Peperomia pellucida (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
List of species

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Peperomia pellucida (L.) Kunth

Protologue: Humb., Bonpl. & Kunth, Nov. gen. sp. 1: 64 (1816).
Family: Piperaceae
Chromosome number: 2n = 44

Vernacular names

  • Pepper elder, shiny bush, cow foot, rabbit ear (En).
  • Pépéromia, herbe à couleuvre, cresson, salade soda, salade soldat, herbe à couresse (Fr).
  • Erva de jabuti, coraçãozinho, língua de sapo, erva de vidro (Po).

Origin and geographic distribution

Peperomia pellucida is native to tropical Central and South America. It is now widely distributed throughout the tropics and is often naturalized as a weed and occasionally cultivated. In Africa it occurs from Senegal east to Eritrea and Somalia, and south to Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. It also occurs in Madagascar and Réunion.


Peperomia pellucida is widely used medicinally throughout the tropics, also in tropical Africa. The aerial parts are applied against abdominal pain, abscesses, acne, rheumatic pain, gout, headache, kidney-problems, cardiac arrhythmia and fatigue. There are also reports of its use in the treatment of measles, smallpox, mental disorders and female sterility. In Nigeria and DR Congo it is used as an ingredient of an infusion for treating convulsions. In Sierra Leone, DR Congo, and also in the Philippines, the warmed leaves are applied to sores and boils. In Nigeria the leaves are applied as a poultice to treat breast cancer. In DR Congo an infusion of the plant or a maceration, mixed with salt and palm oil, is taken against cough. Worldwide, and especially in Brazil and China, the plant is used to cure furuncles, conjunctivitis and skin sores. In Surinam a solution of the fresh juice of stem and leaves is used against conjunctivitis. The leaves are used in a decoction to treat cough, fever and common cold, and are eaten fresh to treat headache, sore throat and kidney and prostate problems, and also against high blood pressure. In the Philippines a decoction or infusion of the plant is taken to treat rheumatic pain, gout and kidney troubles, and applied externally as a rinse against complexion problems.

In many parts of the tropics the plant is used as a condiment, and eaten as a spicy leafy vegetable, cooked or in salads. In Africa it is occasionally cultivated for this purpose. It is sometimes grown as an ornamental container plant.

Production and international trade

Peperomia pellucida is sold for medicinal purposes and as a vegetable in local markets only.


The essential oil from the aerial parts contains as major compounds dillapiole (40%) and trans-caryophyllene (10.7%), and smaller amounts of apiole, the related compound safrole (5-hydroxy-3,4-methylenedioxy-allylbenzene), carotol, farnesene, germacrene-D, bicyclogermacrene, acacetin, nerolidol and octyl-acetate. Extracts of the aerial parts of the plant yielded very complex compounds, including peperomins A, B, C and E, pellucidin A, flavonoids, secolignans, tetrahydrofuran lignans, a methoxylated dihydronaphthalenone, sesamin and isoswertisin. The aerial parts also contain β-caryophyllene and caryophyllene-oxide.

The secolignans and peperomin E showed growth inhibitory effects on several cancer cell lines. The whole plant and extracts from it are reported to have significant analgesic, antibacterial, antifungal and anti-inflammatory activities and they are used to lower cholesterol levels, against proteinuria and as a diuretic. Apiole has pectoral and antispasmodic actions. A methanol extract of the aerial parts given orally has shown a significant analgesic effect on acetic-acid-induced writhing in rats and mice. A water extract of the aerial parts given orally exhibited significant anti-inflammatory activity in the carrageenin test in rats and mice. The crude plant extract and methanol extract were found to exhibit good levels of broad-spectrum antibacterial activity in vitro. Peperomia pellucida showed low toxicity (LD50 = 5000 mg/kg).

