Caralluma adscendens (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
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Caralluma adscendens (Roxb.) R.Br.

plant habit. Redrawn and adapted by Iskak Syamsudin
Protologue: Mem. Wern. Soc. 1: 14 (1810).
Family: Asclepiadaceae (APG: Apocynaceae)
Chromosome number: 2n = 22


  • Caralluma dalzielii N.E.Br. (1812),
  • Caralluma fimbriata Wall. (1830),
  • Caralluma attenuata Wight (1848),
  • Caralluma subulata Forssk. ex Decne. (1938).

Origin and geographic distribution

Caralluma adscendens occurs from Senegal east to Somalia and also in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, India and Sri Lanka. It is cultivated in many localities.


In Mali and Burkina Faso the latex from heated stems is used as ear drops to treat ear infections and applied to teeth to treat caries. The Hausa people in Niger apply the latex to wounds to disinfect and heal them. The crushed aerial parts together with the leaves of Ozoroa insignis Delile are taken by children to treat coughs. The latex is also applied to bites and stings of venomous animals, including spiders, ants, scorpions and snakes. The stems are crushed and eaten raw as a tonic against faintness due to fasting and also to treat chest and cardiac problems. A decoction of the stems is given to stop vomiting and to treat epilepsy. The Moors people of the western Sahara are said to make a strong poison by macerating the crushed stems in sheep urine.

In dry rural India the plant (as Caralluma fimbriata) is cooked and eaten with spices as a vegetable, and it is preserved as chutneys and pickles. It is eaten raw by laborers as an appetite and thirst suppressant and endurance enhancer. The fruits are sometimes cooked and eaten with salt. Recently the dried plants or extract of the plant have received a lot of attention on the internet as a hunger suppressant to reduce weight.

In West Africa Caralluma adscendens is planted in gardens as an ornamental. It is also planted as a charm against evil and spirits, e.g. near prayer grounds.

Production and international trade

In 2009 Caralluma adscendens capsules (as Caralluma fimbriata) could be bought on the internet at prices ranging from US$ 15–50 per 60 capsules.


Phytochemical studies of the aerial parts of plants from Mali (identified as Caralluma dalzielii) reported the isolation of 27 pregnane glycosides, all based on the tomentogenin skeleton or ester derivatives thereof. All isolated compounds were tested for their antiproliferative activity on J774.A1, HEK-293, and WEHI-164 tumour cell lines. Moderate to high cytotoxicities were found in most tested compounds confirming the antitumour activity of pregnane glycosides. Furthermore, the pregnane glycosides caradalzielosides A-E were isolated from the aerial parts.

From the aerial parts of plants collected in India (identified as Caralluma attenuata) the flavonoid luteolin-4’-O-neohesperidoside was isolated, which showed significant anti-inflammatory activity in the carrageenan-induced rat paw oedema model; it was more potent than ibuprofen. Its antinociceptive activity assessed by the acetic acid-induced writhing test in mice was less pronounced when compared with its anti-inflammatory activity. In another test, ethanol, chloroform and butanol extracts were tested for their antihyperglycaemic activity on glucose loaded and alloxan-induced diabetic rats. In both tests, the butanol extract, at the oral dose of 250 mg/kg, has shown statistically significant and considerable antihyperglycaemic activity. Further testing of aqueous and alcoholic extracts in normal and alloxan-induced diabetic rats showed that both extracts significantly reduced the blood glucose level of normal rats at 3 h after oral administration. Blood glucose levels in alloxan-induced diabetic rats were also significantly lowered.

From the aerial parts of plants collected in India (identified as Caralluma fimbriata) the pregnane glycosides caratuberside A-B, bouceroside I-X, tomentogenin were isolated as well as luteolin-4’-O-neohesperidoside and kaempferol-7’-O-neohesperidoside.

