Indigofera tinctoria L

[From Greek, indikon = Indian dye; from Latin, ferre = bear; tinctura = dyeing]

Physical description: It is a tropical shrub which grows to a height of 50 cm. The stems are silvery and hairy. Leaves: pinnate, 2.5cm-5cm, and stipulate. The folioles are 9-13 in number, obovate-oblong, 1.5 cm long and dry black. The inflorescences are axillary racemes which are nearly sessile and shorter than the leaves. The flowers are reddish-yellow and 4 mm-5 mm long. The calyx is campanulate and 5-lobed. The corolla comprises of an ovate to obovate standard and a straight keel spurred at the base. The pods are straight, 2.5mm long and contain 8-10 seeds.

The dyeing principle of Indigofera tinctoria L. is indirubin. This natural product has been described as "useful in the treatment of chronic myelocytic leukaemia" (Han R, 1994). Indigofera tinctoria L. protects rats against D-galactosamine and carbon tetrachloride liver poisoning confirming the hepatoprotective effect of the plant (Sreepriya M et al., 2001). Note that Swiss albino mice are protected against Dalton's ascitic lymphoma by an intraperitonneal injection of 400 mg/Kg of an ethanolic extract of Indigofera aspalathoides. The leaves of Indigofera oblongifolia contain a number of antimicrobial and antifun-gal peptides (Daho MU et al., 1999). Indigofera spicata (creeping indigo) contains indospicine which is a teratogen non-protein amino acid. An aqueous extract of the fruits of Indigofera suffruticosa Mill. destroys the liver of Balbc mice and increases the number of cells with aberrant chromosome (Ribeiro CR etal., 1991).

Synonymy: Indigofera glandulifera Hayata

Common names: Dyer's indigo; indigotier tinctorial (French); nila (Sanskrit).

Uses: Since ancient times, Indigofera tinctoria L. has been used as a dye called indigo or Vitrurius Indicum by Pliny. The process of preparing indigo was first reported in the 13th century by Marco Polo, but the plant itself was unknown to Europe until the close of the 16th century. In China, Indigofera tinctoria L. is used to assuage liver discomfort and to stop dysentery. In Malaysia, a paste of the plant is used to heal boils, and treat yaws and fever. In the Philippines, a decoction of the roots is drunk to expel stones from the kidneys. In Vietnam, the plant is used to soothe inflammation and contusion; the roots are used to promote urination; and the plant is used to check hemorrhage.

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