The nutritional composition of the fresh leaves per 100 g is: water 92 g, energy 105 kJ (25 kcal), protein 0.5 g, fat 0.3 g, carbohydrate 5.9 g, Ca 124 mg, P 34 mg, Fe 3.2 mg, β-carotene 2.5 mg, thiamine 0.03 mg, riboflavin 0.07 mg, niacin 0.6 mg, ascorbic acid 10 mg (Leung, W.-T.W., Butrum, R.R. & Chang, F.H., 1972).

Adulterations and substitutes

Talinum triangulare (Jacq.) Willd. and Talinum paniculatum (Jacq.) Gaertn. are used more commonly than Peperomia pellucida as a succulent vegetable; their taste is similar.


  • Fleshy annual herb up to 30(–60) cm tall, glabrous; stems many, initially erect, becoming decumbent, rooting at nodes.
  • Leaves arranged spirally, simple and entire; stipules absent; petiole up to 1.5(–2) cm long; blade elliptical-ovate to broadly ovate or almost triangular, 2–3.5 cm × 2–3.5 cm, base rounded to truncate, apex acute, thin, palmately 5–7-veined.
  • Inflorescence a lax terminal or leaf-opposed spike up to 6.5 cm long; bracts rounded, up to 0.5 mm long.
  • Flowers bisexual, sessile; perianth absent; stamens 2, filaments short, anthers oblong, tiny; ovary superior, rounded-ovoid, c. 0.5 mm in diameter, 1-celled, stigma 1, sessile.
  • Fruit a globose drupe 0.5–1 mm in diameter, blackish brown to orange, sticky, papillate, 1-seeded.

Other botanical information

Peperomia is a very large genus, and estimates of the number of species range from about 400 to over 1000. Tropical and subtropical Central and South America are richest in species. In tropical Africa about 17 species occur, in Madagascar 7 endemic species. Peperomia pellucida is variable; many impoverished specimens, growing under unfavourable conditions, have been described as separate species.

Several other Peperomia species are medicinally used in tropical Africa.

Peperomia abyssinica

Peperomia abyssinica Miq. occurs from Ethiopia south to Malawi. In Kenya the liquid from the soaked root is given to pregnant women to treat malaria.

Peperomia molleri

Peperomia molleri C.DC. occurs from Ghana east to Kenya and south to Zimbabwe. In DR Congo a leaf infusion is drunk and a leaf maceration is applied to the head to treat mental illness.

Peperomia tetraphylla

Peperomia tetraphylla (G.Forst.) Hook. & Arn., which is pantropical and occurs throughout nearly all tropical Africa, is used medicinally in Asia, as a tonic and to treat kidney disorders.

Growth and development

Peperomia pellucida is short-lived, but its lifespan can exceed one year. It sets seed abundantly. Seed is probably dispersed by rain wash and more widely by man through contaminated soil. Seedlings emerge about 15 days after sowing and develop naturally during the rainy season. In cultivation, growth is very fast and stems may reach a length of 60 cm 100 days after transplanting. Inflorescences appear 4–6 weeks after transplanting.


Peperomia pellucida is common in disturbed localities and is a widespread weed of cultivated fields and gardens. It grows in moist shady places, near houses, along paths and roads, on seasonally flooded river banks and on wooded rocky hillsides, up to 1100 m altitude. It is particularly common on damp hard surfaces such as walls, roofs and steep gullies. It may also grow as an epiphyte on fallen and dead tree trunks. It requires a minimum temperature of 10°C and prefers soil rich in organic matter.

Propagation and planting

Propagation is mostly by seed, but is also possible by stem, leaf and leaf-bud cuttings.


Peperomia pellucida is sometimes left during weeding operations as a ground cover to smother more harmful weeds. It is cultivated as a medicinal plant in southern China, Thailand, the Philippines and tropical America; in West Africa also as a vegetable. It may be grown as a container plant in well-drained pots filled with soil containing plenty of organic matter.

