Orthosiphon aristatus (PROSEA)

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Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

1, flowering stem; 2, flower; 3, fruiting calyx and nutlet. (Achmad Satiri Nurhaman)

Orthosiphon aristatus (Blume) Miq.

Protologue: Fl. Ind. Bat. 2: 943 (1858).
Family: Labiatae
Chromosome number: 2n= 48


  • Orthosiphon stamineus Benth. (1831),
  • Orthosiphon grandiflorum auct. non Terrac.,
  • Orthosiphon spicatus auct. non Benth.

Vernacular names

  • Java tea (En).
  • Thé de Java (Fr)
  • Indonesia: kumis kucing (general), kumis ucing (Sundanese), remuk jung (Javanese)
  • Malaysia: kumis kucing
  • Philippines: balbas-pusa (Tagalog), kabling-gubat
  • Cambodia: kapen prey
  • Laos: hnwàd mêew
  • Thailand: yaa nuat maeo
  • Vietnam: râu mèo.

Origin and geographic distribution

Java tea is distributed from India, Indo-China and Thailand, through Malesia to tropical Australia. As a wild plant, it occurs throughout Malesia, but is apparently rare in Borneo, Sulawesi and the Moluccas. It is now grown in South-East Asia (in Java since 1928), Africa, Georgia (Caucasus) and Cuba.


In Malesia, Thailand and Vietnam the leaves are used as a diuretic in teas and infusions against various kidney complaints and illnesses, renal calculi, phosphaturic catarrh of the bladder, gout, and also, in combination with other drugs, to stimulate the kidneys and as a medicine for nephritis, gallstones and diabetes. For these purposes, Java tea is sometimes mixed with the leaves of Sonchus or Barleria.

In Europe, the therapeutic indications for Orthosiphon are: diuresis and irrigation of the urinary tract, especially in cases of inflammation and renal gravel, and as an adjuvant in treatment of bacterial infections of the urinary tract. The drug is normally taken as an infusion of 2-3 g dried material in 150 ml water, 2-3 times per day. Orthosiphon is also included in the form of an extract in instant preparations, which are used accordingly. In Indonesia, it is used to treat jaundice in a mixture with leaves of Blumea balsamifera (L.) DC. and Phyllanthus fraternus Webster and rhizomes of Curcuma xanthorrhiza Roxb., and to treat diabetes together with the leaves of Andrographis paniculata (Burm.f.) Nees. In mixtures with leaves of other plants it is also used against gout, rheumatism and arteriosclerosis. Orthosiphon preparations are on the market in Indonesia as capsules, pure or in combination with other ingredients. The crude herb is said to cause vomiting. In gardens the plant is also cultivated as an ornamental.

Production and international trade

Indonesia is the main producing country (Java, Sumatra, North Sulawesi). Before the Second World War about 80 t/year of dried leaves was exported to the Netherlands, Germany, France, Japan and the United States. After the war interest waned because more modern diuretics became available. However, Indonesian exports to Europe and other parts of the world are again substantial. In the period 1991-1995 an average of 170 t/year of dried leaves was exported. The average value in 1995 was US$ 1.3/kg. The main importing country is Germany.


"Orthosiphonis Folium" or Java tea consists of the dried leaves and stem tips of O. aristatus collected shortly before flowering. It contains up to 12% minerals with a high proportion of potassium (600-700 mg per 100 g fresh leaf), approximately 0.2% lipophilic flavones including sinensetin, flavonol glycosides, caffeic acid derivatives (mainly rosmarinic acid and 2,3-dicaffeoyltartaric acid), inositol, phytosterols (β-sitosterol), saponins and up to 0.7% of essential oil. Analysis revealed caffeic acid derivatives like rosmarinic acid (and 2,3-dicaffeoyltartrate) to be predominant components in a hot water extract prepared comparable to that of a herbal tea.

Various tests have been performed to demonstrate the diuretic activity of Orthosiphon extracts both in animals and man, and to establish the source of this effect. Diuretic effects were observed in rabbits, dogs and rats; oral application of 750 mg/kg body weight lyophilized aqueous Orthosiphon extract enhanced ion excretion (K+, Na+, Cl-) in rats, whereas no increase in urine output was observed. Similar effects were reported in man, such as increased diuresis and elimination of chlorides and urea. In a placebo-controlled double-blind crossover study with 40 volunteers, however, no influence on urine output or Na+/K+ excretion was recorded with a daily dose of 600 ml of an infusion equivalent to 10 g of dried leaves.

Although the possible diuretic compounds of Orthosiphon extracts are not yet known, it has been postulated that the effects could be partially due to the high content of potassium in the leaves and the presence of inositol (and possibly saponins), as well as to the isolated flavones sinensetin and 3'-hydroxy-5,6,7,4'-tetramethoxyflavone which exhibited a diuretic activity in rats after intravenous administration of 10 mg/kg body weight. The total activity of Orthosiphon leaves should not be attributed to these flavones, however, since it has also been shown that only minute amounts of these lipophilic compounds are extracted by (hot) water when an aqueous infusion is prepared. The highest content of sinensetin (up to almost 0.4%) was found in old leaves of forms with bluish-violet flowers, and the lowest content (about 0.1%) in young leaves of forms with white flowers.

In tests with healthy volunteers in Thailand, Orthosiphon extracts increased excretion of citrate and oxalate. Although a higher level of oxalate may increase the risk of kidney stones, the increased citrate output helps prevent stone formation.

It has been demonstrated that Java tea has anti-microbial properties. In in vitro tests, aqueous extracts markedly inhibited the growth of both gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria. Saponins may play a role in bacteriostatic activity in vitro. Caffeic acid derivatives (which represent as much as 95% of the phenolic substances present in a hot water extract) may also be responsible for the antibiotic activity.