The effect of an extract of the aerial parts was assessed by a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trial on 50 adult overweight men and women. At the end of the trial, waist circumference and hunger levels showed a significant decline in the experimental group when compared to the placebo group, but differences in body weight, body mass index, hip circumference, body fat and energy intake were not significant. In another test, ethylacetate and butanol extracts from the stem showed significant antifungal activity against Aspergillus niger and Candida albicans in vitro as well as good anthelmintic activity against Pheretima posthuma in vitro.

Several patents have been issued on the preparation of the plant extract and the use of the pregnane glycosides in the treatment of obesity-related problems.


Small shrub with basally trailing, then upright, much-branched, succulent stems, 30–60(–100) cm tall; stem basally up to 2 cm in diameter, concavely 4-angled, at apex tapering to a pointed tip, reddish dotted; tubercles blunt, protruding, spreading horizontally or upwards; latex present. Leaves simple, small, rudimentary. Flowers 1–2 together, axillary, scattered, bisexual, 5-merous, regular, drooping, with fetid smell; pedicel 1–4 mm long; sepals triangular, 2–3 mm long, acute; corolla c. 2.5 cm in diameter, flat to shortly campanulate, pale green, often finely dotted with purple, sometimes striped, corolla lobes lanceolate, 1–3 cm × 1–1.5 cm, bluntly acuminate, basally broader and horizontally striped, apex brownish to reddish, variably long-hairy at apex; outer corona bowl-shaped, lobes brownish to dark purple, inner corona lobes longer than the outer ones, deeply divided, filiform. Fruit consists of a pair of follicles, each follicle fusiform, 10–15 cm × c. 1 cm, apex acuminate. Seeds oblong, c. 12 mm × c. 4 mm, at apex with coma of white hairs 3–4 cm long.

Other botanical information

Caralluma comprises about 70 species and occurs in the drier parts of tropical Asia north to Afghanistan and Israel and also in southern Europe. In Africa, north of the equator to Tanzania, about 25 species occur. Caralluma is closely related to Quaqua and Orbea. The taxonomy of the genus is still in dispute.

Caralluma adscendens is a very variable species, which needs a complete revision. Several varieties have been recognized in India and Sri Lanka, including var. attenuata (Wight) Gravely & Mayuranathan (synonym: Caralluma attenuata) and var. fimbriata (Wallich) Gravely & Mayuranathan (synonym: Caralluma fimbriata). Caralluma subulata from the Arabian Peninsula and Caralluma dalzielii from the Sahelian zone in Africa east to Somalia have been put into synonymy with Caralluma adscendens var. adscendens some time ago, and have broadened its geographical distribution.

Several Caralluma species are used medicinally in tropical Africa. Caralluma acutangula (Decne.) N.E.Br. (synonyms: Caralluma russelliana (Courbon ex Brongn.) Cufod., Caralluma retrospiciens Ehrenb. ex N.E.Br.) occurs in drier parts of West and East Africa and also in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. In Mali and northern Kenya the latex is applied to wounds and boils. The plant is toxic and not grazed by cattle. It is used in magic to protect against theft of cattle. From the aerial parts several polyoxypregnane glycosides were isolated. Caralluma penicillata (Defl.) N.E.Br. occurs in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti and in the Arabian Peninsula. In Saudi Arabia the latex is applied to scorpion stings and snakebites. In Yemen the latex is applied as eye drops as an antiseptic. The plant is highly toxic due to the oxypregnane glycosides penicillosides A-G. Penicilloside E showed high antitrypanosomal activity in vitro. Caralluma priogonium K.Schum. occurs from Ethiopia and Somalia south to Tanzania. In Ethiopia the latex is applied to wounds. The Turkana people of Kenya apply latex from the stems of Caralluma somalica N.E.Br., occurring in Somalia and northern Kenya, to wounds to heal them. Women sometimes wear the flowers for decoration. Caralluma speciosa (N.E.Br.) N.E.Br. occurs throughout East Africa. In Ethiopia crushed and boiled roots are taken to treat intestinal worms. In Kenya plant latex diluted in water is drunk as an emetic. The latex is also applied to wounds to heal them. The liquid from boiled plants is applied to open blocked camel teats.