Diseases and pests

Poor drainage may cause root rot. Cucumber mosaic virus (CMV) may cause ringspot, manifested by distorted leaves with chlorotic or necrotic rings. The only treatment is to destroy infected material. The plant is a host of mealy bugs. The leaves are often eaten by slugs.


Peperomia pellucida is harvested from the wild or from home gardens whenever needed. The plant has a strong mustard-like odour and pulling it can cause asthma-like symptoms.


Wild populations are so abundant during rainy seasons that they mostly provide the necessary quantities. No quantitative data on yield are available.

Handling after harvest

Plant material is used fresh, or can be dried, powdered and kept for later use.

Genetic resources

Peperomia pellucida is widely distributed and common throughout the tropics. Collection of leaves for food or medicinal purposes does not affect its genetic diversity as it is a weedy plant, which produces many seeds.


Because Peperomia pellucida is very widely used for medicinal purposes and because it contains a range of complex bioactive compounds, research into its pharmacological properties deserves more attention. Its use as an easily collected or cultivated spicy vegetable justifies research into possibilities for its domestication. Its great genetic diversity and wide ecological adaptability may make selection of cultivars and development of appropriate crop husbandry measures relatively easy.

Major references

  • Adegoke, E.A., Akinsaya, A. & Naqvi, H.Z., 1968. Studies of Nigeria medicinal plants: a preliminary survey of plant alkaloids. Journal of the West African Science Association 13: 13–33.
  • Arrigoni-Blank, M., Barros Oliveira, R.L., Santos Mendes, S., de Albuquerque Silva, P., Antoniolli, A.R., Carvalho Vilar, J., de Holanda Cavalcanti, S.C. & Blank, A.F., 2002. Seed germination, phenology, and antiedematogenic activity of Peperomia pellucida (L.) H.B.K. BMC Pharmacology 2: 12–19.
  • Arrigoni-Blank, M., Dmitrieva, E.G., Franzotti, E.M., Antoniolli, A.R., Andrade, M.R. & Marchiori, M., 2004. Anti-inflammatory and analgesic activity of Peperomia pellucida (L.) H.B.K. (Piperaceae). Journal of Ethnopharmacology 91: 215–218.
  • 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.
  • Diniz, M.A., 1997. Piperaceae. In: Pope, G.V. (Editor). Flora Zambesiaca. Volume 9, part 2. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. pp. 24–37.
  • Immelman, K.L., 2000. FSA contributions 15: Piperaceae. Bothalia 30(1): 25–30.
  • Khan, M.R. & Omoloso, A.D., 2002. Antibacterial activity of Hygrophila stricta and Peperomia pellucida. Fitoterapia 73: 251–254.
  • Kiew, R., 1999. Peperomia pellucida (L.) Kunth. In: de Padua, L.S., Bunyapraphatsara, N. & Lemmens, R.H.M.J. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 12(1). Medicinal and poisonous plants 1. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 379–381.
  • Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
  • Pousset, J.L., 1989. Plantes médicinales africaines: utilisations pratiques. ACCT, Paris, France. 156 pp.

