Tylophora indica (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
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Tylophora indica (Burm.f.) Merr.

distribution in Africa (naturalized)
1, flowering twig; 2, flower in longitudinal section; 3, gynostegium; 4, pollinium; 5, follicles. Source: PROSEA
Protologue: Philipp. Journ. Sci., Bot. 19: 373 (1921).
Family: Asclepiadaceae (APG: Apocynaceae)
Chromosome number: 2n = 22

Vernacular names

  • Emetic swallow wort, Indian ipecachuanha (En).
  • Ipéca sauvage (Fr).

Origin and geographic distribution

Tylophora indica has a wide distribution, from India and Sri Lanka east to South-East Asia. In Africa it has been introduced in the Seychelles and Mauritius, where it has become naturalized.


The roots have a sweetish taste turning acid, a pleasant odour, and are considered poisonous, emetic or tonic, depending on the dose. A root decoction is taken to treat asthma, bronchitis, dysentery and diarrhoea.

In India, dried leaves are considered to have anti-allergic, anti-inflammatory and antifeedant properties, and are employed to destroy vermin.

The stems yield a fine, silky and strong fibre.

Production and international trade

In India the roots of Tylophora indica are widely traded for medicinal purposes.


Different parts of Tylophora indica contain a series of furoquinoline alkaloids, including tyloindicine A–J, tylophorinicine, O-methyl tylophorinidine, tyloindane, tylophorine and tylophorinine as well as the indolizidine alkaloids septicine and isotylocrebrine. Tylophora alkaloids have been shown to have anti-asthmatic, anti-inflammatory and anti-anaphylactic properties. The alkaloids isolated from the aerial parts showed significant amoebicidal action against Entamoeba histolytica. Of these alkaloids, tylophorine and tylophorinine were considerably more effective than standard drugs. Tylophorine proved to be very effective against appendicitis and hepatic infections in test animals. Tylophorinidine is reported as a potential antitumour alkaloid. In general, the potential of these compounds for use in humans is considered low because of their considerable toxicity. Pure alkaloids administered in a single dose (12–100 mg/kg) to male rats caused inactivity, respiratory distress, salivation, nasal discharge and diarrhoea. The oral LD50 value was 35.3 mg/kg, although small daily doses (1.25–2.5 mg/kg) produced no signs of poisoning or death of test animals. Tylophorine and tylophorinine are reported to cause dermatitis in humans, producing itching, redness, swelling and eruptions on the skin. Crude extract of the leaves inhibited delayed hypersensitivity reaction to sheep red blood cells in rats when the alkaloid mixture was administered before and after immunization with these cells. The alkaloid mixture isolated from the leaves also inhibited contact sensitivity in mice when given prior to or after contact sensitization.

Different leaf and stem extracts showed significant anticancer activity against 2 standard transplantable tumours, lymphoid leukemia L1210 and lymphocytic leukemia P388 in mice. In India, preliminary clinical trials on patients with bronchial asthma and allergic rhinitis, with infusions of the leaves, gave a marked relief of the symptoms for a few weeks in 40–50% of the cases, but also serious side effects including a sore mouth, loss of taste and vomiting. In laboratory animals the LD50 was found to be 2 mg/kg. An aqueous leaf extract showed significant improvement of the cognitive functions of mice in laboratory tests. Methanolic leaf extracts showed significant and dose-dependent anti-oxidant activity in vitro. A methanolic leaf extract showed hepatoprotective activity in carbon tetrachloride-induced liver damage in albino rats.

A crude extract of the leaves exhibited higher antibacterial activity than the root and shoot extracts against a range of pathogenic bacteria. Pure compounds displayed strong antibacterial activity at low concentrations. In contrast, growth of Escherichia coli was not inhibited even at higher concentrations of either crude extracts or extracted pure compounds. The crude extracts and pure compounds also showed antifungal activity against a range of pathological fungi.

A crude extract of the leaves showed higher antifeedant activity against Spodoptera litura than stem and root extracts. Among the pure compounds isolated, tylophorine showed the highest antifeedant activity followed by septicine and O-methyl tylophorinidine. Extracts of the aerial parts and the isolated alkaloids showed significant feeding inhibition activity against larvae of different crop pests.

Adulterations and substitutes

In Asia the leaves of Tylophora indica are used as a substitute for ipecacuanha (Psychotria ipecacuanha (Brot.) Stokes), from tropical America, as a cure for dysentery.


