Boerhavia diffusa L.

Last updated: 07 April 2015

Scientific Name

Boerhavia diffusa L.


Axia cochinchinensis Lour, Boerhavia adscendens Willd, Boerhavia caespitosa Ridl, Boerhavia ciliatobracteata Heimerl, Boerhavia friesii Heimerl, Boerhavia paniculata Rich. [Illegitimate], Boerhavia xerophila Domin [Invalid] [1]

Vernacular Name

Malaysia Rumput babi [2]
English Spreading hogweed, hogweed, pig weed, tar vine, red spiderling, horse purslane, fowl’s lice [3][4][5]
India Punarnava, dholia-saturdo, moto-satoda, snathikari, kommeigda, tambadivasu, raktakanda, shotaghini, varshabhu, mukaratee-kirei [4]
Thailand khomin pak, phak bia hin (Northern); nang kuu sae (Karen, Northern);phak khom hin (Central) [2][6]
Philippines Paanbalibis (Tagalog); katkatud [5]
Myanmar Khomhin pak [7]
Vietnam S[aa]m r[uwf]ng, s[aa]m d[aas]t, s[aa]mnam [6]
Papua New Guinea Mamauri (Yule Island, Cen­tral Province); aluka [6]
Brazil Pega-pinto, erva-toustao [5].

Geographical Distributions

Boerhavia diffusa is a prostrate herb growing in tropical and distributed throughout Malesia, Australia and the Pacific [8]. This plant needs full sunlight in order to flourish. It can withstand droughts although it prefers a moist soil. This plant can be found in wet areas, mostly during rainy seasons. B. diffusa can be found in dry open localities, pastures, along railroads, roads, and in secondary forests, on rocks and sand, from sea level up to 1000(-2000) m altitude [8].

Botanical Description

B. diffusa is a plant from the family of Nyctaginaceae[9]. It is an annual or perennial plant. It is an erect, ascending and creeping herb, which can grow up to 0.4-1(-2) m tall. It is a hairy to nearly hairless herb, with a club-shaped or stalked glands and glandular hairs while its root is spindle-shaped and often woody [8].

The leaves are ovate to lanceolate in shape, measures 0.5-4.0 cm x 0.3-4.0 cm, obtuse at base, cordate or truncate, acute to obtuse apex and often white beneath but sometimes with red marginal glands. The petiole is 1.0 – 3.5 cm long [8].

The flowers are usually clumped together and are arranged 1-12 flower together in cymose panicles, measuring 0.5-7.0 cm x 1.0-6.0 cm. The peduncle is 2.0-5.0 cm long with 1-3 times branched. The pedicel is 0.3-2.0 mm long with 1-3 bracteoles, and bell-shaped perianth which is 1.5-2.3 mm long with a distinct constriction in the middle. The colour of the flowers are either white, red, pink or violet. There are 1-3 stamens and barely exserted [8].

The fruit anthocarp is in a club-shaped measures 2.5-3.3 mm long, 5-ribbed angled with a scattered minute, club-shaped, stalked or sessile glands [8].


No documentation.

Chemical Constituent

Methanol extract of B. diffusa roots has been reported to contain rotenoids (e.g. boeravinone A, boeravinone B, boeravinone C, boeravinone D, boeravinone E, boeravinone G, boeravinone H, boeravinone K, boeravinone L, boeravinone M, boeravinone N, boeravinone O, 10-O-demethylboeravinone C, 6-O-demethylberavinone H, 2′-O-methylabronisoflavone, coccineone B, coccineone E, and 9-O-methyl-10-hydroxycoccineone B) and lignans (e.g. liriodendrin and syringaresinol mono­β­D­glucoside). [10][11][12][13]

Ethyl alcohol extract of B. diffusa whole plant has been reported to contain alkaloid (e.g. punarnavine). [14]

Hydro-alcoholic extract of B. diffusa roots has been reported to contain vanillin, ferulic acid, eupalitin, and boeravinone B while its decoction has been reported to contain only ferulic acid and vanillin. [15]

Plant Part Used

Whole plant, roots and leaves. [9]

Traditional Use

B. diffusa has been used by some African traditional medical systems in order to treat several maladies which affect pregnant women. In order to hasten childbirth, the whole plant of B. diffusa has been boiled, and the water in which the plant has steeped is drunk. In order to achieve the same effect, the root has been eaten and leaf maceration has been ingested. In southern Sudan, the roots are used to prepare an umbilical cord to be severed. [3]

Virtually all parts of B. diffusa plant are used in some form or another for numerous applications throughout Africa. In Nigeria, B. diffusa is used as rabbit food [16]. Boerhaavia diffusa, often called Punarnava in Indian language, has been used in the Ayurvedic system of medicine for thousands of years. Extracts can be taken from the whole plant or just the root. Most commonly, Punarnava is used to treat gastrointestinal and hepatic disorders [9][17], and as the whole plant is diuretic, thus it was in cases of jaundice, enlarged spleen, gonorrhea, and general internal inflammation [18].

The sap of B. diffusa has been used externally for a variety of treatments. In the Ivory Coast, the leaves are dried, and the powder has been applied to the chest to treat asthma [19].

