Piper umbellatum (PROSEA)

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Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

Piper umbellatum L.

Protologue: Sp. pl. 1: 30 (1753).
Family: Piperaceae
Chromosome number: 2n = (24), 26, (28)


Piper subpeltatum Willd. (1797), Heckeria umbellata (L.) Kunth (1840), Pothomorphe umbellata (L.) Miq. (1840), Pothomorphe subpeltata (Willd.) Miq. (1840).

Vernacular names

  • Indonesia: tombo (Javanese), sak-masakan (Madurese), lomba (Moluccas)
  • Malaysia: lemba, lomba
  • Philippines: kubamba (Tagalog), balai (Bontok), bayag-bayag (Cebu Bisaya)
  • Thailand: phluu teen chaang, rok chaang (peninsular), haan mu (northern)
  • Vietnam: lân hoa.

Origin and geographic distribution

P. umbellatum originates from Mexico and South America, and has been introduced and widely naturalized throughout the Old World tropics, including South-East Asia.


In South-East Asia, the fresh leaves of P. umbellatum are applied on abscesses, wounds or contusions. The decoction is taken for stomach problems, and as a diuretic. The leaves are also tied on the stomach for oedema. In Peninsular Malaysia, the fruits are chewed with betel ( Piper betle L.) for cough. In the Philippines, the juice of the leaves is applied in the eyes for conjunctivitis. The plant is considered a vulnerary and detergent. In Indo-China, the leaves and fruits are used to treat pains in the kidneys, dropsy, chlorosis and colic.

In South America, the leaves of P. umbellatum are widely used as an emollient, the juice is taken as an emmenagogue, galactagogue, and diuretic and is employed in poultices on swellings and burns, or dropped into the ear for earache. A decoction of the leaves or roots is taken to relieve liver obstruction, jaundice, malaria, urinary problems, syphilis, leucorrhoea, menstrual problems and stomach-ache, and is also applied on wounds and inflamed tumours. The root is considered stimulant, diuretic and promotes the flow of bile. A decoction is used as a powerful digestive and as a treatment for dyspepsia, constipation and gastralgia. In Brazil, it is much used in baths to subdue oedema and uterine complaints. In French Guyana, the plant is used against tapeworm. In Africa, the leaves are used in massages for migraine and headache, and in decoction as a wash for feverish children. In Ivory Coast, the aerial parts are commonly given to women as an emmenagogue, anti-abortive and antihaemorrhagic.

In South America, Java and the Philippines, the young leaves and spikes are eaten raw, steamed or boiled as a condiment with fish or rice. The sweet, ripe fruits are eaten as a delicacy. In Colombia, the scraped, boiled bark of the lower part of the stem and root is an ingredient for arrow poison.

P. peltatum L. is eaten in Java in the same way as P. umbellatum , as a side-dish to rice.

Production and international trade

P. umbellatum is only used locally, and not traded internationally.


The volatile oil of P. umbellatum has a high content ofβ-pinene (27%),α-pinene (18%) and (E)-nerolidol (12%). However, another analysis showed the compoundsβ-caryophyllene (15%), germacrene-D (28%), bicyclogermacrene (11.5%) andδ-cadinene (13%) made up 67% of the oil.

The roots and aerial parts contain 4-nerolidylcatechol. This compound was found to exhibit anti-oxidant potential as a peroxyl radical scavenger, inhibiting Fe(II)-dependant DNA damage, and cytotoxicity against KB tumour cell growth in vitro, possibly through topoisomerase I-inhibition.

A methanol extract of the leaves showed significant anti-malarial activity against Plasmodium falciparum in vitro. Subsequently, a crude ethanol extract of the leaves of P. umbellatum was administered orally (250 and 1250 mg/kg) and subcutaneously (100 and 500 mg/kg) to Plasmodium berghei -infected mice, and showed strong antimalarial activity, significantly reducing the level of parasites in a dose-dependent manner.

In a pharmacological screen, the aqueous extract of the aerial parts administered intraperitoneally to rats, caused a decrease in watchfulness for 48 hours, together with a fall of the rectal temperature, a decrease of spontaneous motor activity and an increase of analgesic activity.

The aerial parts of P. peltatum contain an essential oil, which consists ofβ-caryophyllene (39%),α-humulene (6%) and germacrene-D (9%) as main components. An aqueous extract was found to be active against crown gall tumour in the potato disk assay (22% inhibition). It also shows anti-oxidant activity similar to that of P. umbellatum , but only the methanol extract showed anti-malarial activity.


