Family Euphorbiaceae A L de Jussieu 1789 nom conserv the Spurge Family

Physical description: The family Euphorbiaceae consists of 300 genera and about 7500 species of trees, shrubs, herbs, climbers and even cactus-shaped plants, often exuding a milky poisonous latex, and known to produce hydrolysable tannins, aporphine, pyridine, indole, and tropane types alkaloids, lignans, phloroglucinol derivatives, various sorts of terpenes, ellagitannins, proanthocyanins and, cyanogen glycosides, anthraquinones and fatty acid epoxides. The leaves of Euphorbiaceae are simple or compound, alternate and stipulate or not. Several sorts of inflorescences occur in the family. The flowers are small and unisexual. The perianth is inconspicuous to seldom showy, and comprises of 5 tepals which are distinct or connate. The andrecium consists of 5 or more stamens which are tetrasporangiate, dithecal, and open by longitudinal slits. A nectary disc is present. The gynecium consists of 3 carpels forming a compound and 3-locular ovary with 3 distinct styles, each locule containing 1-2 ovules. The fruits are characteristically dehiscent trilobed capsules.

Pharmaceutical interest: A classical example of Euphorbiaceae is tapioca (Manihot esculenta Crantz), which is one of the dietary plants most anciently used by mankind. The seeds of Ricinus communis L. provide castor oil, which has been used since a remote period in time to relieve the bowels of costive-ness. Rubber is prepared from the latex of Hevea brasiliensis Muell. Arg. (hevea rubber). Euphorbiaceae are often toxic. An example of toxic Euphorbiaceae is Excoecaria oppositifolia, the latex of which causes blindness and anaphylactic shock to the lumberjacks of Southeast Asia. At least 14 genera including Aleurites, Croton, Euphorbia, Hippomane, Hura and Jatropha owe their toxicity to complex diterpenoid esters of the tigliane, ingenane or daphnane type. Almost all of these compounds are drastic cathartics, causing intense contact inflammation, and are both tumor-promoting and anti-tumor agents. One such compound is 12-0-tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate, which is one of the most potent inducer of skin tumor in mice. As a pharmacological tool, it is valuable because it activates the phosphorylation enzyme, protein kinase C. Note that this diterpene displays interesting anti-HIV activity in vitro.

Croton Elutaria

12 - O - tetradecanoylphorbol - 13 - acetate

Euphorbiaceae contain proteins (phytoxins), which are among the most violent existing poisons. One such protein is curcin from Jatropha curcas, and ricin from Ricinus communis L. Being often toxic, Euphorbiaceae should be used with caution in herbal remedies. Minor drugs still used are Croton tiglium (croton oil), and Croton eleuteria Benn. (cascarilla bark). About 150 species of the plants classified within the family Euphorbiaceae are used for medicinal purposes in the Asia-Pacific. Most of these are used to relieve the bowels of costiveness, soothe inflammation, and promote urination and expectoration. It will be interesting to learn whether a more intensive study on Euphorbiaceae will disclose any molecules of therapeutic interest. Note that hydrolysable tannins and diterpenes are predominantly responsible for the medicinal properties of Euphorbiaceae.

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