Herbs & People: Aspilia Africana – The Unique Anti-Haemorrhage Plant

The plant is commonly found distributed in the Sub-Saharan Africa. It is widely gathered from the wild and used locally in traditional medicine. Aspilia Africana C.D. Adams (Family Asteraceae) enjoys a folk reputation in African traditional medicine due to its unique ability to treat numerous disease conditions. The plant is commonly referred to as the 'haemorrhage plant' in some of the communities where the plant is distributed due to its unique potential to stop bleeding. Aspilia Africana is a rapid growing, semi-woody herb usually producing annual stems about 2 metres tall from a perennial woody root-stock. It has a somewhat aromatic carroty smell. The leaves are opposite and with rough lamina. Its capitula are terminal, solitary or in 'lax racemes', at times axillary, radiating, white, yellow, lilac or purple. The medicinal parts of the plant collected in the wild are prepared mainly by crushing/pounding to form a paste and then the essential medicinal component, extracted by using cold or warm water or by decoction, carried out by boiling in a given quantity of water for a specific time duration. In most communities, Aspilia Africana medicine is generally administered orally or by topical application. Although all the different parts of Aspilia Africana are widely used in African traditional medicine, the leaves are those most often used in treatment of a number of health conditions. The infusion from the crushed leaves is applied on the wound, throughout many African communities, to stop bleeding and for cleaning the surfaces of sores. The infusion is taken orally to treat rheumatic pains and for management of problems related to cardiovascular diseases. The sap from the crushed/pounded leaves is applied topically to treat bee, wasp or scorpion stings. An infusion of the leaves of this plant is usually given as tonic to women after delivery and also to increase milk flow. The leaf infusion is commonly administered to children as a cough remedy. In East Africa, Aspilia Africana is also used for traditional treatment of malaria and related symptoms. To relieve febrile headaches, the patient’s face is washed using the leaf decoction. The leaf juice with little salt and lime juice is applied to eyes for corneal opacities and also to remove other foreign bodies in the eyes. The leaf decoction with native chalk is used to cure stomach troubles. For children, the decoction is mixed with clay and orally administered to treat stomach upsets. The leaf decoction is also taken for the treatment and management of sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhoea. In addition to the above treatment uses, the leaf decoction is also believed to be important in alleviating menstrual cramps and dysmenorrhea in women. The leaf is important as pain-killers, sedatives and ecbolics. It can cause uterus contractions and hence expectant mothers are warned against taking the decoction of any part of this plant as it may result in abortion. In some West African countries, women boil the leaves of Aspilia Africana and the decoction is drunk to prevent conception. This therefore indicates that Aspilia Africana may have some contraceptive or anti-fertility properties. Like the leaves, the roots of Aspilia Africana are also used in the treatment of numerous disease conditions. The cold water extract of crushed roots is administered orally to treat a number of conditions including sore throat, diarrhoea, gonorrhoea, intestinal worms, dysentery, and as an antidote against snake poison. The sap from the crushed roots is applied topically to wounds to promote rapid healing and to stop bleeding. The roots can also be chewed and the sap swallowed to induce appetite especially in patients. The decoction from a mixture of the leaves and roots has been used in some communities for treating pulmonary haemorrhage. In some East African countries, the root decoction is used to treat and manage tuberculosis. Unlike the leaves and roots which are known for treating a myriad of diseases and disorders, the stem bark decoction is notably used to treat limited diseases and conditions including fever and malaria in West Africa. Incredibly, the flower of this plant is also greatly used for medicinal purposes. The sap from the crushed mixture of flowers and leaves of Aspilia Africana is applied topically to heal and stop bleeding in a fresh wound. In some West African countries, the infusion of the mixture of flowers and leaves from the plant is credited with even the capacity of arresting the bleeding of a severed artery, hence demonstrating the extraordinary properties of this plant in stopping bleeding. In addition, the sap from the flowers has also been used to treat scorpion stings. Apart from the medicinal uses, many communities also use the plant as fodder for animals and as building materials. Scientific studies credit the unique medicinal potentials of Aspilia Africana to the numerous bioactive phytochemicals present in it including saponins, tannins, alkaloids, flavonoids, terpenoid and phenol. - Richard Komakech