Slender, usually hairy liana, up to 3 m long; rhizomes short, 3–4 mm thick, knotty, roots numerous, fine. Leaves opposite, simple and entire; stipules absent; petiole 1–2 cm long; blade ovate-oblong to almost circular, 3–8(–10) cm × 1.5–6(–8) cm, base cordate or rounded, apex acute or obtuse, papery. Inflorescence an axillary umbel-like cyme or sometimes 2 superposed umbellate cymes, shorter than or as long as the leaves, few to many-flowered. Flowers bisexual, regular, 5-merous; pedicel 1.5–4 cm long, slender, short-hairy; sepals narrowly triangular, 1.5–2.5 mm long, apex acute; corolla pale yellowish-green, 1–1.5 cm in diameter, lobes ovate, 5–6.5 mm long, fused at base, apex rounded, glabrous outside, sparsely hairy inside; corona existing of 5 thickened lobes, obovate, up to 1.8 mm long, fused partly to staminal column, long acuminate at apex; anthers with small membranaceous appendix at apex; ovary semi-inferior, 2-celled, style columnar, stigmatic head 5-sided, c. 0.8 mm in diameter. Fruit a pair of spreading follicles, each ellipsoid, 5–10 cm long, apex tapering, many-seeded. Seeds with coma of white hairs.

Other botanical information

Tylophora comprises about 35 species in tropical Africa. It is in need of a general taxonomic revision; at present only partial revisions of Australia, Papua (Indonesia), Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands exist. The number of species occurring in South-East Asia is unknown.

Several other Tylophora species in tropical Africa are medicinally used.

Tylophora conspicua

Tylophora conspicua N.E.Br. occurs from Liberia east to Burundi and Tanzania and south to Angola and Zimbabwe. In Ghana the ground leaves, mixed with peppers, are applied to yaws. The roots mixed with the fruits of Piper guineensis Schumach. & Thonn. are used as an enema to treat back-ache. Crushed leaves are applied to ulcers and wounds to improve healing. A crude and an alkaloid fraction of a leaf extract produced a dose-dependent inhibition of gastric ulceration in male albino rats.

Tylophora coriacea

Tylophora coriacea Marais occurs in Comoros, Réunion and Mauritius. It is considered rare. In the Comoros sap of crushed aerial parts is taken to treat asthma. In Mauritius an infusion of the leafy stem is taken as an emetic. It is commonly employed during asthma attacks. From the stems and leaves alkaloids, flavonoids, saponins and phenols were isolated. An acetone leaf extract showed moderate anti-oxidant activity in vitro.

Tylophora glauca

Tylophora glauca Bullock occurs in Côte d’Ivoire, Togo, Nigeria and Congo. In Congo leaves are eaten as a vegetable to treat heart problems and treat belly-ache. An infusion is used to wash babies to make them stronger. From the stems and leaves alkaloids, saponins and phenols were isolated. A methanolic leaf extract showed moderate antibacterial and antifungal activity in vitro.

Tylophora sylvatica

Tylophora sylvatica Decne. occurs throughout most of humid tropical Africa, including Madagascar. In southern Senegal a root or leaf decoction or maceration is drunk to treat blood in the stools and sprains. A leaf infusion is drunk to treat abdominal pain, constipation, impotence and as a tonic. Latex is applied to the skin to extract spines. In southern Nigeria and Congo leaves or leaf sap is applied to sores and skin infections. A decoction of the aerial parts is taken to treat fever. In the Congo a decoction of the aerial parts is taken to stop threatening abortion, and also in case of menstrual problems. It is also used as a cough medicine. From the aerial parts several steroidal glycosides were isolated, including tylogenin, which exhibited significant anti-allergic properties in tests with rabbits.

Growth and development

Tylophora indica flowers and fruits throughout the year if sufficient water is available. The alkaloid content increases especially in the leaves during flowering.


Tylophora indica occurs mainly along the coast on sandy soils, particularly on stabilized dunes and in sandy coconut plantations, from sea-level up to 900 m altitude.

Propagation and planting

Tylophora indica is propagated by seed and by in vitro multiplication techniques.

Diseases and pests

In Africa no pests and diseases are described on Tylophora indica, but in Australia and India several butterfly species are known to feed on the leaves. The roots are often infested with nematodes.


The roots and leaves of Tylophora indica can be harvested whenever the need arises.

Genetic resources

In the Seychelles and Mauritius Tylophora indica is relatively common. In India, however, it is overharvested in many localities and loss of genetic diversity may therefore occur.


Extracts and isolated alkaloids from Tylophora indica show a broad range of interesting effects in pharmacology (e.g. antimicrobial, antitumour, anti-asthma, anti-allergic and hepatoprotective). More research is needed, however, to fully investigate the possibilities of the extracts. The potential of the purified alkaloids in medicine is considered low, due to their toxicity. They might be of interest to serve as lead compounds in the development of less toxic analogues.