In cases of stomach cramp or heartburn, the leaves are taken with small amounts of calcium and palm oil [20]. The leaves from Punarnava are traditionally used to treat dyspepsia, enlarged spleen, and general abdominal discomfort [9]. The leaf juice is used in the eyes for topical application to ease vision discomfort [18].

The roots have been used in order to treat dysentery, jaundice, and ulcers. In these cases, either a root decoction, or the boiled root itself is ingested. The root sap has also been used externally to treat sore throat and some burns [21].

The root of B. diffusa is widely used in Brazilian traditional medicine as a liver tonic and as a diuretic.   It has also been traditionally used to treat guinea worms. While much work has been done globally to eradicate guinea worms, they are a common source of ill health in poor areas. Several countries including Brazil, Guatamala and West Africa use B. diffusa as a treatment for this parasitic infection [22][23]. The roots if rubbed in honey can be locally applied for cataract, chronic conjunctivitis and blepharitis [18].

The roots and leaves are considered to be a febrifuge. In large doses B. diffusa in combination has been used as an emetic agent. [23]

Preclinical Data


Antidiabetic activity

Aqueous extract of B. diffusa leaves (100, 200, and 400 mg/ kg bw) administered orally to alloxan monohydrate-induced diabetic male Wistar rats (104-214 g) showed significant (p < 0.05) glucose level reduction after 6 hours administration with 38.07 %, 51.95 %, and 21.58 %, respectively. [16]

Aqueous extract of B. diffusa leaves (200 mg/ kg bw) administered orally to alloxan monohydrate -induced albino rats (160-200 g) for duration of 4 weeks significantly decreased blood glucose level (129.92 ± 8.03 mg/dL), glycosylated haemoglobin (0.415 ± 0.03 mg/gHb), and hepatic enzymes activity of glucose-6-phosphatase (0.182 ± 0.012 Ub/mg protein), and fructose-1,6-bisphosphatase (Uc/mg protein). It also significantly (p < 0.001) increased body weight compared to diabetic rats, increased plasma insulin level (10.40 ± 0.63 μU/mL), total haemoglobin level (11.69 ± 0.51 g/dL), and hepatic enzymes activity of hexokinase (132.13 ± 6.35 Ua/g protein). The result showed noticeable effect compared to standard antidiabetic drug glibenclamide (600 μg/kg) [24]. Similar administration also showed a significant antioxidant activity in liver and kidney of alloxan-induced diabetic rats, thus proven the efficacy of B. diffusa as a hypoglycemic [25].

Chloroform extract of B. diffusa leaves (200 mg/kg bw) administered daily for duration of 4 weeks to streptozotocin­induced IDDM rats significantly increased the rats body weight and decreased the blood glucose level comparable to effect of insulin (5 U/kg bw). This was probably due to its regenerative actions upon β-cells in the pancreas. [26]

Hepatoprotective activity

Ethanol extract of B. diffusa roots (150 mg/kg bw) administered orally to ethanol-induced liver damage in male Wistar rats (100-120 g) for duration of 30 days significantly (p < 0.001) decreased the liver damage effects of serum activities of aspartate aminotransferase (AST: 87.66 ± 8.36 μmole of pyruvate liberated/hr/lt), alanine aminotransferase (ALT: 31.67 ± 2.78 μmole of pyruvate liberated/hr/lt), alkaline phosphatase (ALP: 66.32 ± 5.27 μmole of p-nitrophenol liberated/hr/lt), lactate dehydrogenase (LDH: 2.78 ± 0.19 μmole of pyruvate liberated/hr/lt), and γ-glutamyl transferase (γ –GT: 11.34 ± 0.19 IU/dL), together with the decreased in the levels of cholesterol, triglycerides and free fatty acids in serum, liver and kidney while increased phospholipids level in the liver but decreased in the serum and kidney. [27]

Aqueous extract and powdered form of B. diffusa roots (2 mL/ kg and 150 mg/kg, respectively) administered orally to thioacetamide-induced hepatotoxicity in adult male albino rats (125-150 g) for duration of 7 days showed that the protection was highest in aqueous extract of thin roots and the proper time for herb collection was suggested during summer in month of May. The result significantly (p < 0.01) showed hepatoprotective protection of serum glutamate oxaloacetate transaminase (GOT: 82.55 % protection) and glutamate pyruvate transaminase (GPT: 74.26 %), significant (p < 0.05) hepatoprotective protection of acid phosphatase (ACP: 51.44 %) and alkaline phosphatase (ALP: 51.47 %), but not serum glutamate dehydrogenase (GLDH: 34.37 %) and serum bilirubin (BRN: 35.09 %). [28]

Alcohol extract of B. diffusa whole plants administered orally to carbon tetrachloride-induced hepatotoxicity in rats and mice showed hepatoprotective activity and strong choleretic activity by the increased of its normal bile flow in rats. [29]

