Ipomoea asarifolia (PROTA)

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Ipomoea asarifolia (Desr.) Roem. & Schult.

distribution in Africa (wild)
1, part of stem with fruits; 2, flowering and fruiting stem; 3, flower. Redrawn and adapted by J.M. de Vries
Protologue: Syst. Veg. 4: 251 (1819).
Family: Convolvulaceae
Chromosome number: 2n = 30


  • Ipomoea repens Lam. (1791).

Vernacular names

  • Salsa brava, salsa da rua (Po).

Origin and geographic distribution

The origin of Ipomoea asarifolia is unknown. It has been hypothesized that it originated in southern India and that early European visitors of the region spread it around the world because of its medicinal uses. It has also been stated that Ipomoea asarifolia is native to tropical America. It occurs almost throughout the tropics, including North Africa and in tropical Africa from Cape Verde and Senegal through Mali and Cameroon eastward to Sudan and southward to Angola, Zambia and Mozambique. It seems absent from eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean islands.


Ipomoea asarifolia has many medicinal uses throughout West Africa, despite its toxicity. In Togo powdered root in water is drunk against stomach problems. A root decoction is taken orally against Guinea worm infections. In Senegal a compress of the crushed whole plant is applied to wounds and a decoction of the plant is drunk against post-partum haemorrhage. In Côte d’Ivoire the pulped leafy stems mixed with lemon and water are taken as an ecbolic. In Togo the pulped leaves are externally applied against tetanus or meningitis. In Mali the ash of leafy stems mixed with shea butter is given to patients to restore strength. In Burkina Faso pulped leaves are used as a wash against intestinal worms. In Benin a decoction of leafy stems with those of Cissus quadrangularis L. and of Borreria sp. is used as a bath against fractures; in a mixture with other plants it is applied to insect stings. A leaf decoction is taken to treat fever and convulsions. In Nigeria a decoction of the aerial parts is applied against boils and taken against stomach problems. A leaf decoction is taken internally and as a wash for feverish chills and rheumatic pains. In Nigeria and Mauritania a poultice of the leaves is applied to guinea-worm sores. In Nigeria the flowers boiled with beans are eaten as a remedy for syphilis. In northern Ghana cattle affected with ‘garli’ disease are treated with concoctions of the stems and roots mixed with those of various plants. This infusion is fed to the animal, while the pulverized charcoal of the burnt plants, mixed with shea butter, is rubbed on the joints.

The plant contains toxic substances and is not eaten by man, nor by grazing animals. Young leaves are nonetheless reportedly eaten in soup during the dry season in northern Benin. In northern Nigeria it is reported to provoke diarrhoea in horses if accidentally grazed, and causes madness and death in camels. Camels are reported to eat small amounts of it in Senegal, sheep in Mauritania and chicken in Sudan. In Brazil madness is reported to be one of the symptoms associated with the consumption of the plant. In Senegal a decoction of the plant is used to stain cloths and the hair black, while in Mauritania the ashes of the plant mixed with indigo provide a blue dye for cloth. The dried stems are used as tinder, and the leaves are sometimes used to wrap the feet or hands after application of henna. The plant trails over sand dunes and is a good sand binder. The long stems are used as rope.

Production and international trade

Ipomoea asarifolia is only traded locally.


The leaf extract contains carbohydrates, tannins, saponins, terpenes and steroids. Two triacylated and tetraglucosylated anthocyanins derived from cyanidin were isolated from the flowers. Four acylated anthocyanins have been isolated from the aerial parts. Ergoline alkaloids have also been isolated from the aerial parts, but were found to belong to fungi of the Clavicipitaceae family, which are associated with the plant. These compounds are responsible for occasional outbreaks of poisoning in cattle, sheep and goats.

