Operculina turpethum (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
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Operculina turpethum (L.) J.Silva Manso

distribution in Africa (naturalized)
1, flowering stem; 2, fruit. Source: PROSEA
Protologue : Enum. subst. braz. 16 (1836).
Family: Convolvulaceae
Chromosome number: 2n = 30


  • Ipomoea turpethum (L.) R.Br. (1810),
  • Merremia turpethum (L.) Rendle (1905).

Vernacular names

  • Indian jalap, transparent woodrose, paper rose, St. Thomas lidpod, ventricose morning glory (En).
  • Liane blanche, jalap, turbith (Fr).
  • Turbito vegetal (Po).

Origin and geographic distribution

Operculina turpethum occurs naturally in warm temperate and tropical Asia, and is naturalized, possibly a long time ago, in parts of Africa, Australia and the Pacific islands. It is more recently introduced and naturalized in the Americas. In Africa it is recorded from Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Comoros, Madagascar and Mauritius. Cultivation is concentrated in southern Asia.


In Tanzania a decoction of the rhizome and leaves is drunk as a purgative and to remove hookworm. A decoction of the rhizome is taken to facilitate childbirth. In Mauritius a decoction of the leaves is drunk as a purgative.

Operculina turpethum is an important medicinal plant in Asia. In Ayurvedic and Unani systems of medicine, in which Operculina turpethum is called trivrit or turpeth, it is a true panacea, and is a vital ingredient in more than 135 herbal and herbal-mineral formulations. The rhizome has been included in several groups, including the group of purgative herbs, antidote herbs, herbs for therapeutic enema and herbs eliminating toxins. An infusion of the rhizome is taken internally to treat fever, anorexia, obesity, oedema, anaemia, ascites, haemorrhoids, cough, asthma, dyspepsia, flatulence, paralysis, gout, rheumatism, melancholia, constipation, hepato-splenomegaly, hepatitis, intoxication and abdominal tumours. Externally a paste of the rhizome is applied to treat scorpion stings, snakebites, ulcers, worm infestation, wounds, pruritus, vitiligo and other skin disorders. Oil extracted from the rhizome bark is used in skin diseases with scale formation. Rhizome powder mixed with butter and honey is taken to treat vomiting of blood, tuberculosis and herpes. Rhizome powder mixed with butter or fresh juice of the leaves is used as eye drops to treat corneal opacity or conjunctivitis. In western India the flowers are applied to the head to treat headache. Operculina turpethum is also used in Chinese medicine mainly for the treatment of oedema and as an astringent.

In India, Operculina turpethum is occasionally planted as an ornamental.

Production and international trade

The rhizome is traded worldwide, but especially in southern Asia. Substantial quantities are imported into India. The crude drug and many formulations containing it are offered through internet, but no data on production or amounts traded are available.


Trivrit or turpeth consists of rhizome or rhizome bark of Operculina turpethum cut into pieces of 1.5–15 cm long and 1–2.5 cm in diameter. The pieces are cylindrical, somewhat twisted and dull grey to brownish-grey in colour. They have a faint odour and a nauseous taste.

The rhizome bark contains up to 10% of a brownish yellow glycosidic resin, called turpethin. The main laxative or purgative compounds of the alcohol-soluble fraction of the resin are glycosidic acids identified as turpethinic acids A–E. The rhizome also contains as major component the coumarin derivative scopoletin. From the aerial parts numerous fatty hydroxy-acid glycosides and glycosides of cyclic hydroxy-acids, as well as 4 dammarane-type triterpene glycosides have been isolated (operculinoside A–D). Three glycosidic acids, turpethic acids A–C, and two intact resin glycosides, turpethosides A and B, all having a common pentasaccharide moiety and 12-hydroxy fatty acid aglycones of different chain lengths, were obtained from the aerial parts. The seeds contain a gum, that resembles guar gum (Cyamopsis tetragonoloba (L.) Taub.) in structure, and which may have commercial value.

In pharmacological tests, rhizome powder of Operculina turpethum orally administered to albino rats showed reductions in gastric acid content, gastric ulcers, hyperacidity and related gastro-intestinal disturbances. An aqueous extract of the rhizome was found to reduce acute, sub-acute and chronic carrageenan-induced hind paw oedema in albino rats. The effect of the aqueous extract was stronger than that of the alcohol extract and the ether extract. The hepatoprotective activity of rhizome powder was assessed in a study of the effect of ethanol extract on paracetamol-induced hepatotoxicity in Wistar rats. The rats treated with ethanol extract showed a significant reduction in all biochemical parameters tested which was comparable with the effect of silymarin. The antioxidant activity of a methanolic rhizome extract was assessed in female Sprague-Dawley rats with dimethylbenzanthracene-induced breast cancer. Administration of the extract together with dimethylbenzanthracene for 45 days resulted in a reduction of tumour weight, while dimethylbenzanthracene alone caused an increase in tumour weight.

