Jateorhiza palmata (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
List of species

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Jateorhiza palmata (Lam.) Miers

Protologue: Hook., Niger Fl.: 214 (1849).
Family: Menispermaceae


  • Jateorhiza columba (Roxb.) Oliv. (1868).

Vernacular names

  • Columba, calumba, colombo (En).
  • Colombo (Fr).
  • Calumba, columba, colombo do África (Po).
  • Mkaumwa (Sw).

Origin and geographic distribution

Jateorhiza palmata occurs naturally in Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa (Kwazulu-Natal). It is cultivated in Mozambique, and cultivated and locally naturalized in many tropical countries, including Ghana, Madagascar, Mauritius, Réunion and also in India and Brazil.


The root is the source of the formerly popular medicine ‘radix calumbae’ that was imported into Europe from Mozambique and Tanzania. It was used against dyspepsia and diarrhoea, and especially suitable for people with a weak stomach. In Tanzania the root is eaten against snakebites and as a vermifuge. The Zigua people of Tanzania use it to treat hernia and ruptures. Root scrapings are applied onto scarifications made in abscesses to mature them. Throughout south-eastern Africa the roots are considered tonic and are taken against dysentery and diarrhoea, whereas in India they are taken as a bitter tonic with antipyretic and anthelmintic properties, against gastric irritability and vomiting during pregnancy. In Europe Jateorhiza palmata is still used in laxative herbal mixtures.

In Italy and the United States the root has been added to herbal bitters.

Production and international trade

The dried root is traded internationally, but the current extent of the trade is unknown. It is sold through the internet on a small scale.


The succulent roots contain the diterpenoid furanolactones columbin, palmarin and chasmanthin and several related glycosides including palmatosides A–G, and the protoberberine alkaloids palmatine, jatrorrhizine, bisjatrorrhizine and columbamine. They also contain traces of the sapogenins diosgenin and kryptogenin. The roots contain about 1% of a greenish essential oil with a fragrance reminiscent of hay; older roots contain very little of it. The essential oil consists mainly of thymol. The roots are rich in starch.

In a test with rats, columbin suppressed the induction of adenocarcinomas in the colon by administration of the carcinogen azoxymethane. Columbin shortened the sleeping time induced by a urethane and α-chloralose mixture, but prolonged the sleeping time induced by hexobarbital. This may be explained by an effect of columbin on drug metabolizing enzymes in the liver. A methanol extract obtained from the rhizome inhibited the growth in vitro of a range of fungi tested. In the European Union the use of the essential oil (calumba extract) is permitted in animal feeds (CoE 247).


  • Dioecious liana from tuberous roots; branchlets densely appressed hairy.
  • Leaves alternate; stipules absent; petiole 18–25 cm long; blade broadly rounded in outline, palmately 5-lobed, 15–35 cm × 16–40 cm, base deeply cordate, lobes ovate and acuminate at apex, membranous, appressed hairy on both surfaces, palmately veined with 5 main veins.
  • Male inflorescence a branched axillary panicle up to 40 cm long, branches 2–10 cm long, bearing clusters of 3–7 flowers; female inflorescence an axillary raceme up to 10 cm long.
  • Flowers unisexual, sessile; sepals 6, 3 outer ones oblong to elliptical, 3 inner ones obovate, c. 3 mm × 1.5 mm; petals 6, c. 2 mm long, somewhat concave, mostly abruptly bent inwards at apex, margins incurved; male flowers with 6 free stamens 1–2 mm long, slightly fused to the petals; female flowers with 6 tongue-shaped staminodes, ovary superior, consisting of 3 free, ovoid carpels, styles short, recurved, stigma broad.
  • Fruit composed of up to 3 ovoid drupelets 2–2.5 cm × 1.5–2 cm, appressed stiff hairy, stone ovoid, flattened, one side smooth, other side with silky hairs, 1-seeded.
  • Seed with fleshy, ruminate endosperm.

Other botanical information

In Mozambique the stems growing from the roots may be annual.

Jateorhiza comprises 2 species, both in tropical Africa. It was formerly considered a section of Chasmanthera.


