Paederia foetida (PROSEA)

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Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

Paederia foetida L.

Protologue: Mant. pl. 1: 52 (1767).
Family: Rubiaceae
Chromosome number: 2n= 44, (55), 66, sometimes aneuploid


Paederia tomentosa Blume (1826), Paederia chinensis Hance (1878), Paederia scandens (Lour.) Merr. (1934).

Vernacular names

  • Chinese moon creeper, Chinese fevervine, kings tonic (En)
  • Indonesia: sembukan (Javanese), kahitutan (Sundanese), bintaos (Madurese)
  • Malaysia: akar sekentut, daun kentut, kesimbukan
  • Philippines: kantutai (Tagalog), bangogan (Bikol), mabolok (Pampangan)
  • Cambodia: vear phnom
  • Laos: kua mak ton sua
  • Thailand: kon, choh-ka-thue mue (northern), yaan phaahom (peninsular)
  • Vietnam: dây mơ lông, dây mơ tròn, mơ tam thể.

Origin and geographic distribution

P. foetida is found from North-East India to China and Japan, southwards to Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. It has been introduced into North America (North Carolina, Texas, Louisiana), Hawaii, Christmas Islands, Mauritius and Reunion as an ornamental and escaped.


The leaves of P. foetida are widely used in Asia and South-East Asia for the treatment of intestinal complaints such as colic, cramps, flatulence, dysentery and also for rheumatism and gout. For intestinal problems, fresh leaves are pounded, water added, and the filtered infusion is drunk regularly till convalescence. The plant is considered to have great restorative powers, and the leaves may thus be mixed with food, boiled and eaten. The leaves can be mixed in omelettes as well for intestinal mucus. In India, the leaves are often boiled in soup to lessen their smell. In Peninsular Malaysia and Java they are applied to swellings and bruises in general. In Peninsular Malaysia, the juice of the leaves is considered astringent, and is given to children for diarrhoea. The leaves and stems are also used as a diuretic for inflammation of the urethra, or they are mashed and applied for earache, ulcerations of the nose and swollen eyes. In Java, the leaves are applied as a poultice for a swollen belly, distension, herpes or ringworm.

In the Philippines, the bark or the root is considered emetic, and the leaves are used in antirheumatic baths. The boiled and mashed leaves are applied to the abdomen as a diuretic, and also as a solvent for vesical stones. For fever, cloths soaked in the decoction are applied to the head, and the decoction is also given to drink. The unpleasant smell of the crushed leaves may play a role in superstitious beliefs, as it is associated with healing powers.

In India and Indo-China, the stem, leaves and seeds are applied specifically for rheumatism, alone or in mixtures with other plants. The root is also used as an emetic. In India, the juice of the root is also prescribed in piles, inflammation of the spleen, and pain in the chest and liver. It may help to eliminate poisons collected in the system. The leaves are also used to treat hepatic disorders and rheumatism.

In China, P. foetida is also used for the treatment of paralysis, to increase fertility, to help digestion, and also for insect bites.

In some parts of India, the fruit is used to blacken teeth, and it is also considered a medicine to prevent toothache.

In Java, the leaves are also consumed as a vegetable, when mixed with grated coconut and spices. The stem yields a strong and silky fibre, but it is not commercially exploited.

Production and international trade

P. foetida is used on a local scale only. It has been found in Chinese herbalist shops in Peninsular Malaysia.


Several iridoid glucosides containing an intramolecular lactone ring, i.e. asperuloside, scandoside and paederoside were isolated from the aerial parts of P. foetida . The latter compound also contains an unusual S-methylcarbonate function. Bruised aerial parts of the plant have the fetid odour of indole (methyl-mercaptan). Damage to the tissue releases an enzyme which splits off this sulphur-containing group from paederoside, and is therefore responsible for the unpleasant odour.

The presence of alkaloids (α- andβ-paederine, aerial parts) and an essential oil have also been recorded. Monoterpenes such as linalol constitute the major components in the oil. The most abundant sulphur-containing compound was dimethyl disulphide.

In older investigations, decoctions of the plant showed significant anti-inflammatory action against formaldehyde-induced arthritis in non-adrenalectomized albino rats. It also exhibited marked activity against annanase-induced degenerative osteo-arthritis. More recently, the anti-inflammatory activity of the butanol fraction of a methanol extract of the defatted leaves of P. foetida was tested. This fraction produced a significant inhibition of granulation tissue formation in cotton-pellet implanted rats. It decreased liver aspartate transaminase activity without affecting serum aspartate transaminase activity. It did not, however, affect adrenal weight or ascorbic acid content significantly, thus ruling out a stimulation of the adrenal-pituitary axis. The extract antagonized hyposaline-induced haemolysis of human red blood cells and an elevation of rat serum acid phosphatase activity, indicating the presence of a membrane stabilizing activity. It also inhibited the elevation of serum orosomucoid levels in rats, suggesting the possibility of the presence of disease-modifying antirheumatic activity.

