MARSH BARBEL ( HYGROPHILIA AURICULATA) - MEDICINAL BENEFITS AND USES
The Marsh Barbel is native to the Indian subcontinent, including Nepal and Sri Lanka, the Andaman Islands and the Nicobar Islands, as well as to Malaysia, South East Asia and parts of Africa, including South Africa, Senegal, Sudan, Cameroon, Guinea-Bissau, Nigeria and Mali. It has a few synonyms including Hygrophilia schulli and Asteracantha longiflolia and is known in English by many other names including the Temple Plant. It is a member of the Acanthaceae family and as the name suggests, likes to live in wet places. It can grow to 2 metres high or more, and has blue-purple flowers, with upper and lower “lips”. These flowers look a little like violas, or wild pansies.
The whole plant is used in traditional medicine systems for a number of ailments. These include impotence and quality of sperm. The powdered seeds are given in milk to improve the male libido, so it is supposedly an aphrodisiac. It is used for liver problems, including jaundice, to treat urinary tract infections and for gout and oedema. It is said to have diuretic qualities.
It contains vitamin C and flavonoids, phenolic compounds, saponins, steroid, terpenoids and cardiac glycosides.
Few clinical trials have been carried out on this plant, but the few that have were concentrated on proving the traditional uses of the Marsh Barbel. One study that was reported in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology in April 2006, conducted by M. Vijayakumar et al., concluded that it has “significant anti-diabetic activity along with potent antioxidant potential in diabetic condition.” However, the study was performed on rats and an extract of the plant used.
In an earlier study reported in the same journal in 1995 reported by Singh A. and Handa S.S, concluded that it does act to protect the liver, but once again, the study was done on lab animals.
While there is no doubt that the plant has medicinal value, given its traditional use over centuries, no scientific studies have been conducted on people.