., 1983. Leaf development in Curculigo orchioides. Phytomorphology 31: 1-10.
  • Chee Len, L.-H., 1981. Tissue culture of Curculigo latifolia Dry. ex W.T. Ait. Gardens' Bulletin Singapore 34(2): 203-208.
  • Misra, T.N., Singh, R.S., Tripathi, D.M. & Sharma, S.C., 1990. Curculigol, a cycloartane triterpene alcohol from Curculigo orchioides. Phytochemistry 29(3): 929-931.
  • Nasir, E., 1980. Amaryllidaceae. In: Nasir, E. & Ali, S.I. (Editors): Flora of Pakistan. No 134. Department of Botany, University of Karachi and National Herbarium, Pakistan Agricultural Research Council, Islamabad, Pakistan. pp. 4-5.
  • Nguyen Van Duong, 1993. Medicinal plants of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Mekong Printing, Sata Ana, California, United States. pp. 44-45.
  • Quisumbing, E., 1978. Medicinal plants of the Philippines. Katha Publishing Co., Quezon City, the Philippines. pp. 172-174.
  • Xu, J.-P., Xu, R.-S. & Li, X.-Y., 1992. Four new cycloartane saponins from Curculigo orchioides. Planta Medica 58: 208-210.
  • Xu, J.-P., Xu, R.-S. & Li, X.-Y., 1992. Glycosides of a cycloartane sapogenin from Curculigo orchioides. Phytochemistry 31(1): 233-236.
  • Yamasaki, K., Hashimoto, A., Kokusenya, Y., Miyamoto, T., Matsuo, M. & Sato, T., 1994. Determination of curculigoside in Curculiginis Rhizoma by high performance liquid chromatography. Chemical and Pharmaceutical Bulletin 42(2): 395-397.

Other selected sources

  • Brown, W.H., 1951-1957. Useful plants of the Philippines. Reprint of the 1941-1943 edition. 3 volumes. Technical Bulletin 10. Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Bureau of Printing, Manila, the Philippines. Vol. 1 (1951) 590 pp., Vol. 2 (1954) 513 pp., Vol. 3 (1957) 507 pp.
  • Harada, S., Otani, H., Maeda, S., Kai, Y., Kasai, N. & Kurihara, Y., 1994. Crystallization and preliminary X ray diffraction studies of curculin. Journal of Molecular Biology 238: 286-287.
  • Holdsworth, D.K., 1977. Medicinal plants of Papua New Guinea. Technical Paper No 175. South Pacific Commission, Noumea, New Caledonia. 123 pp.
  • Hsieh, C. F., 1978. Hypoxidaceae. In: Li, H. L., Liu, T, S., Huang, T. C., Koyama, T. & DeVol, C.E. (Editors): Flora of Taiwan. Vol. 5. Epoch Publishing Co., Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China. pp. 95-98.
  • Manandhar, N.P., 1991. Medicinal plant lore of Tamang tribe of Kabhrepalanchok District, Nepal. Economic Botany 45: 58-71.
  • Misra, T.N., Singh, R.S., Upadhyay, J. & Tripathi, D.N.M., 1984. Aliphatic hydroxy ketones from Curculigo orchioides rhizomes. Phytochemistry 23: 1643-1645.
  • Nakajo, S., Akabane, T., Nakaya, K., Nakamura, Y. & Kurihara, Y., 1992. An enzyme immunoassay and immunoblot analysis for curculin, a new type of taste modifying protein. Biochemica et Biophysica Acta 1118: 293-297.
  • Walker, E.H., 1976. Flora of Okinawa and the southern Ryukyu Islands. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington D.C., United States. 1159 pp.
  • Wang, Z.W., Shi, D.W., Chen, Z.D., Zheng, L.X. & Chen, C.Y., 1993. Quantitative determination of curculigoside in rhizomes of Curculigo orchioides by TLC densitometry. Acta Academiae Medicinae Shanghai 20(1): 55-58. (in Chinese)


  • R.H.M.J. Lemmens & S.F.A.J. Horsten