Major references

  • 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.
  • Gupta, M., Mukhtar, H.M. & Sayeed, A., 2011. In-vitro evaluation of antioxidant activity and total phenolic content of Tylophora indica (Burm f.) Merill. International Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Research 2(1): 135–140.
  • Leeuwenberg, A.J.M. & Rudjiman, 2005. Apocynacées. In: Autry, J.C., Bosser, J. & Ferguson, I.K. (Editors). Flore des Mascareignes. Famille 121–126. Institut de Recherche Scientifique pour le Développement, Paris, France, Mauritius Sugar Industry Research Institute, Mauritius & Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 31 pp.
  • Kaur, H., Manju, A. & Dinesh, G., 2011. Extraction of tylophorine from in vitro raised plants of Tylophora indica. Journal of Medicinal Plants Research 5(5): 729–734.
  • Khurana, R., Karan, R., Kumar, A. & Khare, S.K., 2010. Antioxidant and antimicrobial activity in some Indian herbal plants: protective effect against free radical mediated DNA damage. Journal of Plant Biochemistry & Biotechnology 19(2): 229–233.
  • Kiew, R., 2001. Tylophora R.Br. 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. 564–568.
  • Kulkarni, M.P. & Juvekar, A.R., 2009. Studies on nootropic activity of roots of Tylophora indica in mice. Journal of Natural Remedies 9(1): 62–67.
  • Mujeeb, M., Aeri, V., Bagri, P. & Khan, S.A., 2009. Hepatoprotective activity of the methanolic extract of Tylophora indica (Burm. f.) Merill. leaves. International Journal of Green Pharmacy 3(2): 125–127.
  • Reddy, B.K., Balaji, M., Reddy, P.U., Sailaja, G., Vaidyanath, K. & Narasimha, G., 2009. Antifeedant and antimicrobial activity of Tylophora indica. African Journal of Biochemistry Research 3(12): 393–397.
  • Reddy, B.K., Balaji, M., Reddy, P.U., Sailaja, G., Vaidyanath, K. & Narasimha, G., 2009. Antifeedant and antimicrobial activity of Tylophora indica. African Journal of Biochemistry Research 3(12): 393–397.

Other references

  • Adjanohoun, E.J., Aké Assi, L., Ali Ahmed, Eymé, J., Guinko, S., Kayonga, A., Keita, A. & Lebras, M. (Editors), 1982. Médecine traditionelle et pharmacopée - Contribution aux études ethnobotaniques et floristiques aux Comores. Agence de Coopération Culturelle et Technique, Paris, France. 217 pp.
  • Ajibade, V.A. & Fagbohun, E.D., 2010. Phytochemical, proximate analysis and antimicrobial activities of methanolic crude extract of Tylophora glauca (Bullock). Journal of Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Science 1(1): 7–12.
  • Ganguly, T. & Sainis, K.B., 2001. Inhibition of cellular immune responses by Tylophora indica in experimental models. Phytomedicine 8(5): 348–355.
  • Gnabre, J.N., Halonen, M.J., Martin, D.J. & Pinnas, J.L., 1994. Antiallergic activity of tylogenin, a novel steroidal compound from Tylophora sylvatica. International Journal of Immunopharmacology 16(8): 641–650.
  • Gupta, A.K. (Coordinator), 2003. Quality standards of Indian medicinal plants. Volume 1. Indian Council of Medical Research, New Delhi, India. 262 pp.
  • Gurib-Fakim, A. & Brendler, T., 2004. Medicinal and aromatic plants of Indian Ocean Islands: Madagascar, Comoros, Seychelles and Mascarenes. Medpharm, Stuttgart, Germany. 568 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.
  • Neergheen, V.S., Bahorun, T., Jen, L.-S. & Aruoma, O.I., 2007. Bioefficacy of Mauritian endemic medicinal plants: assessment of their phenolic contents and antioxidant potential. Pharmaceutical Biology 45(1): 9–17.
  • Raj, C.D, Shabi, M.M, Brahatheeswaran, D. & Mahesh, N., 2006. Anti-inflammatory activity of Tylophora indica in albino rats. Journal of Pharmacology and Toxicology 1(5): 490–492.
  • Raji, Y., Hammed, A.I., Adesanwo, J.K. & Ogunwande, I.A., 2000. Antiulcerogenic effects of Tylophora conspicua in male rats. Phytotherapy Research 14(5): 378–380.
  • Van den Eynden, V., Van Damme, P. & de Wolf, J., 1994. Inventaire et modelage de la gestion du couvert végétal pérenne dans une zone forestière du sud du Sénégal. Rapport final, Partie C: Etude ethnobotanique. University of Gent, Gent, Belgium. 111 pp.
  • Zafar, R. & Ahmad, S., 2003. Tylophora indica (Burm. f.) Merill: a review. Journal of Economic and Taxonomic Botany 27(1): 42–48.

Sources of illustration

  • Kiew, R., 2001. Tylophora R.Br. 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. 564–568.


  • G.H. Schmelzer, PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article

Schmelzer, G.H., 2012. Tylophora indica (Burm.f.) Merr. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(2): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 2. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands. Accessed 15 August 2022.