Anthostema senegalense (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
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Anthostema senegalense A.Juss.

Protologue: Euphorb. gen.: 117 (1824).
Family: Euphorbiaceae

Origin and geographic distribution

Anthostema senegalense occurs from Senegal east to Benin.


The latex is toxic, acrid and vesicant, and can cause blindness. In spite of its toxicity, it is used, with suitable precautions, as a strong purgative. It is used to treat leprosy, menstrual problems and help with the expulsion of the afterbirth. For these purposes, small amounts of latex or pulped roots are added to food. The latex is also used as an antidote for poison, the latex diluted in water being drunk till vomiting occurs. A bark maceration is drunk to treat intestinal parasites, kidney problems, oedema, impotence and mental illness. In Sierra Leone young leaves are ground with flour and the dried paste is taken as a laxative. In Senegal the chopped up whole plant is thrown in pools as fish poison to catch small fish.

The wood is white and lightweight and is easy to work. It is used for local building purposes, poles for temporary fences, light carpentry work and boxes. In Sierra Leone the sticky latex is used as bird lime.


The crude water extract of the stem bark of Anthostema senegalense showed strong anthelmintic activity against the larvae of Haemonchus contortus in vitro. A crude stem bark extract exhibited significant activity against Leishmania donovani with IC50 of 9.1 μg/ml, as well as moderate antibacterial and antifungal activities. Another Anthostema species, Anthostema aubryanum Baill., contains phorbol esters, and the presence of these compounds is consistent with the uses and properties as described above.


Monoecious shrub or small to medium-sized tree up to 25 m tall; bole straight, up to 65 cm in diameter; twigs glabrous, with abundant latex. Leaves alternate, simple and entire; stipules absent; petiole 7–10 mm long; blade elliptical-oblong to lanceolate, 7–13 cm × 3–4.5 cm, base cuneate, apex acuminate, glabrous, pinnately veined with numerous pairs of lateral veins. Inflorescence an axillary, dense, much-branched sessile cyme with at apex of each cyme-branch a common involucre composed of 4 small partly fused bracts with glandular margins, enclosing 4 involucres each containing c. 8 male flowers and sometimes 1 female flower in the centre. Flowers unisexual; male flowers with short pedicel, 3–4-toothed perianth and a single stamen; female flowers with short pedicel, 3–4-lobed perianth with lobes c. 1.5 mm long, ovary superior, 3-celled, glabrous, styles stout, short, spreading. Fruit a deeply 3-lobed capsule c. 2.5 cm in diameter, 3-seeded. Seeds ellipsoid to almost globose, smooth.

Other botanical information

Anthostema comprises 3 species, 2 in mainland Africa and 1 in Madagascar. It seems related to Dichostemma, which has a similar structure composed of cyathia (involucral bracts enclosing male flowers reduced to a single stamen and a female flower), but differs in the terminal position of the inflorescence and 4-lobed fruits.


Anthostema senegalense occurs in evergreen forest, wooded savanna and coastal savanna, usually in damp, swampy or flooded localities.

Genetic resources

Anthostema senegalense is fairly widespread in its distribution area and does not seem to be threatened by genetic erosion.


Anthostema senegalense shows anthelmintic and antileishmanial activities in vitro, but virtually nothing is known concerning its active compounds, although phorbol esters with phytochemical activity have been identified in Anthostema aubryanum. Therefore more chemical and pharmacological analyses are needed to evaluate its potential.

Major references

  • Abreu, P.M., Martins, E.S., Kayser, O., Bindseil, K.-U., Siems, K., Seemann, A. & Frevert, J., 1999. Antimicrobial, antitumor and antileishmania screening of medicinal plants from Guinea-Bissau. Phytomedicine 6(3): 187–195.
  • Brown, N.E., Hutchinson, J. & Prain, D., 1909–1913. Euphorbiaceae. In: Thiselton-Dyer, W.T. (Editor). Flora of tropical Africa. Volume 6(1). Lovell Reeve & Co., London, United Kingdom. pp. 441–1020.
  • 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.
  • Koné, W.M., Kamanzi, A.K., Traoré, D. & Bruno, B., 2005. Anthelmintic activity of medicinal plants used in northern Côte d’Ivoire against intestinal helminthiasis. Pharmaceutical Biology 43(1): 72–78.
  • Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.

Other references

  • Beutler, J.A., Alvarado Lindner, A.B. & McCloud, T.G., 1996. Further studies on phorbol ester bioactivity in the Euphorbiaceae. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 83(4): 530–533.
  • Hawthorne, W. & Jongkind, C., 2006. Woody plants of western African forests: a guide to the forest trees, shrubs and lianes from Senegal to Ghana. Kew Publishing, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, United Kingdom. 1023 pp.
  • Keay, R.W.J., 1958. Euphorbiaceae. In: Keay, R.W.J. (Editor). Flora of West Tropical Africa. Volume 1, part 2. 2nd Edition. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. pp. 364–423.


  • 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., 2008. Anthostema senegalense A.Juss. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. Accessed 16 July 2021.