Cajanus cajan (L.) Millsp.

Last updated: 17 Jun 2016

Scientific Name

Cajanus cajan (L.) Millsp.


Cajan cajan (L.) Millsp. [Spelling variant], Cajan indorum Medik., Cajanus bicolor DC., Cajanus cajan (L.) Huth, Cajanus flavus DC., Cajanus indicus Spreng., Cajanus inodorum Medik., Cajanus inodorus Medik. [Spelling variant], Cajanus luteus Bello, Cajanus obcordifolius V.Singh, Cajanus pseudo-cajan (Jacq.) Schinz & Guillaumin, Cajanus striatus Bojer, Cytisus guineensis Schum. & Thonn., Cytisus pseudocajan Jacq., Phaseolus balicus L. [1]

Vernacular Name

Malaysia Kacang, kacang dal, kacang hiris [2], kachang kayu [3]
English Pigeon pea [2], pigeon pea, Congo pea, red gram, yellow dhal [4]
China Mu dou, shan tou ken, chieh tu, chieh tu tzu [3], shu tuo, [5]
India Arhar, tuver [4], tur, ahar (Hindi); tuvarika, tuvari, adhaki (Sanskrit) [6]; aadaki, arahar, baele, cinnakandi, dangri, huklek, ihora, iruppulikam, kaccikam, kandool, kecapukacceti, laher, mairongbi, mrittala, pataippeyanmaram, polukandi, rahar, rohor mar, shakhil, shaz, soopyah, thaka, thoori, thugari bele, tuur, tuvarai, tuvaraippayaru, tuvvar, vellaittuvarai, vritabija, yarai, yerrakandi, etc. [3]
Indonesia Kacang hiris, kacang gude, gude, kacang kayu (Java); kacang Bali, ritik lias (Sumatra); kekace, undis (Bali); lebui, legui, kacang iris, kacang turis (Nusa Tenggara); binatung, kance (Sulawesi); puwe jai, fou hate (Maluku) [5]
Thailand Thua rae, thua maetaai, ma hae [2]
Laos Thwàx h'ê [2]
Philippines Gablas, kagios, kalios, kadios (Tagalog) [5]; cagyós, cád -yos, cagnóis [7],
Cambodia Sândaèk dai, sândaèk kroëb sâ, sândaèk klöng [2]
Vietnam Cay dau chieu, dau sang, dau thong [2]
Tibet Tub a ri, tu pa rio [3]
Japan Ki-mame, ryûkyû mame [3]
Nepal Rahar [3]
Kenya Mbaazi, mbalazi, mbanzi, mbubalazi, mubalazi, mucugu, muusu, nangu, ncugu, ngogu, njugu, nzuu, obong [3]
Tanzania Mbaazi, madohola, mbaazi-mkosa, mbainisiri, mbanzi, musuu, muusu, ngogu, njaghalai [3]
Senegal Waken-masar, waken-turawa [3]
Germany Straucherbse [4][5], taubenerbse [6]
France Pois d’Angole, ambrévade [2], pois d’angola, pois cajan [6]
Spain Cachito, gandul [4], frijol del monte, guando [6]
Hawaii Pi nunu, pi pokoliko [3]
South America Cuandu, gandul, guandu, mumacriri, wandu [3].

Geographical Distributions

Cajanus cajan originated in India and spread to Southeast Asia in the early centuries of our era. It reached Africa in 2000 BC or earlier, and found its way to the America with the conquests and slave trade, probably through both the Atlantic and the Pacific. It is now grown all over the tropics and especially in the Indian Subcontinent and East Africa. [2]

Botanical Description

C. cajan is a member of the Fabaceae family. It is a glandular-pubescent, short-lived perennial (1-5 years) shrub, usually grown as an annual that can reach up to 0.5-4 m high and with the thin roots measure up to 2 m deep. [2]

The stems measure up to 15 cm in diametre. The branches are slender. [2]

The leaves are arranged alternately, trifoliolate and with dotted glandular. The leaflets are elliptical and measuring 3-13.7 cm x 1.3-5.7 cm. [2]

The flowers are in pseudoracemes, sometimes concentrated and synchronous (determinate), usually scattered and flowering over a long period (indeterminate). The petal is yellow or cream, dorsally red and orange or purple. [2]