Antitumour activity

Hydro-alcoholic extract (80 % ethanol: 20 % distilled water) of B. diffusa leaves (5 mg/kg bw) administered topically continuously at the peri- and post-initiational stages (i.e. 7 days prior to DMBA application and continued till the end of the experiment) each day over the shaven area of the skin of 7,12-dimethyl benz(a)anthracene (DMBA)-induced skin papillomagenesis in male Swiss albino mice (12-15 g) showed chemoprotective effect of the extract with significant reduction in the value of tumour incidence by 25 %, 0.35 average number of tumors per tumor bearing mouse, and 1.2 papillomas per papilloma bearing mouse. [30]

Hydro-alcoholic extract of B. diffusa (20 mg/kg) administered intraperitoneally to γ-radiation-induced damage in mice showed radioprotective effect against the affected tissues such as bone marrow and intestine by measuring its bone marrow cellularity, maturing monocytes, and intestinal glutathione. The attenuated total white blood count was elevated to almost normal count (6250+/­470 cells/mm(3)) after 9 days of treatment and reduced the alkaline phosphatase, glutamate pyruvate transferase, and lipid peroxidation level in serum and liver. [31]

An alkaloid namely punarnavine isolated from ethyl alcohol extract of B. diffusa whole plant (40 mg/kg bw) administered intraperiotonially to B16F10 melanoma cells-induced metastasis in C57BL/6 mice (20-25 g) for duration of 21 days inhibited the lung colonisation of B16F-10 melanoma cells by significantly (p < 0.001) reduced it to 11.88±0.83 (95.25 % inhibition) by prophylactic administration, to 15.25±1.67 (93.9 % inhibition) by simultaneous administration and to 49.75±5.9 (80.1 % inhibition) in mice with developed tumour and significantly (p < 0.001) increased the survival rate of the mice by 163.5 %, 146.8 % and 100.3 %, respectively. [14]

Antimicrobial activity


Ethyl acetate extract of B. diffusa roots showed antifungal activity against Microsporum gypseum, M. fulvum and M. canis using broth dilution method with the maximum inhibition of mycelial growth were 78.83%, 62.33%, and 42.30%, respectively in the test concentration of 1000 μg/mL 24 hours of incubation. [32]

Chloroform, ethyl alcohol, and ethyl acetate extract of B. diffusa roots showed antifungal activity with 26 %, 46 %, and 57 % maximum inhibition, respectively, at 5000 ppm concentration over 10 days exposure period. [33]

Spasmolytic activity

Methanol extract of B. diffusa roots (0.001-1.00 mg/mL) showed significant spasmolytic activity in guinea pigs ileum by inhibited the contraction induced by electrical field stimulation, acetylcholine (ACh), histamine, and barium chloride in a concentration-dependent manner with IC50 values (95 % C.L.) of 182 (132-240) μg/mL, 160 (121-212) μg/mL, 158 (117-215) μg/mL and 168 (132-213) μg/mL, respectively [11]. Boeravinone G, boeravinone E and compound 5 isolated from methanol extract of B. diffusa roots has been reported to have spasmolytic activity on intestinal motility in vitro [10].

Antinociceptive activity

Juice (JE) and decoction (DE) of crude aqueous extract of B. diffusa fresh leaves administered orally to acetic acid-induced abdominal writhing in male Swiss mice (25-35 g) significantly (p < 0.001) inhibited abdominal writhings in mice by 50.4 % and 46.6 % compared to negative control mice. The hot-plate test showed administration of JE lasted the pain longer with latency at 60 and 90 minutes compared to DE administration with latency at 30 minutes. [34]

Immunomodulatory activity

Ethanol extract of B. diffusa roots inhibited human NK cell cytotoxicity at 500 μg/mL extract concentration, production of LPS induced-nitric oxide in mouse macrophage cells RAW.264.7 (100 μg/mL: 9.71 % inhibition; 500 μg/mL: 37.03 % inhibition), IL-2 and TNF-α human PBMCs in vitro. [35]

Punarnavine isolated from methanol extract of B. diffusa whole plant (25 mg/kg bw) administered intravenously to B16F10 melanoma cells-induced metastasis in C57BL/6 mice (20-25 g) increased cell lysis mediated by natural killer (NK) cells (29.37 %) after 5 days of treatment compared to tumour bearing control with the highest value (6.98 %) was on 9th day. The extract also enhanced antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity (ADCC), antibody-dependent complement mediated cytotoxicity (ACC), and production of the cytokine IL-2, while lowered the granulocyte macrophage-colony stimulating factor (GM-CSF) and pro-inflammatory cytokines such as IL-1β, IL-6 and tumor necrosis factor- α (TNF-α) levels. [36] In addition, the administration of punarnavine also enhanced the level of metallopeptidase inhibitor-1 (TIMP-1) compared to metastatic tumor bearing control. [37]


B. diffusa extract administered for hepatoprotective activity does not show any signs of toxicity up to an oral dose of 2 g/kg in mice. [29]

Acute toxicity studies of B. diffusa extract administered for antinociceptive activity does not show any signs of toxicity up to an oral dose of 5000 mg/kg in mice. There were no significant changes in daily body or organ weight also observed during the next 14 days. [34]

Clinical Data

No documentation


No documentation

Poisonous management

No documentation

Line drawing


Figure 1: The line drawing of Boerhavia diffusa L. [7]


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