Jateorhiza palmata occurs in rainforest and fringing forest, up to 1500 m altitude.


The tubers are dug up during dry weather. The tubers are rejected and the succulent roots are cleaned and cut transversely or obliquely into slices, which are dried in the shade. After drying they are about 0.5–1.5 cm thick. After washing and brushing, the slices are graded and marketed as ‘radix calumbae’. Compact, uniform and bright yellow coloured pieces are preferred. The drug has a short-mealy fracture, slight musty odour and a very bitter taste. It is sometimes adulterated with pieces of sliced rhizome and in India with pieces of the stem of Coscinium fenestratum Colebr.

Genetic resources

As Jateorhiza palmata has a wide distribution and is cultivated as a home-garden plant, it is not in danger of genetic erosion.


‘Radix calumbae’ has lost much of its former importance in medicine at least in the Western World. Jateorhiza palmata is likely to retain some importance in herbal bitters, but there are no indications that it will become an important source of extracts or chemical compounds for the pharmaceutical industry.

Major references

  • CSIR, 1959. The wealth of India. A dictionary of Indian raw materials and industrial products. Raw materials. Volume 5: H–K. Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, New Delhi, India. 332 pp.
  • Cunningham, A.B., 1993. African medicinal plants: setting priorities at the interface between conservation and primary healthcare. UNESCO People and Plants Working Paper 1, Paris, France. 53 pp.
  • Troupin, G., 1956. Menispermaceae. In: Turrill, W.B. & Milne-Redhead, E. (Editors). Flora of Tropical East Africa. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. 32 pp.
  • Troupin, G. & Conçalves, M.L., 1973. Menispermaceae. In: Fernandes, A. (Editor). Flora de Moçambique. No 7. Junta de Investigações do Ultramar, Lisbon, Portugal. 26 pp.
  • Watt, J.M. & Breyer-Brandwijk, M.G., 1962. The medicinal and poisonous plants of southern and eastern Africa. 2nd Edition. E. and S. Livingstone, London, United Kingdom. 1457 pp.

Other references

  • Burkill, H.M., 1997. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 4, Families M–R. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 969 pp.
  • Carvalhas, M.L., 1972. Bisjatrorrhizine, a new dimeric protoberberine alkaloid from Jatrorrhiza palmata (Lam.) Miers. Journal of the Chemical Society, Perkin Transactions 1, 1972: 327–330.
  • d’Oliveira Feijão, R., 1960. Elucidário fitológico. Plantas vulgares de Portugal continental, insular e ultramarino. Classificão, nomes vernáculos e aplicações. Volume 1, A–H. Instituto Botânico de Lisboa, Lisbon, Portugal. 472 pp.
  • Horn, I. & Steffen, K., 1968. Antifungal activity of radix colombo [calumba, Jatrorrhiza palmata root] components. Pharmazeutische Zeitung 113(26): 945–950.
  • Itokawa, H., Mizuno, K., Ichihara, Y. & Takeya, K., 1987. Isolation and 13C-NMR studies on three new furanoditerpenyl glucosides from Jateorhiza columba. Planta Medica 53: 271–273.
  • Kohno, H., Maeda, M., Tanino, M., Tsukio, Y., Ueda, N., Wada, K., Sugie, S., Mori, H. & Tanaka, T., 2002. A bitter diterpenoid furanolactone columbin from Calumbae Radix inhibits azoxymethane-induced rat colon carcinogenesis. Cancer Letters 183(2): 131–139.
  • Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
  • Sturm, S. & Stuppner, H., 1998. Analysis of isoquinoline alkaloids in medicinal plants by capillary electrophoresis: mass spectrometry. Electrophoresis 19(16–17): 3026–3032.
  • Wada, K., Kurihara, T., Yagi, M., Kobayashi, R., Kaminaga, H., Toi, K. & Haga, M., 1995. Columbin isolated from Calumbae Radix affects the sleeping time of anesthetized mice. Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin 18(4): 634–636.


  • 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. Jateorhiza palmata (Lam.) Miers. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. Accessed 26 September 2023.