Growth and development

In Africa Caralluma adscendens flowers during the rainy season from May to August. The flowers are pollinated by flies.


Caralluma adscendens occurs on gravelly soils and rocky hills, from sea-level up to 1000 m altitude. It tolerates high temperatures and an annual rainfall as low as 400 mm.

Propagation and planting

Caralluma adscendens can easily be propagated from stem cuttings. A procedure for in-vitro propagation of pharmaceutically valuable varieties of Caralluma adscendens from nodal explants has been developed.


Caralluma adscendens can be harvested throughout the year.

Genetic resources

Caralluma adscendens has a wide geographic distribution but is nowhere common. Its morphological diversity is large and probably its genetic diversity as well.


Plant extracts and pregnane glycosides isolated from Caralluma adscendens have shown interesting preliminary cytotoxic activity in vitro and anti-inflammatory and antihyperglycaemic activities in vivo, and these studies merit further research. A clinical trial with 50 adults on the effects of the plant extract on weight loss showed a positive result for part of the parameters tested, but cannot substantiate the excessive success as claimed on the internet. More research is needed to evaluate its real potential as a hunger suppressant.

Major references

  • Baerts, M. & Lehmann, J., 2009. Caralluma dalzielii. [Internet] Prelude Medicinal Plants Database. Metafro-Infosys, Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium August 2009.
  • De Leo, M., De Tommasi, N., Sanogo, R., Autore, G., Marzocco, S., Pizza, C., Morelli, I. & Braca, A., 2005. New pregnane glycosides from Caralluma dalzielii. Steroids 70(9): 573–585.
  • Gilbert, M.G., 1990. A review of Caralluma R. Br. and its segregates. Bradleya 8: 1–32.
  • Jayakar, B., Rajkapoor, B. & Suresh, B., 2004. Effects of Caralluma attenuata in normal and alloxan-induced diabetic rats. Journal of Herbal Pharmacotherapy 4(1): 35–40.
  • Kumar, K.P., Khan, K.A., Anupama, K. & Prakash, K.V., 2008. Antifungal and anthelmintic activity of Caralluma fimbriata stem: a herb. International Journal of Chemical Sciences 6(3): 1486–1490.
  • Kuriyan, R., Raj, T., Srinivas, S.K., Vaz, M., Rajendran, R. & Kurpad, A.V., 2007. Effect of Caralluma fimbriata extract on appetite, food intake and anthropometry in adult Indian men and women. Appetite 48(3): 338–344.
  • Ramesh, M., Rao, Y.N., Rao, A.V.N.A., Prabhakar, M.C., Rao, C.S., Muralidhar, N. & Reddy, B.M., 1998. Antinociceptive and anti-inflammatory activity of a flavonoid isolated from Caralluma attenuata. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 62(1): 63–66.
  • Venkatesh, S., Reddy, G.D., Reddy, B.M., Ramesh, M. & Rao, A.V.N.A., 2003. Antihyperglycemic activity of Caralluma attenuata. Fitoterapia 74(3): 274–279.