In a clinical study, administration for 30 days of an Unani medicine having Operculina turpethum as its main ingredient, to patients with ascariasis resulted on clearance of Ascaris lumbricoides eggs and relief from clinical symptoms of worm infestation in most of the test patients. In an open, uncontrolled clinical study, administration of a single dose of rhizome powder in fermented rice-water produced strong purgation in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. This purification procedure produced improvement in subjective parameters such as joint pain, stiffness, swelling, tenderness, and in the overall condition of the patients. However, the dosage used is very high and contra-indicated for many patients. In a study in which administration of a lower dose of a medicine containing the rhizome powder for 3 weeks was compared with application of warm compresses of fermented cereal-water or a combination of both treatments, all treatments showed some reduction of rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. In an acute toxicity test, healthy albino mice given a suspension of rhizome powder of up to 800 mg/kg showed no acute toxic effect or mortality during one week after administration. In another acute toxicity study an ethanol extract administered to groups of Wistar rats in doses of up to 2000 mg/kg, caused no lethality in any of the groups. Also the extract did not produce any alterations in liver function markers. In a brine shrimp bioassay the lethal toxicity of an aqueous extract was found to be moderate.

An ethanolic leaf extract showed significant antibacterial activity against Bacillus subtilis, Streptococcus haemolytica, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Shigella sonnei and Shigella dysenteriae in vitro. Treatment of susceptible host plants with a leaf extract induced systemic resistance to subsequent challenge from sun hemp rosette tobamovirus (SHMV), tobacco mosaic tobamovirus (TMV), datura shoestring potyvirus (DSTV) and tomato spotted wilt tospovirus (TSWV).

Adulterations and substitutes

In Ayurvedic medicine, 2 forms of trivrit are recognized: ‘Aruna’ or ‘Shweta’ with whitish or reddish rhizomes (Operculina turpethum) and ‘Shyama’ with blackish rhizomes (Ipomoea petaloidea Choisy). ‘Shyama’ has a drastic purgative action and can treat conditions such as intoxication and abdominal tumours. However, ‘Shyama’ can also have serious side effects, including fainting, burning sensation, confusion, chest pain and roughness of throat and hence is rarely used in medicine. Commercial samples of the rhizomes are sometimes adulterated with stem pieces of the same species.


Large, perennial twiner up to 4 m long, stems narrowly 3–5-winged, grooved, angular or cylindrical, glabrous or soft-hairy at the nodes, often rooting in water; rhizomes long, fleshy, much branched. Leaves alternate, simple and entire; petiole 2.5–7.5 cm long, cylindrical, sometimes winged; blade very variable in shape, orbicular, broadly ovate to lanceolate, 5.5–15 cm × 1–14 cm, base cordate to hastate, apex acuminate, acute or obtuse, mucronulate, margin rarely shallowly lobed, upper surface glabrous or appressed hairy, lower surface pubescent, palmately or pinnately veined with 8–11 pairs of veins; major veins prominent below. Inflorescence a few-flowered axillary cyme; peduncle 2–18 cm long, glabrous or pubescent. Flowers bisexual, regular, 5-merous; pedicel 1.5–3.5 cm long, pubescent, in fruit club-shaped, up to 40 mm long; bracts oblong or elliptical-oblong, 1.5–2 cm long, pubescent, mucronulate, soon falling; sepals ovate to broadly ovate, acute, outer ones 1.5–2.5 cm long, pubescent outside, inner ones c. 2 cm long, glabrous, calyx in fruit broadly cup-shaped, up to 6 cm in diameter; corolla broadly funnel-shaped, 3–4.5 cm long, white, pinkish or yellowish, glabrous; stamens 5, inserted, filaments adnate to the corolla; ovary superior, 2-celled, glabrous, style c. 1 cm long, stigmas 2, capitate. Fruit a depressed-globose capsule, c. 1.5 cm in diameter, with up to 4 seeds; outer layer splitting around the middle, the top part (lid or operculum) separating from the lower part, and the inner layer bursting irregularly. Seed trigonous to globular, c. 6 mm long, glabrous, dull black. Seedling with epigeal germination.

Other botanical information

Operculina comprises 15–20 species occurring throughout the tropics.