The fruit is a straight or sickle-shaped pod with (2-)4-9 spherical to ellipsoid or squarish seeds. The seeds are white, cream, brown, purplish to almost black and plain or mottled. The strophiole is usually virtually absent. The seedlings are hypogeal germination where the first leaves are simple. [2]


C. cajan  flowering is triggered by short days and the plants grow vegetatively with long days, as in the rainy season of India. There are a few truly day-neutral forms. The optimum temperatures range from 18°C to 38°C and frost is not tolerated. Above 29°C, soil moisture and fertility need to be adequate. The rainfall optimum is 600-1000 mm/year and the waterlogging is harmful. C. cajan is rarely found above 2000 m altitude and the drained soils of reasonable water-holding capacity with pH 5-7 or more are favourable. The plant tolerates an electrical conductivity (salinity) from 0.6 to 1.2 S/m. [2]

Chemical Constituent

C. cajan  has been reported to contain 2’-o-methylcajanone, 5,2'-dihydroxy-7,4'-dimethoxyisoflavone, 5,2',4'-trihydroxy-7-methoxyisoflavone, 5,2'-dihydroxy-7,4'-dimethoxyisoflavone, 5,7,2',4'-tetrahydroxyisoflavone, 5,7,4'-trihydroxyisoflavone, 7-hydroxy-4'-methoxyisoflavone, alpha-copaene, alpha-himachalene, alpha-humulene, beta-himachalene, cajaminose, cajanin, cajaninstilbene acid, cajaquinone, concajanin, gamma-himachalene, lupeol, orientin, phytic acid, pinostrobin, and vitexin. [8]

Plant Part Used

Leaves, seeds, stem, and roots. [9][10]

Traditional Use

The Ayurvedic Pharmacopoeia of India reported that the roots used externally to promote breast development and has blood purifying properties. [9] In some areas of Africa, a preparation of the roots is given for cough, syphilis, and stomach problems. [10]

Furthermore, leaves preparation is used as a remedy for anaemia, dizziness, epilepsy, diarhoea, gonorrhoea, measles, burns, eye infections, earache, sore throat, sore gums, toothache, and intestinal worms. In Madagascar, the leaves are used to clean teeth. [10] In India, the C. cajan  leaves also used for mouth related disease and topically applied in the treatment of measles. Jaundice is treated by giving a paste of the leaves mixed with salt and water on an empty stomach. [9]

The stem ash has been used to treat wounds. [10]

The poultice of the powdered seeds is used on swellings. [10] Indian used the seeds for lipid disorders and obesity. [9]

The stalk and roots are chewed to relieve toothache. [10]

Preclinical Data


Hepatoprotective activity

The first study  reported on the hepato-protective activity of C. cajan is in 1998. They found that the purified protein fraction from the leaves could decrease the activities of serum transaminase alkaline phosphatase and decreased levels of serum bilirubin in carbon tetrachloride induced hepatic necrosis in Swiss albino mice. These findings were confirmed by histopathological studies of the liver. They further purified Cl-1 protein which also showed hepatoprotective activity, this time against beta-galactosamine induced hepatic damage in rats. This Cl-1 protein was found to also inhibit the pathogenesis of lesions produced by hepatotoxins including paracetamol and ethanol. [11][12][13]

Another study subsequently isolated and purified a 43 kD protein from the leaves of C. cajan which is believed to be the active principle for its hepatoprotective action. This protein proved to have antioxidant activity [14][15][16] which could attribute to its hepatoprotective activity. The studies showed the protein played an important preventive and curative role against hepatotoxins i.e thioactamide [17][18], chloroform [19][20], acetaminophen [21] and galactosamine [22] and sodium fluoride [23]. Purification and characterization of the 43 kD hepatoprotective protein was done in the study. This protein is a single polypeptide chain having an apparent molecular weight of 43 kD. The isoelectric point is 4.8; and loss of biological activity after heat and protease treatment confirmed its proteinous nature. The maximum hepatoprotective activity was observed at a dose of 2 mg/kg body weight for 5 days [24]. In an attempt to understand the mechanism, a study found that the protein exerts its protective action via the activation of the NF-kappaB and Akt; and deactivation of STAT-1 [25].

