BITTER OLEANDER: HISTORY, HEALTH BENEFITS AND AN UNUSUAL INGREDIENT FOR REMEDIES WITH BITTER OLEANDER
The bitter oleander is native to the Indian subcontinent and as its Latin name, antidysenterica, might suggest its primary use in traditional medicine is for the treatment of diarrhoea and amoebic dysentery. It is a member of the Apocynaceae family of plants so is related to oleander and the periwinkle. It is a deciduous shrub or small tree and has a long use as a medicinal herb in medicine systems in the Indian subcontinent where it is known by many names including kurchi, kuda and kutaja.
It has been mainly used to treat diarrhoea and dysentery and is sometimes mixed with a little castor oil and isphagol (plantain) for diarrhoea. The seeds, which are long and light brown, are powdered and placed on wounds to cleanse them and they are also used against fevers. The seed powder was a common household staple to treat children with intestinal worms.
In Ayurvedic medicine apart from the ailments mentioned the plant is also used to treat a variety of skin problems. It has been found to have antibacterial properties as well as being beneficial against malaria: G. Verma et al February 2011, “Anti-malarial activity of Holarrhena antidysenterica and Viola canescens, plants traditionally used against malaria in the Garhwal region of north-west
Himalaya.” This study concludes “The present investigation reflects the use of these traditional medicinal plants against malaria…” and ends with a hope that they will form the basis of “herbal formulations” for the treatment of this disease in the future.
The plant is also used to treat impotence and to enhance sperm quality as well as for other erectile dysfunctions in traditional medicine. Some of the traditional remedies seem rather unpalatable as they require the plant to be mixed with “cow’s urine”! (On reflection castor oil seems a better bet.) Better sounding remedies are the seeds or grated bark mixed with cow’s milk.
Extracts of the plant have been found to have anti-cancer effects in lab rats and research is still ongoing into its properties, with several new steroidal alkaloids having been identified in it. One of its alkaloids is conessine, and it is sometimes referred to as the connessi tree.
The bark of the plant has astringent qualities and it is this that is used for stomach problems and dysentery. It has also been used to relieve stomach pains and as a tonic for anaemia. It is also used to stop piles bleeding and for epilepsy.