The ethanol and ethylacetate extracts of the plant have shown a strong acetylcholinesterase inhibitory effect in vitro. In a laboratory experiment it was shown that leaf extracts contain potent hepatoprotective and curative compounds against CCl4-induced liver damage in rats as indicated by reduced levels of indicator enzymes and a reduction of CCl4-induced damage comparable to the effect of the drug silymarin. The antinociceptive effect of the aqueous methanol extract of the leaves was shown by its ability to reduce the number of acetic acid-induced abdominal writhing in mice. The extract shows prolonged and strong pain inhibition, indicating both antinociceptive and anti-inflammatory properties.

Analysis of the nutritional value of Ipomoea asarifolia leaves revealed appreciable amounts of crude protein (21 g per 100 g dry matter). The levels of lead, oxalates and phytates in the plant samples were low compared with recommended maxima for these compounds. The risk of ergot-like intoxication, however, greatly reduces the value of the plant as a fodder.

Adulterations and substitutes

Ipomoea asarifolia and Ipomoea pes-caprae (L.) R.Br. are very similar and often used for the same purposes.


Perennial, glabrous, trailing herb up to 3 m long, with short upright shoots; stems thick, terete or angular. Leaves alternate, simple and entire; petiole 3–8.5 cm long, rather thick, deeply grooved above, smooth or minutely muricate; blade circular to reniform, 3.5–7 cm × 3.5–8.5 cm, base cordate with rounded lobes, apex rounded, sometimes emarginate, mucronulate, leathery, folded along the midrib. Inflorescence an axillary cyme, often together with an axillary leafy shoot, 1–few-flowered; peduncle 2–5 cm long; bracts ovate, minute. Flowers bisexual, almost regular, 5-merous; pedicel 1.5–3 cm long; sepals unequal, elliptical-oblong, obtuse, mucronulate, inner ones 8–11 mm long, outer ones 5–8 mm long, more or less muricate; corolla funnel-shaped, up to 6.5 cm long, pinkish-purple with a darker centre; stamens 5, inserted near the base of the corolla tube, filaments filiform, unequal in length; disk annular; ovary superior, glabrous, style filiform, included, stigma 2-globular. Fruit a globose, glabrous capsule, 1–1.5 cm in diameter. Seeds 5–7 mm long, black, glabrous.

Other botanical information

Ipomoea is a large and complex genus containing 500–600 species of vines and shrubs, widely distributed throughout the tropics and subtropics.

Several other Ipomoea spp. occurring in West Africa are used medicinally.

Ipomoea argentaurata

Ipomoea argentaurata Hallier f. is a hairy annual herb with lanceolate leaves and pale pink flowers with a dark centre, and occurs throughout West Africa except the most humid parts, eastwards to the Central African Republic and Gabon. In Côte d’Ivoire a decoction of the aerial parts is drunk, while cola nuts are eaten, to improve spermatogenesis. In Benin a leaf decoction, together with leaves of Ficus vallis-choudae Delile, is drunk to treat hyperthermia. A decoction of the leafy twigs is taken to treat kwashiorkor.

Ipomoea dichroa

Ipomoea dichroa Hochst. ex Choisy is a hairy, annual twining herb with small purple flowers occurring widespread in West Africa, parts of East and southern Africa, and also in India. In Nigeria the dried powdered leaves are applied to burns. The seeds, together with those of Hibiscus sabdariffa L., are taken as a purgative. The thickened roots are used as love-charm. The plant is browsed by cattle throughout West Africa.

Ipomoea hederacea

Ipomoea hederacea Jacq. (Mexican morning glory) is a perennial herb with pale blue flowers, native of tropical America but has spread to Europe, northern and tropical Africa and parts of Asia and Australia. In tropical Africa it occurs in Benin, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Sudan, but possible also elsewhere. In Sudan the roasted and powdered seeds are mixed with yoghurt and taken as a purgative.