Operculina macrocarpa

Another Operculina species used in tropical Africa is Operculina macrocarpa (L.) Urb. (jalapa (En); batata de purga (Po)). It is a stout, glabrous climber with winged hollow stems and widely funnel-shaped, creamy-white flowers, native of Brazil and the Caribbean region, and long ago introduced and naturalized in West Africa. In Ghana the leaves together with sliced onions are squeezed with lemon juice and drunk as an antidote to snakebites. Incisions are made near the wound and rubbed with the juice mixture. Plant sap is also used as eye drops to treat cataract. The plant has purgative properties and is used as such in Brazil. In Ghana the seeds are used to make bracelets. Women who gave birth to twins wear them for magical reasons. Operculina macrocarpa is sometimes grown as a pergola or shaded-walkway plant.

Growth and development

Operculina turpethum can be found flowering throughout the year when sufficient water is available.


Operculina turpethum occurs in coastal plains, moist deciduous forests, open forest, hedges, roadsides and waste places, usually in moist localities, from sea-level up to 1300 m altitude. When cultivated, it requires a warm climate during the growing season and a cool period of several months. During the cool season plants tolerate some frost but above-ground parts may die-back. Waterlogging is not tolerated. Sandy loam to clay loam soils are suitable for cultivation.

Propagation and planting

Operculina turpethum is propagated by seed or stem cuttings. Seeds are best collected soon after ripening and can be planted immediately in polybags. The potting mixture should contain sand, soil and farmyard manure in equal proportions. Scarified seeds germinate after 1 week. Soaking of seeds in water for 24 hours followed by mechanical scarification by rubbing the seed coat with sand paper gives 95% germination. Land should be ploughed well, followed by harrowing. When grown from stem cuttings, these should be c. 10 cm long with 2 nodes. These may either be planted directly in the field during the rainy season, or may be rooted first in a mist chamber or nursery. Rooted cuttings or seedlings are transplanted in the field at a spacing of 30 cm × 30 cm. Operculina turpethum needs a support and can be planted as a crop in a tree plantation or near hedges or shrubs. In areas with occasional flooding, planting should be done on ridges to avoid mortality due to waterlogging.

An efficient micropropagation protocol has been developed for Operculina turpethum through nodal segment culture.


About 2 kg seeds are required for raising planting stock for 1 hectare. About 2 t/ha of farmyard manure is mixed into the soil during field preparation before the onset of rains. No further application of fertilizer is required. During the rainy season irrigation is seldom required, but during dry spells, flood irrigation at an interval of 4–7 days is given. Regular manual weeding is recommended after planting.

Diseases and pests

In India spring weather, with large temperature swings between day and night, and fairly frequent rains, can favour the development of fungus diseases. At the end of the cool season the plants are commonly attacked by aphids and scale insects.


At 110,000 plants/ha, rhizome yield is about 1500 kg/ha after 10 months. Stems are often kept for vegetative propagation. In India the cost of inputs for an initial crop is about € 700/ha and € 350 in the subsequent year if the planting material is obtained from the previous crop.

Handling after harvest

Freshly collected rhizomes should be washed thoroughly with fresh water and dried initially in the sun for 2–3 days, followed by drying in the shade for the next 10 days till the moisture content is reduced to 8%.

Genetic resources

Operculina turpethum is widespread and locally common and is in general not in danger of genetic erosion. However, it is under some threat in Bangladesh and in parts of India because of overharvesting from the wild.


Operculina turpethum is a plant of great medicinal importance, especially in southern Asia. Although scientific studies have proven that rhizomes and leaves are effective in the treatment of various ailments, studies meeting internationally-accepted standards need to be done as well. This species certainly deserves more attention as a medicinal plant in Africa.

Major references

  • Aguilar, N.O., 2001. Operculina turphetum (L.) S. Manso.[Operculina turpethum] In: van Valkenburg, J.L.C.H. & Bunyapraphatsara, N. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 12(2): Medicinal and poisonous plants 2. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 389–391.
  • Ashok Kumar, B.S., Prabhakaran, V., Lakshman, K, Nandeesh, R, Saleemulla Khan, ManiTripathi, S.N., NarayanaSwamy, V.B. & Subramanyam, P., 2009. Histological and physico-chemical evaluation of Operculina turpethum Linn. root. Ethnobotanical Leaflets 13: 215–220.
  • Austin, D.F., 1982. Operculina turpethum (Convolvulaceae) as a medicinal plant in Asia. Economic Botany 36: 265–269.
  • Deroin, T., 2001. Convolvulaceae. Flore de Madagascar et des Comores, familles 133 bis et 171. Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France. pp. 11–287.
  • Ding, W.-B., Jiang, Z.-H., Wu, P., Xu, L.-X. & Wei, X.-Y., 2012. Resin glycosides from the aerial parts of Operculina turpethum. Phytochemistry 81: 165–174.
  • Kohli, K.R., Nipanikar, S.U. & Kadbhane, K.P., 2010. A comprehensive review on trivrit (Operculina turpethum, syn. Ipomoea turpethum). International Journal of Pharma and Bio Sciences 1(4): 443–452.
  • National Medicinal Plant Board, 2008. Agrotechniques of selected medicinal plants. National Medicinal Plant Board, Departmentt of AYUSH. Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India & TERI Press, New Delhi, India. pp. 131–134.
  • Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
  • Sharma, V. & Singh, M., 2012. Operculina turpethum as a panoramic herbal medicine: a review. International Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences Research 3(1): 21–25.
  • Verdcourt, B., 1963. Convolvulaceae. In: Hubbard, C.E. & Milne-Redhead, E. (Editors). Flora of Tropical East Africa. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. 161 pp.