Other references

  • Adjanohoun, E.J., Ahyi, A.M.R., Aké Assi, L., Baniakina, J., Chibon, P., Cusset, G., Doulou, V., Enzanza, A., Eymé, J., Goudoté, E., Keita, A., Mbemba, C., Mollet, J., Moutsamboté, J.-M., Mpati, J. & Sita, P. (Editors), 1988. Médecine traditionnelle et pharmacopée - Contribution aux études ethnobotaniques et floristiques en République Populaire du Congo. Agence de Coopération Culturelle et Technique, Paris, France. 606 pp.
  • Aziba, P.I., Adedeji, A., Ekor, M. & Adeyemi, O., 2001. Analgesic activity of Peperomia pellucida aerial parts in mice. Fitoterapia 72: 57–58.
  • Bayma, J.C., Arruda, M.S.P., Müller, A.H., Arruda, A.C. & Canto, W.C., 2000. A dimeric ArC2 compound from Peperomia pellucida. Phytochemistry 55: 779–782.
  • da Silva, M.H.L., Zoghbi, M.G.B., Andrade, E.H.A. & Maia, J.G.S., 1999. The essential oils of Peperomia pellucida Kunth and P. circinnata Link var circinnata. Flavour and Fragrance Journal 14(5): 312–314.
  • Düll, R., 1973. Die Peperomia-Arten Afrikas. Botanische Jahrbücher für Systematik, Pflanzengeschichte und Pflanzengeographie 93: 56–129.
  • Heine, B. & Heine, I., 1988. Plant concepts and plant use; an ethnobotanical survey of the semi-arid and arid lands of East Africa. Part 3. Rendille plants (Kenya). Cologne Development Studies 8. Breitenbach, Saarbrücken, Germany. 120 pp.
  • Keay, R.W.J., 1954. Piperaceae. In: Keay, R.W.J. (Editor). Flora of West Tropical Africa. Volume 1, part 1. 2nd Edition. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. pp. 81–84.
  • Kerharo, J. & Adam, J.G., 1974. La pharmacopée sénégalaise traditionnelle. Plantes médicinales et toxiques. Vigot & Frères, Paris, France. 1011 pp.
  • Kokwaro, J.O., 1993. Medicinal plants of East Africa. 2nd Edition. Kenya Literature Bureau, Nairobi, Kenya. 401 pp.
  • Leung, W.-T.W., Butrum, R.R. & Chang, F.H., 1972. Food composition table for use in East Asia. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, Bethesda, United States. 334 pp.
  • Moreira, D.L., de Souza, P.O., Kaplan, M.A.C. & Guimarães, E.F., 1999. Essential oil analysis of four Peperomia species (Piperaceae). Acta Horticulturae 500: 65–69.
  • Oliver-Bever, B., 1986. Medicinal plants in tropical West Africa. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom. 375 pp.
  • Raponda-Walker, A. & Sillans, R., 1961. Les plantes utiles du Gabon. Paul Lechevalier, Paris, France. 614 pp.
  • Sofowora, A., 1996. Plantes médicinales et médecine traditionelle d’Afrique. Karthala, Paris, France. 378 pp.
  • van der Zon, A.P.M. & Grubben, G.J.H., 1976. Les légumes-feuilles spontanés et cultivés du Sud-Dahomey. Communication 65. Département des Recherches Agronomiques, Koninklijk Instituut voor de Tropen, Amsterdam, Netherlands. 111 pp.
  • Wanke, S., Samain, M.-S., Vanderschaeve, L., Mathieu, G., Goetghebeur, P. & Neinhuis, C., 2006. Phylogeny of the genus Peperomia (Piperaceae) inferred from the trnK/matK region (cpDNA). Plant Biology 8: 93–102.
  • Wome, B., 1985. Recherches ethnopharmacognosiques sur les plantes médicinales utilisées en médecine traditionnelle à Kisangani (Haut-Zaïre). PhD thesis, Faculty of Sciences, University of Brussels, Brussels, Belgium. 561 pp.
  • Xu, S., Li, N., Ning, M.M., Zhou, C.H., Yang, Q.R. & Wang, M.W., 2006. Bioactive compounds from Peperomia pellucida. Journal of Natural Products 69(2): 247–250.

Sources of illustration

  • Kiew, R., 1999. Peperomia pellucida (L.) Kunth. In: de Padua, L.S., Bunyapraphatsara, N. & Lemmens, R.H.M.J. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 12(1). Medicinal and poisonous plants 1. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 379–381.


  • D.M. Mosango, c/o Laboratory of Natural Sciences, Lycée Français Jean Monnet de Bruxelles (LFB), Avenue du Lycée Français 9, 1180 Brussels, Belgium

Correct citation of this article

Mosango, D.M., 2008. Peperomia pellucida (L.) Kunth. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. Accessed 9 December 2020.