Ipomoea turbinata

Ipomoea turbinata Lag. (synonym: Ipomoea muricata (L.) Jacq. non Cav.) is usually an annual climber, originating from Central America but widely naturalized in tropical and subtropical regions including grassland and riverine forest in tropical Africa. Its seeds are locally used in West Africa as laxative and coffee substitute, but seeds, stems and leaves have been used for generations in traditional medicine in the Philippines, particularly to treat earache, pharyngitis, allergic dermatitis, wounds and burns, and as antidote against poisoning. Tests showed that seed extracts have analgesic, antibacterial and antifungal properties. Ipomoea turbinata is also planted as ornamental, but in some regions it has a reputation as troublesome weed.

Growth and development

Under controlled environmental conditions Ipomoea asarifolia produced leaves with high leaf dry mass and leaf area per total plant dry mass under low light conditions. High light conditions initially caused an increased growth rate, which later evened out. Ipomoea asarifolia can be found flowering as long as sufficient water is available.


Ipomoea asarifolia is a common plant of hydromorphic soils, low-lying places in inland valleys or along streams and riverbanks. It is sometimes weedy.

Propagation and planting

Ipomoea asarifolia reproduces naturally from seed and stem pieces. In an experiment to test seed survival rates of weed species conducted in Brazil, the survival rates of Ipomoea asarifolia seed were too low to allow for a build-up of their numbers in the soil seed bank. Mechanical scarification of seed enhanced germination to 100% in 3 days. Chemical scarification had only limited effect. Germination was independent of light exposure.

Diseases and pests

In South America Ipomoea asarifolia is attacked by tortoise beetles (Stolas sp.). The beetle is heavily parasitized by the wasp Emersonella neveipes, which also parasitizes on Chelymorpha cassidea, a pest of sweet potato.

Genetic resources

Ipomoea asarifolia is widespread and common and is in no danger of genetic erosion.


Ipomoea asarifolia is likely to remain an important plant in herbal medicine, although more research is needed to identify the compounds responsible for the activities and their pharmacology. The symbiosis with a toxic fungus warrants more toxicology tests, also to find ways to clean the aerial parts before using them medicinally.

Major references

  • Austin, D.F., 2005. The enigmatic 'salsa da rua' - Ipomoea asarifolia (Convolvulaceae). Ethnobotany 17(1/2): 41–48.
  • Baerts, M. & Lehmann, J., 2012. Ipomoea repens. [Internet] Prelude Medicinal Plants Database. Metafro-Infosys, Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium http://www.metafro.be/prelude. Accessed December 2012.
  • 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.
  • Farida, T., Salawu, O.A., Tijani, A.Y. & Ejiofor, J.I., 2012. Pharmacological evaluation of Ipomoea asarifolia (Desr.) against carbon tetrachloride-induced hepatotoxicity in rats. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 142(3): 642–646.
  • Gonçalves, M.L., 1987. Convolvulaceae. In: Launert, E. (Editor). Flora Zambesiaca. Volume 8, part 1. Flora Zambesiaca Managing Committee, London, United Kingdom. pp. 9–129.
  • Lawal, U., Ibrahim, H., Agunu, A. & Abdulahi, Y., 2010. Anti-inflammatory and analgesic activity of water extract from Ipomoea asarifolia Desr (Convolvulaceae). African Journal of Biotechnology 9(51): 8877–8880.
  • Meira, M, Pereira da Silva, E., David, J.M. & David, J.P., 2012. Review of the genus Ipomoea: traditional uses, chemistry and biological activities. Revista Brasileira de Farmacognosia 22(3): 682–713.
  • Markert, A., Steffan, N., Ploss, K., Hellwig, S., Steiner, U, Drewke, C., Li, S.M., Boland, W. & Leistner, E., 2008. Biosynthesis and accumulation of ergoline alkaloids in a mutualistic association between Ipomoea asarifolia (Convolvulaceae) and a clavicipitalean fungus. Plant Physiology 147(1): 296–305.
  • Medeiros, R.M.T., Barbosa, R.C., Riet-Correa, F., Lima, E.F., Tabosa, I.M., Barros, S.S., De Gardner, D.R. & Molyneux, R.J., 2003. Tremorgenic syndrome in goats caused by Ipomoea asarifolia in northeastern Brazil. Toxicon 41: 933–935.
  • Salles, H.O., Vasconcelos, I.M., Santos, L.F.L., Oliveira, H.D., Costa, P.P.C., Nascimento, N.R.F., Santos, C.F., Sousa, D.F., Jorge, A.R.C., Menezes, D.B., Monteiro, H.S.A., Gondim, D.M.F. & Oliveira, J.T.A., 2011. Towards a better understanding of Ipomoea asarifolia toxicity: Evidence of the involvement of a leaf lectin. Toxicon 58: 502–508.

