Cissampelos pareira (PROTA)

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Cissampelos pareira L.

Protologue: Sp. pl. 2: 1031 (1753).
Family: Menispermaceae
Chromosome number: n = 12


  • Cissampelos madagascariensis Miers (1871).

Vernacular names

  • Velvetleaf, false pareira, abuta (En).
  • Liane patte cheval (Fr).
  • Pareira brava, butua (Po).
  • Kishiki cha buga, mkasisi mkiwa, mlagalaga (Sw).

Origin and geographic distribution

Cissampelos pareira was first described from Latin America, but actually occurs throughout the tropics; in some countries it has been introduced for its ornamental value. In Africa it has been recorded from Sierra Leone east to eastern DR Congo, Rwanda and Tanzania and south to northern Angola and Zambia. It also occurs in the Comoros, Madagascar and Mauritius, and formerly on Assumption Island (Seychelles). Its presence in Benin is uncertain.


Cissampelos pareira, Cissampelos mucronata A.Rich. and Cissampelos owariensis P.Beauv. ex DC. have often been confused; as they are also similarly used, it is often impossible to correlate uses unambiguously with a particular species.

Throughout the tropics preparations of Cissampelos pareira are applied against a variety of complaints. People take an infusion of the bitter rhizome, and sometimes of leaves and stems, to cure gastro-intestinal complaints such as diarrhoea, dysentery, ulcers, colic, intestinal worms and digestive complaints, and also urogenital problems such as menstrual problems, venereal diseases, infertility, uterine bleeding and threatening miscarriage. A rhizome decoction or pounded leaves are also widely taken or externally applied as a febrifuge and stomachic, and against cough, heart trouble, rheumatism, jaundice, snake bites and skin infections such as sores, boils, scabies and childhood eczema. More specifically, the rhizome is used as a diuretic and against acute and chronic bladder inflammation, to dissolve urinary calcifications and as an emmenagogue. In Tanzania a rhizome extract mixed with a hot water extract of roots and leaves of Launaea cornuta (Hochst. ex Oliv. & Hiern) C.Jeffrey is given orally to treat epilepsy. Tribal people in India use the plant to prevent pregnancy. The Pokot people in Kenya apply crushed rhizomes to treat skin diseases of goats. In Madagascar a rhizome extract is given to poultry against avian malaria. In the Philippines the fibres of the bark are used as a fish poison. In Madagascar rhizomes were formerly used in the preparation of alcoholic liquors as a bitter. The Pokot people make thin rope from the rhizomes. Cissampelos pareira is commonly planted in orchards, parks and gardens for its ornamental value. In Asia the leaves are occasionally eaten. The leaves, crushed in water, give a jelly which is used as a refreshment.

Production and international trade

Cissampelos pareira is mainly used in local medicine and is only occasionally traded internationally. In some countries it is a permitted substitute for Chondrodendron tomentosum Ruiz & Pav. from South America in the drug ‘pareira brava’.


Cissampelos pareira contains a number of alkaloids, especially bisbenzylisoquinoline alkaloids. The rhizome contains hayatine, hayatidine, hayatinine, d-4”-O-methylbebeerine, l-bebeerine, isochondrodendrine, dicentrine, dehydrodicentrine, insularine; the rhizome and leaves contain cycleanine, while cissampareine has been isolated from the whole plant and the chalcone-flavone dimer cissampeloflavone from the aerial parts.

The rhizomes have also been found to be a rich source of tropoloisoquinoline alkaloids.

Pareirubrine A, pareirubrine B, grandirubrine, isoimerubrine and pareitropone have been isolated, all of which showed potent antileukaemic activity. Furthermore, two cytotoxic azafluoranthene alkaloids, structurally strongly related to tropoloisoquinoline alkaloids, have been isolated from the same extract, as has cissamine chloride.

Several experiments on rhizome extracts of Cissampelos pareira have been done in recent years. A water-ethanol extract of the rhizomes reduced the growth and multiplication rate of benzo(a)pyrene-induced forestomach tumours in mice in a dose-dependent manner. In another series of tests with rat models for acute, subacute and chronic inflammation, a similar extract showed significant anti-inflammatory activity without carcinogenic effects or causing gastric lesions. Mice administered the extract also showed reduced reactions against several pain stimuli. Ethanolic rhizome extracts have shown antihistaminic, hypotensive, antispasmodic and anticonvulsant properties. In a test to confirm the antifertility use of the plant, a methanol extract of the leaves administered to rats caused a significant increase in the duration of the dioestrus and a reduction in the number of litters. Altered gonadotropine and oestradiol secretion were involved.

Cissampelos pareira exhibits curare-like activity, depressing the central nervous system and relaxing smooth muscles, and has hypotensive and hypoglycaemic actions. The compound hayatinine is structurally similar to tubocurarine from Chondrodendron tomentosum, the active compound in curare. It shows comparable neuro-muscular blocking activities. Cycleanine has shown significant inhibition of nitric oxide production in macrophages. Cycleanine and bebeerine suppressed hepatic injury and reduced the level of tumour necrosis factor in mice treated with lipopolysaccharide and BCG, a model for the study of fulminant hepatitis.