Other references

  • Anbuselvum, C., Vijayavel, K. & Balasubramnian, M.P., 2007. Protective effect of Operculina turpethum against 7,12-dimethyl-benz-anthracene induced oxidative stress with reference to breast cancer in experimental rats. Chemico-Biological Interactions 168(3): 226–236.
  • Aswal, B.S., Bhakuni, D.S., Goel, A.K., Kar, K. & Mehrotra, B.N., 1984. Screening of Indian plants for biological activity. Part 11. Indian Journal of Experimental Biology 22: 487.
  • Bosser, J. & Heine, H., 2000. Convolvulacées. In: Bosser, J., Cadet, T., Guého, J. & Marais, W. (Editors). Flore des Mascareignes. Familles 127–135. The Sugar Industry Research Institute, Mauritius, l’Institut pour le Développement (IRD), Paris, France & Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 63 pp.
  • 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.
  • CSIR, 1966. The wealth of India. A dictionary of Indian raw materials & industrial products. Raw materials. Volume 7: N–Pe. Publications and Information Directorate, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, New Delhi, India. 330 pp.
  • Ding, W.-B., Zeng, F.-L., Xu, L.-X., Chen, Y.-Y., Wang, Y.-F. & Wei, X.-Y., 2011. Bioactive dammarane-type saponins from Operculina turpethum. Journal of Natural Products 74: 1868–1874.
  • Dokosi, O.B., 1998. Herbs of Ghana. Ghana Universities Press, Accra, Ghana. 746 pp.
  • Garcia, M.A., Demissew, S. & Thulin, M., 2006. Convolvulaceae. In: Thulin, M. (Editor). Flora of Somalia. Volume 3. Angiospermae (cont.). Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. pp. 221–258.
  • Gupta, A.K., Tandon, N. & Sharma, M. (Editors), 2005. Quality standards of Indian medicinal plants. Volume 3. Indian Council of Medical Research, New Delhi, India. 412 pp.
  • Gurib-Fakim, A., Guého, J. & Bissoondoyal, M.D., 1995. Plantes médicinales de Maurice, tome 1. Editions de l’Océan Indien, Rose-Hill, Mauritius. 495 pp.
  • Khan, M.M.A.A. & Zaim, M., 1992. Physicochemical properties and mode of action of inhibitors of plant virus replication present in Operculina turpethum L. and Scilla indica Baker. Zeitschrift für Pflanzenkrankheiten und Pflanzenschütz 99(1): 71–79.
  • Khare, A.K., Srivastava, M.C., Tewari, J.P., Purim J.N., Singh, S. & Ansari, N.A., 1982. A preliminary study of antiinflammatory activity of Ipomoea turpethum. Indian Drugs 19(6): 224–228.
  • Krishnaraju, A.V., Rao, T.V.N., Sundararaju, D., Vanisree, M., Tsay, H.-S. & Subbaraju, G.V., 2005. Assessment of bioactivity of Indian medicinal plants using Brine shrimp (Artemia salina) lethality assay. International Journal of Applied Science and Engineering 3(2): 125–134.
  • Kirtikar, K.R. & Basu, B.D., 2000. Indian medicinal plants. Shri Satguru Publication, Delhi, India. pp. 2387–2390.
  • Singh, V., Srivastava, V., Pandey, M., Sethi, R. & Sanghi, R., 2003. Ipomoea turpethum seeds: a potential source of commercial gum. Carbohydrate Polymers 51(3): 357–359.

Sources of illustration

  • Aguilar, N.O., 2001. Operculina turphetum (L.) S. Manso.[Operculina turpethum] In: van Valkenburg, J.L.C.H. & Bunyapraphatsara, N. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 12(2): Medicinal and poisonous plants 2. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 389–391.


  • Ranjeeta Prasad, E-III , 952, Sector-i, Aliganj, Lucknow (U.P), India

Correct citation of this article

Prasad, Ranjeeta, 2013. Operculina turpethum (L.) Silva Manso. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editeurs). Prota 11(2): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 2. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands. Accessed 12 November 2020.