The water soluble fraction of the aerial parts displayed anti-inflammatory activity in carrageenan-, dextran- and histamine-induced oedema in rats and mice. Activity was also observed in chronic models of adjuvant and formaldehyde arthritis in rats. However, the status remained unaltered in carrageenan-induced oedema in adrenalectomized rats. In the carrageenan pleurisy test in rats, it reduced the pleural exudate volume and inhibited the migration of leucocytes into the inflammatory site. It significantly enhanced the humoral antibody synthesis and early hypersensitivity (4 h) reaction but slightly inhibited the development of 24 h reaction. It failed to exhibit any analgesic or antipyretic action and showed no ulcerogenic potential. LD50was found to be greater than 2 g/kg in rats and mice upon oral as well as intraperitoneal treatments.

Other biological activities include in vitro anticancer activity by an ethanolic extract of the leaves against human epidermoid carcinoma of the nasopharynx in tissue culture. Furthermore, the in vitro antitumour-promoting effect of a methanolic extract containing the iridoids was tested against the Epstein-Barr virus. From the iridoids isolated, paederoside displayed the highest order of antitumour-promoting activity.

The hepatoprotective potential of a leaf methanol extract has been assessed against CCl4-induced liver damage in the rat model. The extract showed effectiveness in reversing 6 out of 12 common biochemical (enzymatic) parameters assessed.

In addition, scandoside was found to promote the growth of lettuce seedlings. Paederoside showed a similar inhibitory activity to that of asperuloside and daecetyl-asperulosidic acid in a plant growth inhibition test and in an antimicroorganism activity test. Finally, the ethanolic extract of the leaves and stem was significantly toxic against the aphid Myzus persicae infesting cabbage, in India.

Adulterations and substitutes

Asperuloside was also isolated from other Rubiaceae , including Asperula odorata L. and several Coprosma species.


A slender, perennial, stinking twiner, 1.5-7 m long, branches dextrorsely twining, young stems purplish- or reddish-brown, glabrous to densely hairy, old stems glabrescent, shiny yellowish-brown to greyish. Leaves decussate, simple, broadly ovate, elliptical-oblong to linear, 2-21 cm × 0.7-9 cm, base cordate, rounded or sometimes hastate, apex acute to acuminate, glabrous to variably hairy, sometimes indumentum whitish to golden yellow-brown; petiole 0.5-6(-9) cm long; stipules interpetiolar, rounded or ovate to triangular, 1.5-5 mm × 2-3 mm, usually entire, glabrous or hairy. Inflorescence a terminal or axillary cymose panicle, extremely variable, from widely branched paniculate, over 1 m long to rather reduced, 10 cm long; bracts foliaceous or small and linear, with few to numerous flowers, often in lax scorpioid cymes; peduncle 2-30 mm long. Flowers bisexual, usually 5-merous, dirty pink or lilac, or purplish, corolla lobes pinkish to whitish inside, throat dark purple; calyx campanulate, 5-lobed, lobes triangular, up to 1 mm × 0.6 mm, normally glabrous; corolla cylindrical to bell-shaped, 5-17 mm × 2-5 mm, throat and inside of tube densely long-hairy, lobes 5, oblong to triangular, 1-3 mm × 1.5-3 mm, margins wavy, inflexed; stamens 5, inserted in the middle of the tube, included, anthers 2-2.5 mm long; ovary inferior, 2-celled, 2-ovuled, disk small, style and stigmas 4-15 mm long, joined style part up to 2 mm long, stigma branches 2, filiform, irregularly twisted, mostly included. Fruit a drupe, (sub)globose, 4-6 mm in diameter, walls thin, dry, brittle, crowned by the persistent sepals, shiny pale brown to yellowish- or reddish-brown; pyrenes 2, semi-orbicular or semi-ellipsoidal, plano-convex or compressed, slightly smaller than fruit, without conspicuous wings, black, often conspicuously covered with raphides. Seedling with epigeal germination; cotyledons broadly rounded, veins prominent; first pair of leaves elliptical, apex acuminate.

Growth and development

P. foetida can be found flowering and fruiting throughout the year in tropical and subtropical conditions; in other localities, it flowers during the rainy season, and fruits early in the dry season. P. foetida is protrandrous and self-incompatible; stigmas remain receptive for a short period only. Individual flowers are short-lived, open early in the morning and fall off after 2 days; entire inflorescences, however, bear flowers for a long period of time. Bees and butterflies have been observed to visit the flowers.