  • Dioecious liana or scandent shrub, with rhizome; leafy stems slender, glabrous to densely hairy.
  • Leaves arranged spirally, simple; stipules absent; petiole 4–7 cm long, short-hairy; blade broadly ovate, 2–12 cm × 4.5–12 cm, base rounded or truncate to deeply cordate, apex obtuse or notched, with mucro, entire or slightly wavy, membranous to papery, hairy below, sparsely hairy above, palmately 3–7-veined.
  • Inflorescence an axillary, umbel-like cyme, solitary or clustered; male inflorescence up to 4 cm long, 1–3 together, female inflorescence arranged in a false raceme 5–10 cm long; bracts up to 1.5 cm in diameter, almost round to kidney-shaped, hairy.
  • Flowers unisexual; pedicel up to 2 mm long; male flowers with 4(–5) sepals, ovate to obovate, c. 1.5 mm × c. 0.5 mm, keeled, hairy outside, greenish or yellowish, corolla cup-shaped, c. 1 mm long, filaments of stamens completely fused; female flowers with 1 sepal c. 1.5 mm long, 1 obtriangular to kidney-shaped petal c. 1.5 mm × 2 mm, ovary superior, hairy, 1-celled, style thick with spreading, 3-lobed stigma.
  • Fruit a short-hairy, orange to red drupe c. 5 mm long, curved with style-scar near base; stone with 2 rows of very prominent transverse ridges, 1-seeded.
  • Seed horseshoe-shaped; embryo elongate, narrow, embedded in endosperm, cotyledons flattened.

Other botanical information

Cissampelos comprises about 20 species, 7 in tropical America and 13 in tropical Africa. Cissampelos pareira is the only species with a pantropical distribution. In tropical Africa 4 varieties of Cissampelos pareira are recognized. Several other Cissampelos spp. are used in traditional medicine in tropical Africa.

Cissampelos hirta

Cissampelos hirta Klotzsch (synonym: Cissampelos pareira L. var. klotzschii T.Durand & Schinz) occurs in Mozambique and northern South Africa. Its rhizome is used to treat stomach-ache, the leaves are applied against ringworm and itching skin. The leaves contain reticuline, the rhizome 12-O-methylcurine and dicentrine.

Cissampelos truncata

Cissampelos truncata Engl. occurs in Uganda and Tanzania. Its rhizome pulp is applied to snakebites, while the rhizome is chewed and the sap is swallowed as an emetic.

Cissampelos torulosa

Cissampelos torulosa E.Mey. ex Harv. occurs in Malawi, eastern Zimbabwe, Mozambique and eastern and southern South Africa. In South Africa its leaves are taken to treat diarrhoea and dysentery, hallucinations, vomiting and pain, and the rhizome is taken to treat syphilis, kidney pain and toothache. The leaves contain the alkaloids bulbocapnine, dicentrine, lauroscholtzine, pronuciferine, cissacapine, cycleanine, insulanoline, reticuline and salutaridine; the stem bulbocapnine, dicentrine, reticuline, cissacapine, cycleanine and salutaridine.

Growth and development

The flowers of Cissampelos pareira are probably pollinated by small insects.


Cissampelos pareira occurs in rainforest, coastal evergreen bushland and deciduous bushland, up to 2300 m altitude. It often persists on cleared ground and in plantations, and can also be found in secondary vegetation and near rock outcrops.


Cissampelos pareira is mostly collected from the wild. Although it is occasionally cultivated, no information on its management is available.

Genetic resources

Cissampelos pareira is very widespread and locally common. There is no reason to assume any danger of genetic erosion, either in Africa or in other parts of the tropics. The quantity and composition of the alkaloids found in the leaves and roots seem to differ between plants from different regions. This may be a result of its great genetic diversity.


The alkaloids present in Cissampelos pareira have interesting properties, e.g. antileukaemic and neuromuscular blocking activity. The rhizomes are used in traditional medicine in different parts of the world for similar purposes, which seems to confirm their effectiveness. Research to confirm and further investigate these activities is warranted. The great diversity of the species also warrants further study and collection of germplasm.

