Eriosema chinense (PROSEA)

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Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

Eriosema chinense J.R.T. Vogel

Protologue: in F.J.F. Meijer, Observ. bot. in Nov. Act. Acad. Nat. Cur. 19, suppl. 1: 31 (1843).
Family: Leguminosae
Chromosome number: 2n= 22


  • Dolichos biflorus auct. non L.

Vernacular names

  • Indonesia: katil
  • Philippines: katil, okun (Igorot), kitkitil (Bontok), kutil (Iloko)
  • Cambodia: té:l (Mondulkiri), té:l tuëng’ (Kampot)
  • Laos: kh’o:nz ko:ng (general), daj kuab tang (Vientiane)
  • Thailand: man chang, man thong (peninsular), haeo pradu (central), khon klong (southeastern), haeo-dam (northern)
  • Vietnam: mao tử trung quốc.

Origin and geographic distribution

E. chinense is found from India eastward to Burma (Myanmar), China, Taiwan, Indo-China, and Thailand, southward through Malesia, to northern Australia. In Malesia, it is found in the Philippines, Peninsular Malaysia, Java and New Guinea.


In India, the seeds of E. chinense are used for their astringent, diuretic and tonic properties. A decoction of the seeds, with grounded pepper added, is used for scrofula and diarrhoea. A decoction of the seeds is given to women to promote discharge of the afterbirth, and to treat leucorrhoea and menstrual derangements. The seed powder is externally applied to check cold sweats.

The small tubers are traditionally eaten in various parts of Asia and Australia, either fresh, cooked or roasted; they contain 30% starch on dry weight basis.


Phytochemical analysis of the roots of E. himalaicum Ohashi revealed the presence of chromones, flavones and isoflavones. Several of these compounds showed antifungal activity against Cladosporium cucumerinum and Candida albicans. Furthermore, a chromone derivative, compound B (structure not further elucidated) is reported to inhibit angiotensin-converting enzyme in vitro at an IC50 of 195 μM. Possibly these compounds may be found in E. chinense as well.


  • An annual or perennial, erect herb, 12-50(-90) cm tall, not or sparingly branched, tubers cylindrical, up to 3 cm × 5 cm.
  • Leaves alternate, 1-foliolate; stipules linear, 4-5(-10) mm long, persistent; leaflet oblong to linear, 1-8 cm × 0.3-2 cm, base rounded, apex acute or acuminate, with long hairs on margin and midrib, sparsely hairy above, densely pubescent below; petiolule 1-3(-10) mm long.
  • Inflorescence an axillary pseudoraceme, 6-15 mm long, 1-3-flowered.
  • Flowers papilionaceous, about 7 mm long; calyx campanulate, 5-lobed, hairy, tube 2 mm long, lobes narrow-triangular, 2-3 mm long; corolla pale bright yellow, sometimes tinged purple, standard auriculate, wings oblong, longer than the keel-petals; stamens 10, diadelphous, 1 free; ovary 2-ovulate.
  • Fruit a cylindrical pod, 10-12 mm × 5-8 mm, 1-2-seeded, brown to black, covered with long brown to grey hairs, dehiscent.
  • Seed reniform, 2-4 mm long, minutely pitted, arillate all along the width.

Growth and development

In Java, E. chinense flowers from December-March.

Other botanical information

Eriosema is a large genus of some 130 species, with just one or two species in Asia and Australia. Apart from E. chinense a second, quite similar species, E. himalaicum Ohashi (synonym: E. tuberosum (Buch.-Ham. ex G. Don) Wang & Tang non A. Richter) has been distinguished. In fact all higher-altitude Indian accessions from the Himalayas (most > 1500 m) have been classified as E. himalaicum, E. chinense being the species in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa. The distinction would be a fusiform tuber, thinly pubescent leaflets below, and short broad calyx teeth in E. chinense as opposed to a globose tuber, more densely pubescent leaflets below, and longer narrower calyx teeth in E. himalaicum. In general, Australian and Papuan specimens of E. chinense have many more linear leaflets than the Indian and Chinese ones. The fresh tuber or the cortex of E. himalaicum, dried and powdered mixed with water, is used to treat dysentery. In traditional Chinese medicine the plant is used to treat diarrhoea, orchitis and hydrophobia, and as a detoxifying agent. Several African Eriosema species are used as fish poison.


E. chinense is found in habitats ranging from coniferous and open broadleaf forest, savanna, grassland and roadsides on sandy soils up to 1500(-2000) m altitude.

Propagation and planting

Seeds of E. chinense are the likely vehicles of propagation, tubers in rest would probably serve that purpose too.


In general plants of E. chinense are simply uprooted to collect the tubers.

Genetic resources and breeding

In view of its widespread distribution and presence in disturbed habitats, E. chinense is not likely to be threatened by genetic erosion.


Very little is known about the phytochemistry and pharmacology of Eriosema species. The activities in the fields of anti-fungal activity and angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibition are interesting. The compounds involved may have potential to serve as new leads.


  • Hacker, J.B., 1990. A guide to herbaceous and shrub legumes of Queensland. University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, Australia. p. 154.
  • Ma, W.G., Fuzzati, N., Lu, S.L., Gu, D.S. & Hostettmann, K., 1996. Further chromones from Eriosema tuberosum. Phytochemistry 43(6): 1339-1343.
  • Ma, W.G., Fuzzati, N., Xue, Y., Yang, C.R. & Hostettmann, K., 1996. Four chromones from Eriosema tuberosum. Phytochemistry 41(5): 1287-1291.
  • Melzig, M., Bormann, H., Heder, G., Siems, W.E. & Hostettmann, K., 1998. Inhibition of neutral metalloendopeptidase and angiotensin-converting enzyme by selected naturally occurring chromone derivatives. Pharmazie 53(11): 804-805.
  • Nguyen Van Thuan, 1979. Légumineuses-Papilionoïdées Phaséolées [Leguminosae-Papilionoideae Phaseoleae]. In: Vidal, J.E. & Vidal, Y. (Editors): Flore du Cambodge, du Laos et du Viêtnam [Flora of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam]. Vol. 17. Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France. pp. 136-139.
  • Quisumbing, E., 1978. Medicinal plants of the Philippines. Katha Publishing Co., Quezon City, the Philippines. p. 401.

Other selected sources

47, 74, 307, 1038. medicinals

3, 24, 49, 60, 75, 79, 81, 91. carbohydrates


  • L.J.G. van der Maesen
  • L.E. Groen, J.S. Siemonsma & P.C.M. Jansen