The lipophilic flavonoids present in O. aristatus, of which sinensetin and tetramethylscutellarein are the most abundant, have shown inhibitory effect against Ehrlich ascites tumour cells in vitro. Additionally, the lipophilic flavonoids may be partially responsible for anti-inflammatory effects, since flavonoids are inhibitors of cyclo-oxygenase and lipoxygenase.

Doses of less than 1 g/kg body weight have been found to be lethal for rats and mice after intraperitoneal injection, but no injurious effects were found after feeding up to 5 g/kg body weight orally.

In patients, increased choleresis and cholekinesis have been reported, together with an antibacterial action in cholecystitis and cholangitis, after oral administration of a Java tea extract. However, in vivo studies in rats with the isolated flavones sinensetin and 3'-hydroxy-5,6,7,4'-tetramethoxyflavone administered intravenously at a dose of 10 mg/kg body weight did not confirm these findings.

Adulterations and substitutes

It is reported that Java tea is adulterated with leaves of Ageratina riparia (Regel) R.M. King & H. Robinson (Compositae). Among the many South-East Asian plants with diuretic activity are Clerodendrum, Desmodium, Ludwigia and Sida species. Species which, like Java tea, combine diuretic activity and antimicrobial activity, belong to, among others, the genera Artemisia, Cassia, Elephantopus, Phyllanthus and Plantago. Acorus calamus L. and Mentha arvensis L. are examples of species important for their antibacterial activity.


  • A perennial herb, 25-200 cm tall, with quadrangular, poorly ramified, ascending stem.
  • Leaves decussately opposite, ovate or rhombic, 2-9(-12) cm × 1.5-5 cm, cuneate at base, acute or acuminate at apex, serrate, glabrous or minutely pubescent, glandular-punctate; petiole 0.5-2(-4.5) cm long; stipules absent.
  • Inflorescence an opposed cyme arranged in terminal racemes, 7-29 cm long.
  • Flowers pedicellate; calyx 2.5-4.5 mm long (up to 12 mm in fruit), bilabiate, gland-dotted; corolla 10-20 mm long, tubular, bilabiate, white or (pale) lilac; stamens 4, long-protruding from the corolla tube; ovary superior, style long-protruding, slender, with enlarged, club-shaped and shallowly cleft stigma.
  • Fruit splitting into 4 oblong-ovoid nutlets, 1.5-2 mm long, brownish, rugose.

Growth and development

The flowers are sometimes cleistogamous, in which case the corolla is hidden in the calyx. The ovary is normal and develops into normal nutlets.

Other botanical information

Orthosiphon comprises approximately 40 species with an Old World distribution. In Malesia, only 2 species occur. The wild relative Orthosiphon thymiflorus (Roth) v.d. Sleesen is rare in Malesia (central and eastern Java), more common from India and Sri Lanka to Indo-China. Three cultivars of O. aristatus are distinguished: one with bluish-violet and two with white flowers. The white-flowered cultivar with reddish stems, petioles and leaf veins appears to possess the best diuretic qualities.


Java tea occurs in the wild in thickets, regrowths, grasslands and along forest borders and roadsides, often in shaded not too dry localities, but also in sunny places, up to 1000 m altitude.

Propagation and planting

Propagation is by stem cuttings, 15-20 cm long, which have some buds. Cuttings are usually planted in shade, with 40-60 cm between plants and rows. Often 4-6 cuttings are placed in one hole. Direct planting in the field or in the backyard, as is most common, can be done all the year round, but the usual time of planting is at the beginning of the rainy season. For plantations, planting in a nursery for a period of 45 days with the cuttings placed vertically with only one bud visible is preferred.

In vitro production of active compounds

Cell suspension cultures of O. aristatus have been shown to accumulate rosmarinic acid. The accumulation of rosmarinic acid in the cell suspension cultures could be increased by adding yeast extract to the culture medium.


Regular weeding is necessary. Inflorescences should be removed. Manuring is advantageous; the standard application per ha is of 200 kg triple superphosphate, 100 kg potassium salt and 15 t manure. It is advised to add a nitrogenous fertilizer at the rate of 100 kg/ha after each harvest.

Diseases and pests

Fungal diseases that have been reported to cause losses in Java tea are Botrytis cinerea, Corticium rolfsii, Moniliopsis aderholdii and Pythium debaryanum. Nematodes may cause galls to develop on the roots, but no standard treatment is practised to limit their damage. Insecticides are usually applied to the planting holes in order to prevent termite attack.


Harvest usually starts 8-10 weeks after planting, at the beginning of flowering. Every 2-3 weeks the upper 4-10 leaves of shoots are plucked by hand.


Annual yields of dry leaves amount to 1500 kg/ha.

Handling after harvest

Smallholders usually sun-dry leaves. In estate farming artificial drying is practised. To obtain a high-quality product, the leaves are first withered in the air, and then dried at 45-50°C. Dried leaves of good quality are green (a blackish colour is due to overheating or contact with metal containers), have a good aroma, a moisture content below 14%, a bitter taste, an ash content of about 10%, a contamination content of less than 2%, and do not contain insects or fungi. Properly dried leaves should be pressed as soon as possible to prevent moisture uptake. They are packed in ordinary tea chests, each containing up to 50 kg of leaves; aluminium foil is used to prevent moisture uptake.

Genetic resources and breeding

As no germplasm collections exist, plant material should be collected from all growing regions.


Java tea shows promising medicinal properties. More research is needed to confirm the activities reported and to determine and isolate the active constituents. For a good quality product a survey on market requirements and potential for expansion is needed.


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