Major references

  • Amresh, G., Rao, C.V. & Singh, P.N., 2007. Evaluation of Cissampelos pareira against gastric cancer and enzymes associated with carcinogen metabolism. Pharmaceutical Biology 45(8): 595–603.
  • Baerts, M. & Lehmann, J., 2006. Cissampelos pareira. [Internet]. Prelude Medicinal Plants Database. Metafro-Infosys, Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium November 2007.
  • Dwuma-Badu, D., Ayim, J.S.K., Mingle, C.A., Tackie, A.N., Slatkin, D.J., Knapp. J.E. & Schiff, P.L.jr., 1975. Alkaloids of Cissampelos pareira. Phytochemistry 14: 2520–2521.
  • Ganguly, M., Borthakur, M.K., Devi, N. & Mahanta, R., 2007. Antifertility activity of the methanolic leaf extract of Cissampelos pareira in female albino mice. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 111: 688–691.
  • Getahun, A., 1976. Some common medicinal and poisonous plants used in Ethiopian folk medicine. Faculty of Science, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. 63 pp.
  • Gurib-Fakim, A. & Brendler, T., 2004. Medicinal and aromatic plants of Indian Ocean Islands: Madagascar, Comoros, Seychelles and Mascarenes. Medpharm, Stuttgart, Germany. 568 pp.
  • Hedberg, I., Hedberg, O., Madati, P.J., Mshigeni, K.E., Mshiu, E.N. & Samuelsson, G., 1983. Inventory of plants used in traditional medicine in Tanzania. II. Plants of the families Dilleniaceae-Opaliaceae. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 9: 105–128.
  • Horsten, S.F.A.J. & Lemmens, R.H.M.J., 1999. Cissampelos pareira L. In: de Padua, L.S., Bunyapraphatsara, N. & Lemmens, R.H.M.J. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 12(1). Medicinal and poisonous plants 1. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 205–207.
  • Keay, R.W.J. & Troupin, G., 1954. Menispermaceae. In: Keay, R.W.J. (Editor). Flora of West Tropical Africa. Volume 1, part 1. 2nd Edition. Crown Agents for Overseas Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. pp. 66–77.
  • Troupin, G., 1960. Menispermaceae. In: Exell, A.W. & Wild, H. (Editors). Flora Zambesiaca. Volume 1, part 1. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. pp. 150–171.

Other references

  • Amresh, G., Reddy, G.D., Rao, C.V. & Shirwaikar, A., 2004. Ethnomedical value of Cissampelos pareira extract in experimentally induced diarrhoea. Acta Pharmaceutica 54: 27–25.
  • Amresh, G., Reddy, G.D., Rao, C.V. & Singh, P.N., 2007. Evaluation of anti-inflammatory activity of Cissampelos pareira root in rats. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 110: 526–531.
  • Amresh, G., Singh, P.N. & Rao, C.V., 2007. Antinociceptive and antiarthritic activity of Cissampelos pareira roots. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 111: 531–536.
  • Chevalier, A. & Laffitte, M., 1937. Une enquête sur les plantes médicinales de l'Afrique occidentale. Revue Internationale de Botanique Appliquée et d’Agriculture Tropicale 27: 165–175.
  • Kondo, Y., Takano, F. & Hojo, H., 1993. Suppression of lipopolysaccharide-induced fulminant hepatitis and tumor necrosis factor production by bisbenzylisoquinoline alkaloids in bacillus Calmette-Guerin-treated mice. Biochemical Pharmacology 46(10): 1861–1863.
  • Morita, H., Matsumoto, K., Takeya, K. & Itokawa, H., 1993. Azafluoranthene alkaloids from Cissampelos pareira. Chemical and Pharmaceutical Bulletin 41(7): 1307–1308.
  • Morita, H., Matsumoto, K., Takeya, K. & Itokawa, H., 1993. Conformation of tropolone ring in antileukemic tropoloisoquinoline alkaloids. Chemical and Pharmaceutical Bulletin 41(8): 1478–1480.
  • Morita, H., Matsumoto, K., Takeya, K., Itokawa, H. & Iitaka, Y., 1993. Structures and solid state tautomeric forms of two novel antileukemic tropoloisoquinoline alkaloids, pareirubrines A and B, from Cissampelos pareira. Chemical and Pharmaceutical Bulletin 41(8): 1418–1422.
  • Neuwinger, H.D., 1996. African ethnobotany: poisons and drugs. Chapman & Hall, London, United Kingdom. 941 pp.
  • Samie, A., Obi, C.L., Bessong, P.O. & Namrita, L., 2005. Activity profiles of fourteen selected medicinal plants from rural Venda communities in South Africa against fifteen clinical bacterial species. African Journal of Biotechnology 4(12): 1443–1451.
  • Singthong, J., Ningsanond, S., Cui, S.W. & Goff, H.D., 2005. Extraction and physicochemical characterization of krueo ma noy pectin. Food Hydrocolloids 19: 793–801.

Sources of illustration

  • Horsten, S.F.A.J. & Lemmens, R.H.M.J., 1999. Cissampelos pareira L. In: de Padua, L.S., Bunyapraphatsara, N. & Lemmens, R.H.M.J. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 12(1). Medicinal and poisonous plants 1. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 205–207.


  • L.P.A. Oyen, PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article

Oyen, L.P.A., 2008. Cissampelos pareira L. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. Accessed 13 November 2020.