Nephroprotective activity

Similar to the hepatoprotective activity, the 43 kD protein also possesses a nephroprotective activity. A study found that in galactosamine induced nephrotoxicity, the 43 kD protein was able to ameliorate the pathogenesis and subsequent renal failure. This effect could be an indirect one i.e via the hepato-protective mechanism. [26]

Anticytotoxic activity

A study  found that the 43 kD protein was able to protect mouse hepatocyte against CdCl2 induced cytotoxicity. This is again attributed to its antioxidant property. [27]

Immunomodulatory activity

Cl-1 protein from leaves of C. cajan showed immunomodulatory activity. This is evidenced by its ability to enhance the IgG level, increase primary and secondary antibody response, facilitate delayed type hypersensitivity response and enhance leucocyte and macrophage migration inhibition response in mice sensitized with sheep red blood cells. In addition there were fewer anaphylactic shock symptoms observed in mice sensitized with bovine serum albumin, after CI-1 administration at a dose of 6.0 mg/kg body weight. The immediate effect of CI-1 on anaphylactic shock was not seen when 150 microg of CI-1 was injected in combination with BSA. These results suggest that CI-1 influences both humoral and cell-mediated immune response. [28]

Antioxidant activity

Apart from the presence of 43 kD proteins as a potent antioxidant factor in the leaves of Cajanus cajan, there are other compounds which showed antioxidant activity. It has been  found that antioxidant activities in the aqueous and ethanol extracts of the leaves, as well as in the petroleum ether, ethyl acetate, n-butanol and water fractions. They isolated 4 main compounds from the ethanol extracts i.e. cajaninstilbene acid, pinostrobin, vitexin and orientin, to have significant antioxidant activity as evidenced by their reactivity in DPPH radical-scavenging assay and beta-carotene-linoleic acid test. Cajaninstilbene acid showed the highest and most efficient scavenging activity. [29] 

Antiosteoporotic activity

Cajanine isolated from extracts of C. cajan was found to have a structure similar to diethylstilbestrol. The compound could promoted the osteoblast cells proliferation and mineralized bone-like formation in HOS TE85 cells, while inhibiting derivations of osteoclast cells. It was also found that the stilbene extracted from the plant were able to improved femoral structure in ovarectomized rats treated with 200 mg/kg of the extract while at the same time decrease FSH and LH content without affecting the serum 17beta-estradiol level and uterine weight. These results suggest that C. cajan could benefit women with postmenopausal osteoporosis. [30][31]


Small amount of free cyanic acid has been detected after C. cajan beans have been cooked in open aluminium pots. The beans also contains polyphenols and one should be cautious of over consuming it. To reduce the polyphenol contents, the bean should be cooked in pressure cooker or presoaked in water for 18 hours or allow them to germinate for 48 hours before cooking them. [32]

Chronic administration of polyphenols to rats had caused the development of chronic nephropathy, and its use in mice had reduced the life expectancy. Some polyphenols have carcinogenic or genotoxic effects in high doses or concentration. [33]

Clinical Data

No documentation.


No documentation.

Poisonous Management

No documentation.

Line drawing


Figure 1: The line drawing of C. cajan [2]


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  13. Datta S, Bhattacharyya P. Effect of a herbal protein CI-1, purified from Cajanus indicus on the ultrastructural study of hepatocytes, in models of liver failure in mice. J Ethnopharmacol. 2001 Sep;77(1):11-18.
  14. Sinha M, Manna P, Sil PC. A 43kD protein from the herb, Cajanus indicus L., protects against fluoride induced oxidative stress in mice erythrocytes. Pathophysiology. 2007 May;14(1):47-54. Epub 2007 Apr 2.
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  22. Manna P, Sinha M, Sil PC. Galactosamine-induced hepatotoxic effect and hepatoprotective role of a protein isolated from the herb Cajanus indicus L in vivo. J Biochem Mol Toxicol. 2007;21(1):13-23.
  23. Manna P, Sinha M, Sil PC. A 43 kD protein isolated from the herb Cajanus indicus L attenuates sodium fluoride-induced hepatic and renal disorders in vivo. J Biochem Mol Biol. 2007 May 31;40(3):382-395.
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  27. Sinha M, Manna P, Sil PC. Attenuation of cadmium chloride induced cytotoxicity in murine hepatocytes by a protein isolated from the leaves of the herb Cajanus indicus L. Arch Toxicol. 2007 Jun;81(6):397-406. Epub 2007 Jan 30.
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