This plant is a climbing one which has the most amazingly attractive flower, orange at the base of the conical display of flowers moving to vivid red at the top. Like all such pretty things in nature though you have to beware of it. Although it is used by traditional healers in Asia, it is extremely dangerous for the novice. It is believed to be native to South Asia and Africa where it grows. Gloriosa superba is the national flower of Zimbabwe. Although it grows throughout India, in some regions, such as Patalkot, it is becoming endangered, and so there is a growing shortage of it for India’s drug industries. It is cultivated in India for its medicinal properties.
The major compound found in Gloriosa superba is colchicine which is isolated from the roots which are tubers or rhizomes. It has anti-inflammatory, antipyretic, arbortifacient and antileprotic properties. However colchicine is a highly active alkaloid and along with this is another toxic alkaloid in the plant, gloriosine.
The juice from the leaves has been used for poisoned arrows by some African tribes, and the gorgeous flowers are used in religious ceremonies. Juice from the leaves kills lice.
The roots are used in various ways in different countries. Crushed roots are used in water as a cure for baldness the tuber is used for bruises and sprains and to cure colic, chronic ulcers, cancer, impotence and leprosy in parts of Africa. However ingestion of the root can be fatal.
In both Africa and India paste made from the root and root pieces are put on the palms of a woman’s hands and legs and sometimes on the lower abdomen to ease labour pains and hasten a baby’s delivery. After the birth the paste is thoroughly removed, and this same paste can be used as a remedy for bites of all kinds.
In traditional Ayurvedic medicine the plant is used as a remedy for stomach pains, inflammation, itching and thirst as well as a laxative and for the already mentioned reasons.
In Ethiopia it is used to treat leprosy and on the Ivory Coast it is a remedy for female sterility and also used for enemas and an aphrodisiac. Among the Suliei Ndorobo, the hunter-gatherers in the Mathew’s mountain range of Kenya put the dried bulb around their necks and use them in religious ceremonies.
Like aak it has been used as a weapon in homicides, for suicidal purposes and for abortion. However traditional healers understand its toxic nature and use the plant to heal. In the wrong hands, though it is very dangerous.