Other references

  • Achigan-Dako, E.G., Pasquini, M.W., Assogba-Komlan, F., N’danikou, S., Yédomonhan, H., Dansi, A. & Ambrose-Oji, B., 2010. Traditional vegetables in Benin: diversity, distribution, ecology, agronomy, and utilisation. Institut National des Recherches Agricoles du Bénin, Benin. 252 pp.
  • Agaie, B.M., Salisu, A. & Ebbo, A.A., 2007. A survey of common toxic plants of livestock in Sokoto State, Nigeria. Scientific Research and Essays 2(2): 40–42.
  • Dias Filho, M.B., 1999. Potential for seed bank formation of two weed species from Brazilian Amazonia. Planta Daninha 17(2): 183–188.
  • Ekenyem, B.U., 2006. An assessment of Ipomoea asarifolia leaf meal as feed ingredient in grower pig diet. Pakistan Journal of Nutrition 5(1): 39–42.
  • Ekenyem, B.U. & Madubuike, F.N., 2006. An assessment of Ipomoea asarifolia leaf meal as feed ingredient in broiler chick production. Pakistan Journal of Nutrition 5(1): 46–50.
  • Ekpa, O.D., 1996. Nutrient composition of three Nigerian medicinal plants. Food Chemistry 57(2): 229–232.
  • Feitosa, C.M., Freitas, R.M., Luz, N.N.N.., Bezerra, M.Z.B. & Trevisan, M.T.S., 2011. Acetylcholinesterase inhibition by some promising Brazilian medicinal plants. Brazilian Journal of Biology 71(3): 783–789.
  • Heine, H., 1963. Convolvulaceae. In: Hepper, F.N. (Editor). Flora of West Tropical Africa. Volume 2. 2nd Edition. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. pp. 335–352.
  • Jegede, I.A., Nwinyi, F.C., Ibrahim, J., Ugbabe, G., Dzarma, S. & Kunle, O.F., 2009. Investigation of phytochemical, anti inflammatory and anti nociceptive properties of Ipomoea asarifolia leaves. Journal of Medicinal Plants Research 3(3): 160–165.
  • Kucht, S., Gross, J., Hussein, Y., Grothe, T., Keller, U., Basar, S., Konig, W. A., Steiner, U., & Leistner, E., 2004. Elimination of ergoline alkaloids following treatment of Ipomoea asarifolia (Convolvulaceae) with fungicides. Planta 219(4): 619–625.
  • Pale, E., Kouda Bonafos, M., Nacro, M., Vanhaelen, M. & Vanhaelen-Fastre, R., 2003. Two triacylated and tetraglucosylated anthocyanins from Ipomoea asarifolia flowers. Phytochemistry 64(8): 1395–1399.

Sources of illustration

  • Andrews, F.W., 1956. The flowering plants of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, Volume 3. Buncle, Arbroath, United Kingdom. 579 pp.


  • D.E. Tsala, Department of Life and Earth Sciences, Higher Teachers’ Training College, University of Maroua I, P.O. Box 55, Maroua, Cameroon

Correct citation of this article

Tsala, D.E., 2013. Ipomoea asarifolia (Desr.) Roem. & Schult. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(2): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 2. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands. Accessed 21 March 2023.