Other references

  • Abdel-Sattar, E., Shehab, N.G., Ichino, C., Kiyohara, H., Ishiyama, A., Otoguro, K., Omura, S. & Yamada, H., 2009. Antitrypanosomal activity of some pregnane glycosides isolated from Caralluma species. Phytomedicine 16(6/7): 659–664.
  • Adjanohoun, E.J., Ahyi, M.R.A., Aké Assi, L., Dan Dicko, L., Daouda, H., Delmas, M., de Souza, S., Garba, M., Guinko, S., Kayonga, A., N'Golo, D., Raynal, J. & Saadou, M., 1985. Médecine traditionnelle et pharmacopée - Contribution aux études ethnobotaniques et floristiques au Niger. Agence de Coopération Culturelle et Technique, Paris, France. 250 pp.
  • Adjanohoun, E.J., Aké Assi, L., Floret, J.J., Guinko, S., Koumaré, M., Ahyi, M.R.A. & Raynal, J., 1979. Médecine traditionelle et pharmacopée - Contribution aux études ethnobotaniques et floristiques au Mali. Agence de Coopération Culturelle et Technique, Paris, France. 291 pp.
  • Albers, F. & Meve, U. (Editors), 2002. Illustrated handbook of succulent plants. Asclepiadaceae. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg, Germany. 318 pp.
  • Aruna, V., Kiranmai, C., Karuppusamy, S. & Pullaiah, T., 2009. Micropropagation of three varieties of Caralluma adscendens via nodal explants. Journal of Plant Biochemistry and Biotechnology 18(1): 121–123.
  • Bruyns, P.V., 1989. Miscellaneous notes on Stapelieae (Asclepiadaceae). Bradleya 7: 63–68.
  • Burkill, H.M., 1985. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 1, Families A–D. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 960 pp.
  • Halaweish, F.T., Huntimer, E. & Khalil, A.T., 2004. Polyoxypregnane glycosides from Caralluma retrospiciens. Phytochemical Analysis 15(3): 189–194.
  • Inngjerdingen, K., Nergard, C.S., Diallo, D., Mounkoro, P.P. & Paulsen, B.S., 2004. An ethnopharmacological survey of plants used for wound healing in Dogonland, Mali, West Africa. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 92(2–3): 233–244.
  • Keita, A., Diakité, C., Diallo, D., Aké Assi, L. & Diarra, N., 1993. Contribution aux enquêtes ethnobotaniques et floristiques. Chapitre II. In: Keita, A. & Coppo, P. (Editors), 1993. Plantes et Remèdes du Plateau Dogon. Edition CRMT/PSMTS, Bandiagara, Mali & Perugia, Italie. 156 pp.
  • Kerharo, J. & Adam, J.G., 1974. La pharmacopée sénégalaise traditionnelle. Plantes médicinales et toxiques. Vigot & Frères, Paris, France. 1011 pp.
  • Kunert, O., Rao, V.G., Babu, G.S., Sujatha, P., Sivagamy, M., Anuradha, S., Rao, B.V., Kumar, B.R., Alex, R.M., Schuhly, W., Kuhnelt, D., Rao, G.V. & Rao, A.V., 2008. Pregnane glycosides from Caralluma adscendens var. fimbriata. Chemistry & Biodiversity 5(2): 239–250.
  • Meve, U. & Liede, S., 2002. A molecular phylogeny and generic rearrangement of the stapelioid Ceropegieae (Apocynaceae-Asclepiadoideae). Plant Systematics and Evolution 234(1–4): 171–209.
  • Morgan, W.T.W., 1981. Ethnobotany of the Turkana: use of plants by a pastoral people and their livestock in Kenya. Economic Botany 35(1): 96–130.
  • Nacoulma-Ouédraogo, O., Millogo-Rasolodimby, J. & Guinko, S., 1998. Les plantes herbacées dans la thérapie des piqûres d’insectes. Revue de médecines et pharmacopées africaines 11–12: 165–175.
  • Neuwinger, H.D., 1996. African ethnobotany: poisons and drugs. Chapman & Hall, London, United Kingdom. 941 pp.
  • Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
  • Oyama, M., Iliya, I., Tanaka, T. & Iinuma, M., 2007. Five new steroidal glycosides from Caralluma dalzielii. Helvetica Chimica Acta 90(1): 63–71.
  • Plowes, D.C.H., 1995. A reclassification of Caralluma R. Brown (Stapelieae: Asclepiadaceae). Haseltonia 3: 49–70.

Sources of illustration

  • Berhaut, J., 1971. Flore illustrée du Sénégal. Dicotylédones. Volume 1. Acanthacées à Avicenniacées. Gouvernement du Sénégal, Ministère du Développement Rural et de l’Hydraulique, Direction des Eaux et Forêts, Dakar, Senegal. 626 pp.


  • R. Sanogo, Département Médecine Traditionnelle (DMT), B.P. 1746, Bamako, Mali

Correct citation of this article

Sanogo, R., 2010. Caralluma adscendens (Roxb.) R.Br. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. Accessed 22 September 2023.