A perennial scrambling shrub or woody herb, 1-2.5(-4) m tall; stems numerous, succulent, ribbed, forming a dense clump, rooting at the nodes, main roots woody. Leaves alternate, almost circular to reniform, 5-36(-40) cm × 4.5-37(-42) cm, base deeply cordate, apex shortly acuminate to rounded, margins entire or crenulate, fairly thin, glandular black punctate, sparsely to densely hairy on the veins above and underneath, veins palmate, 11-15, blade dark green above, greyish underneath; petiole 6.5-30 cm long, dilated and sheathing basally. Inflorescence an axillary or leaf-opposed spike, 5.5-15 cm long, 2-8 together in false umbels, peduncle 3-12 cm long, 1-3 peduncles together, peduncular bracts narrow, 6-8 mm long, white, caducous. Flowers small, bisexual; floral bracts triangular to rounded, 0.5-0.8 mm wide, subpeltate, margins fimbriate, white, cream or yellow; perianth absent; stamens 2; ovary superior, 1-locular, stigmas 3. Fruit a drupe, obpyramidal, 3-angled, 0.6-1 mm × 0.4-0.6 mm, brownish. Seed globose, endosperm little, perisperm copious, embryo small.

Growth and development

P. umbellatum can be found flowering throughout the year when enough water is available. Piper flowers are probably pollinated by insects, but also show self-pollination.

Other botanical information

P. umbellatum is closely related to P. peltatum , but is distinguished by its peltate leaves and inflorescences with many, rather compact spikes. For a long time, these species were classified in the genus Pothomorphe Miq.

Many Piper species are used as a spice or condiment, or as a stimulant. Most Piper species are also valued as medicinal plants, with largely similar uses. The heated leaves are applied on the chest against cough, asthma and other respiratory problems, on the breasts to stop the milk flow and on the abdomen to relieve constipation and other stomach troubles. Leaf preparations or the leaf sap are widely used as a tonic and an antiseptic and are applied on wounds, contusions, ulcers and boils. Tests with black pepper showed that the main component of the fruit, piperine, stimulated tumour formation in mouse and toad ( Bufo regularis ), but that it also has significant anti-inflammatory activity. P. sarmentosum Roxb. ex Hunter, a minor spice, has been shown to have considerable antimalarial and hypoglycaemic effects.


P. umbellatum occurs in evergreen forest undergrowth, swamp forest, on river banks, old rubber plantations, always in damp locations, from 150-2100 m altitude.

Propagation and planting

P. umbellatum is propagated by seed. The seeds show dormancy, which can be interrupted by direct sunlight.


The leaves, fruits and roots of P. umbellatum are harvested from wild plants whenever needed.

Handling after harvest

The plants of P. umbellatum are mainly used fresh.

Genetic resources and breeding

P. umbellatum has a pantropical distribution and does not seem to be liable to genetic erosion. No germplasm collections or breeding programmes are known to exist.


Little is known about the phytochemistry and pharmacology of P. umbellatum . Further research is needed to fully evaluate its potential, e.g in the field of antimalarial activity, since a crude extract showed activity in an in vivo assay.


  • Adami, Y.L., Milhous, W., Ribeiro, D.C.T. & Ferreira da Cruz, M.F., 1998. In vitro antimalarial activity of crude extracts of Pothomorphe peltata and P. umbellata (Piperaceae). Tropical Medicine Nagasaki 40(2): 91-94.
  • Bioka, D. & Abena, A., 1990. Profile psychopharmacologique d’un extrait aqueux de Piper umbellatum [Psychopharmacological profile of an aqueous extract of Piper umbellatum]. Encephale 16(3): 205-208.
  • Desmarchelier, C., Barros, S., Repetto, M., Ribeiro Latorre, L., Kato, M., Coussio, J. & Ciccia, G., 1997. 4-Nerolidylcatechol from Pothomorphe spp. scavenges peroxyl radicals and inhibits Fe(II)-dependant DNA damage. Planta Medica 63(6): 561-563.
  • Morton, J.F., 1981. Atlas of medicinal plants of Middle America. Bahamas to Yucatan. Charles C. Thomas, Springfield, Illinois, United States. p. 130.
  • Najib Nik a Rahman, N., Furuta, T., Kojima, S., Takane, K. & Ali Mohd, M., 1999. Antimalarial activity of extracts of Malaysian medicinal plants. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 64(3): 249-254.
  • Verdcourt, B., 1996. Piperaceae. In: Polhill, R.M. (Editor): Flora of Tropical East Africa. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, the Netherlands & Brookfield, United States. pp. 1-24.

Other selected sources

50, 74,

  • 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.

142, 237, 280, 407, 636, 690, 786, 791, 810, 1024.


G.H. Schmelzer