Rauvolfia serpentina (L.) Benth. ex Kurz

Last updated: 8 Nov 2016

Scientific Name

Rauvolfia serpentina (L.) Benth. ex Kurz


Ophioxylon album Gaertn., Ophioxylon obversum Miq., Ophioxylon salutiferum Salisb., Ophioxylon serpentinum L., Ophioxylon trifoliatum Gaertn., Rauvolfia obversa (Miq.) Baill., Rauvolfia serpentina var. obversa (Miq.) Bakh.f., Rauvolfia trifoliata (Gaertn.) Baill. [1]

Vernacular Name

English Indian snakeroot, Java devil pepper, rauvolfia root [2]
China She gen mu [2]
India Arpa, avulpori, badgo, chandra, covannamilpori, dhan-barua, korengdabai, paathal garda, patalgaruda,saneggara, sarpa jhar, sarpangandh, vado [2]
Indonesia Pule pandak [2]
Thailand Ka yom, khem daeng, ra yom [2]
Vietnam Ba g[aj]c [aas]n d[ooj], ba g[aj]c hoa d[or], ba g[aj]c thu[oos]c [2]
Japan Indo-zaboku [2]
Nepal Chandamaruwa [2].

Geographical Distributions

Rauvolfia serpentina is found in India, Sri Lanka, Indo-China, southern China (Yunnan), Thailand, northern Peninsular Malaysia, Java and the Lesser Sunda Islands (Flores, Timor); cultivated in Pakistan, Nepal, India, Java, Ambon, Vietnam, southern China and Georgia. [3]

Botanical Description

R. serpentina is a member of the family Apocynaceae. It is a small shrub that can reach up to 0.6(-1)m tall where the prominent tuberous is usually with an unbranched root and usually unbranched slender stem. [3]

The leaves are arranged opposite or 3(-5)-verticillate, oblance-shaped or obovate, and measuring 7-16 cm x 3-9 cm while the petiole is up to 1.5 cm long. [3]

The flowers with narrow cylindrical tube are much longer than the sepal. [3]

The fruits consist of 1-2 spherical drupelets that are united at the base. [3]


R. serpentina occurs in sunny or shaded places in well-drained rainforests and secondary thickets up to 2100 m altitude, sometimes as a weed in sugar cane fields. [3]

Chemical Constituent

R. serpentina root has been reported to contain about 30 alkaloids (0.5-2.5%), mostly indole alkaloids, which can be classified into 3 groups: yohimbane, heteroyohimbane and dihydroindole. Among the yohimbane group, reserpine and rescinnamine are the most important therapeutically. Among other bioactive chemicals are deserpidine, yohimbine, ajmaline, ajmalicine and serpentinine. [4]

R. serpentina dried root has been reported to contain indole alkaloids (e.g. N(b)-methylajmaline, N(b)-methylisoajmaline, 3-hydoxysarpagine, yohimbinic acid, and isorauhimbinic acid), iridoid glucoside, 7-epiloganin and sucrose derivative (e.g. 6’-O-(3,4,5-trimethoxybenzoyl) glomeratose A). [5]

Anhydronium bases were isolated by preparative HPLC from a methanolic extract of R.serpentina roots: 3,4,5,6-tetradehydrojohimbine, 3,4,5,6-tetradehydro-(Z)-geissoschizol, 3,4,5,6-tetradehydrogeissoschizol and 3,4,5,6-tetradehydrogeissschizine-17-O-β-D-glucopyranoside. [6]

Plant Part Used

Roots. [7]

Traditional Use

The root of R. sepentina is used as an antidote for snake poisoning, insect poisoning, dysentery, cholera, colic, anorexia, hysteralgia, anthelmintic, enteritis, mental disease, venereal disease, dyspnoea, abnominalgia, fever, anti-emetic and headache. [8]

From time immemorial, it has been reported that the roots of R. serpentina have been used in Ayurvedic to expel intestinal worms, for the treatment of ulcers, bowel discomfort such as colic, biliousness, cholera, dysentery and to counteract snake-poison. A decoction of the roots is used to increase uterine contraction in childbirth. [4]

Preclinical Data


Many indole and dihydroindole alkaloids from R. serpentina have served as lead compounds in developing novel drugs for the treatment of cardiovascular diseases. And also serpentine has been found to exhibit anticancer and antimalarial properties. [5]


No documentation

Clinical Data

Clinical findings

In a clinical trial of R. serpentina in essential hypertension, thirty nine out of 48 people who completed the trial showed a drop of both systolic and diastolic blood pressure at 1 week after starting the medicine. After 4 weeks of taking the medicine, systolic blood pressure dropped between 2 and 54 mm Hg for those patients. [9]


No documentation

Side effects

No documentation

Pregnancy/Breast Feeding

Women who are pregnant and planning to start a family should not ingest preparations of Rauvolfia plant. [10]

Expecting mothers should not ingest Rauvolfia plants or preparations made from them because it is likely unsafe as the reserpine alkaloids cross the placenta and can be potentially teratogenic. [4]

Age limitation

No documentation

Adverse reaction

No documentation

Interaction & Depletion

No documentation


No documentation


No documentation

Poisonous Management

No documentation

Line drawing


Figure 1: The line drawing of R. serpentine [3]


  1. The Plant List. Ver 1.1. Rauvolfia serpentina (L.) Benth. ex Kurz. [homepage on the Internet]. c2013 [updated 2012 Mar 23; cited 2016 Oct 24]. Available from: http://www.theplantlist.org/tpl1.1/record/kew-176968
  2. Quattrocchi U. CRC world dictionary of medicinal and poisonous plants: Common names, scientific names, eponyms, synonyms, and etymology. Volume V R-Z. Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press, 2012; p. 14-15.
  3. Tran Dinh L, Pham Duy M. Rauvolfia serpentina (L.) Benth. ex Kurz In: de Padua LS, Bunyapraphatsara N, Lemmens RHMJ, editors. Plant Resources of South-East Asia No. 12(1): Medicinal and poisonous plants 1. Leiden, Netherlands: Backhuys Publishers, 1999; p. 430.
  4. Wiart C. Medicinal plants of The Asia-Pacific: Drugs for the future?. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing, 2006; p. 468-470.
  5. Itoh A, Kumashiro T, Yamaguchi M, et. al. Indole alkaloids and other constituents of Rauwolfia serpentina. J Nat Prod. 2005;68(6):848-852.
  6. Wachsmuth O, Matusch R. Anhydronium bases from Rauvolfia serpentina. Phytochemistry 2002;61(6):705-709.
  7. Kasahara S, Hemmi S. Medicinal herb index in Indonesia. 2nd ed. Jakarta, Indonesia: PT Essai, 1995; p. 199.
  8. Herbal Medicine Research Centre, Institute for Medical Research. Compendium of medicinal plants used in Malaysia. Volume 2. Kuala Lumpur: HMRC IMR, 2002; p. 297.
  9. Lobay D. Rauwolfia in the treatment of hypertension. Integr Med (Encinitas). 2015;14(3):40-46.
  10. Lewis WH, Elvin-Lewis MPF. Medical botany: Plants affecting human health. 2nd ed. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2003; p. 286.