Other botanical information

Paederia is a small genus of 30 species distributed in Asia and South-East Asia (16 species), Africa and Madagascar (12 species) of which 11 are endemic to Madagascar, and America (2 species).

Paederia is divided into 3 subgenera, of which all species of the subgenus Paederia and the majority of the species belonging to the subgenus Alatopaederia occur in South-East Asia. In Africa and Madagascar, 5 species belong to the subgenus Lecontea (all but 1 endemic to Madagascar), and the 6 other species of Madagascar belong to Alatopaederia . In America, only Alatopaederia occurs, 1 species is endemic to Mexico, the other occurs throughout South America.

The name P. foetida has been used for 2 different species, which are very similar vegetatively and in flower, but are strikingly different in fruit. P. foetida has (sub)globose fruits and a very wide distribution in South-East Asia while P. cruddasiana Prain has laterally compressed-ovoid fruits, which are distinctly winged, and which occurs from northern India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan to south-western China and Thailand.


P. foetida occurs commonly as a ruderal in thickets and woodland, but also along forest edges, in secondary evergreen to deciduous forest and clearings in primary forest. It also grows in montane vegetation up to 3000 m altitude, on steep, forested slopes, or on sandy or rocky sea coasts.

Propagation and planting

P. foetida is mainly propagated by seed. Despite its weediness, P. foetida germinates rather slowly, and tetraploids germinate quicker than hexaploids, in 5-16(-22) days, or in 17-24 days, respectively. Sometimes, shoots produce adventitious roots when they come in contact with the soil, and can thus be propagated as well.

Micropropagation is also successful. Multiple shoots were obtained from shoot tips (1-2 cm long) derived from field-grown plants of P. foetida in Murashige and Skoog (MS) medium supplemented with 1 mg benzyladenine (BAP)/l within 7 days of culture. Root induction was observed in MS media supplemented with 0.25 mg BAP + 0.5 mg indole butyric acid (IBA) within 12 days of culture. About 70% of these plantlets were successfully transferred to soil.

Diseases and pests

In India, P. foetida is attacked by Uredo paederiae causing rust, and also by Puccinia zoysiae causing leaf spot. It is a host for the root-knot nematode Meloidogyne sp.

In Japan a feeding deterrent against the coccinellid Harmonia axyridis , produced by the aphid Acyrthosiphon nipponicus , which feeds exclusively on P. foetida , was identified as a paederoside.


P. foetida is harvested from the wild whenever needed.

Handling after harvest

Parts of P. foetida are mainly used fresh, but can be dried for later use.

Genetic resources and breeding

P. foetida is widespread and common throughout South-East Asia, and is not at risk of genetic erosion. There are no known breeding programmes of P. foetida .


Extracts of P. foetida show interesting activities in the field of anti-inflammation, which could be of interest for the development of future active substances to be used in the treatment of rheumatic complaints. Especially the disease-modifying component merits attention. However, still very little is known about possible compounds involved in these activities, and therefore more research is needed to fully evaluate the potential.


  • De, S., Ravishankar, B. & Bhavsar, G.C., 1994. Investigation of the anti-inflammatory effects of Paederia foetida. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 43(1): 31-38.
  • Kapadia, G.J., Sharma, S.C., Tokuda, H., Nishino, H. & Ueda, S., 1996. Inhibitory effect of iridoids on Epstein-Barr virus activation by a short-term in vitro assay for anti-tumor promoters. Cancer Letters 102(1-2): 223-226.
  • Nguyen Van Duong, 1993. Medicinal plants of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Mekong Printing, Santa Ana, California, United States. pp. 367-368.
  • Puff, C. (Editor), 1991. The genus Paederia L.: a multidisciplinary study. Opera Botanica Belgica 3: 1-376.
  • Singh, S., Bani, S., Khajuria, A., Sharma, M.L., Singh, G.B., Suri, K.A. & Srivastava, T.N., 1994. Anti-inflammatory activity of Paederia foetida. Fitoterapia 65(4): 357-362.
  • Singh, S., Ray, B.K., Mathew, S., Buragohain, P., Gogoi, J., Gogoi, S., Sharma, B.K. & Deka, P.C., 1999. Micropropagation of a few important medicinal plants. Annals of Biology Ludhiana 15(1): 1-7.

Other selected sources


  • Burkill, I.H., 1966. A dictionary of the economic products of the Malay Peninsula. Revised reprint. 2 volumes. Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operatives, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Vol. 1 (A-H) pp. 1-1240, Vol. 2 (I-Z) pp. 1241-2444.


  • Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, 1948-1976. The wealth of India: a dictionary of Indian raw materials & industrial products. 11 volumes. Publications and Information Directorate, New Delhi, India.236, 250, 264, 331, 407, 552, 786, 788, 803, 810, 841, 926, 1076.


N.O. Aguilar