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(Sea Lavender family)


775 cosmopolitan species in 19 genera are especially found on salt steppes and sea coasts.

The yellow naphthoquinone pigment, plumbagin (methyl juglone) occurs in a colourless combined form and is liberated from root tissue by acid treatment. Plumbagin appears to be characteristic of plants of the tribe Plumbagineae (Harborne 1966).

Plumbagin was found in the roots of 8/8 species examined from the tribe Plumbagineae (which comprises 20-30 species). Plumbagin was absent in the roots of all of 28 species examined from the tribe Staticeae (which comprises 150-300 species).

Plumbagin is also found in some species of the families Droseraceae, Ebenaceae, and Euphorbiaceae (Thomson 1971).

Plumbagin, like juglone, has an irritating odour and affects the mucous membranes; it stains the skin and produces blisters. A novel exploitation of the vesicant properties of plumbagin has been reported from Turkey. If a paste of Babink or Babini root (unidentified botanically) is applied to the skin, the staining produced makes it appear that the person has sustained bruising. By this means false, though painful, evidence of assault and battery can be produced. Following cases of alleged violence, an investigation of the root was carried out at the instigation of the local police, which led to the isolation and identification of plumbagin (Salih Hisar & Wolff 1955). The same bruise-like mark accompanied by considerable pain and followed later by vesication is produced by the crystalline material (Salih Hisar 1954, Thomson 1971).

[Summary yet to be added]

Ceratostigma Bunge

Eight species are found in eastern tropical Africa, Tibet, the Himalayas, China, Burma and Slam.

Plumbagin, a naphthoquinone with vesicant properties, has been reported from the following species (Thomson 1971):

Ceratostigma plumbaginoides Bunge
(syns Plumbago larpentae Lindl., Valoradia plumbaginoides Boiss.)
Ceratostigma willmottianum Stapf

Dyerophytum africanum Kuntze
(syn. Vogelia africana Lam.)

The presence of the vesicant naphthoquinone plumbagin in the roots and aerial parts of this plant was reported by van der Vijver (1972).

Limonium carolinianum Britton
(syns Limonium angustatum Small, Limonium obtusilobum S.F.Blake, Limonium trichogonum S.F.Blake, Statice caroliniana Walter)
Carolina Sea Lavender, Ink Root, Lavender Thrift, Marsh Rosemary, Sea Lavender

Because of its astringent properties, the root has been used in external preparations for the treatment of haemorrhoids (Wren 1975).

Plumbagella micrantha Spach
(syns Plumbago micrantha Ledeb., Plumbago spinosa K.S.Hao)

One species is found in Central Asia. This species yields plumbagin (Morton 1971, Shcherbanovskii 1974).

Plumbago L.

Twelve species are found in warm regions. One species was thought to be a remedy for lead poisoning, hence the scientific and common names.

Plants of this genus have vesicant properties (Burkill 1935).

Plumbago auriculata Lam.
(syns Plumbago alba Pasq., Plumbago capensis Thunb.)
Cape Plumbago, Cape Leadwort, Kap-Bleiwurz, Dentelaire du Cap

Contact with the roots, leaves and stems of Plumbago capensis Thunb., but especially the root, may blister the skin of sensitive individuals (Morton 1962a). The roots yield plumbagin (Thomson 1971, van der Vijver 1972).

Plumbago coerulea Kunth

This species yields plumbagin (Thomson 1971).

Plumbago europaea L.
Common Leadwort, European Plumbago, Europäischen Bleiwurz, Dentelaire d'Europe

The plant reddens and vesicates healthy skin (Piffard 1881) and has been used as a counter-irritant (Burkill 1935). The plant was formerly used by beggars in southern Europe to produce sores on the skin with the intention of inciting pity. The roots, leaves and flowers yield plumbagin (Harbourne 1966, Thomson 1971).

Plumbago indica L.
(syns Plumbago rosea L., Thela coccinea Lour.)
Indian Leadwort, Scarlet Leadwort

The plant is mentioned by Sanskrit writers as a vesicant. The root is used in several caustic preparations, particularly by malingerers (Behl et al. 1966, Quisumbing 1951). Waring (1883), to whom Piffard (1881) referred, noted that the bark from the fresh root of Plumbago rosea is of great value as a means of raising a blister. The chief objection … is the great pain it occasions. The dried roots are less active than the fresh root (Burkill 1935).

Plumbago pearsonii L.Bolus

The roots and aerial parts of this species yield plumbagin (van der Vijver 1972).

Plumbago pulchella Boiss.
Yerba del Diablo

The plant has a vesicant and caustic effect (Martínez 1969). This species yields plumbagin (Harborne 1966, Thomson 1971).

Plumbago zeylanica L.
(syns Findlaya alba Bowdich, Plumbagidium scandens Spach, Plumbago scandens L., Plumbago viscosa Blanco, Thela alba Lour.)
Ceylon Leadwort, Doctorbush, Summer Snow, White Desert Plumbago, White Leadwort, Wild Leadwort

In ancient Sanscrit and Mohammedan literature, this plant is described as vesicant for the skin. Piffard (1881) noted that the root of Plumbago scandens has a vesicant action on healthy skin.

The leaves and roots have a vesicant and caustic effect on the skin (Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk 1962, Irvine 1961, Chopra 1933, Quisumbing 1951). The plant is employed in the same manner as cantharides. The root is ground with a little flour and water and applied to the skin. In five minutes there is a pricking sensation; in 15 minutes pain and after 12 to 15 hours a bulla forms. The pain associated with the blistering is greater than that from application of cantharides (Burkill 1935). The plant is used as an abortefacient by introducing it into the vagina to produce an irritant action (Burkill 1935) and is used in India by malingerers (Chopra 1933). Lewis (1922) reported the death of an African woman who was rubbed all over the body with the bark of this species. Masai girls of southern Africa use the irritant effect of the plant to produce postinflammatory hyperpigmentation for cosmetic purposes as did the natives of Hawaii (Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk 1962).

The plant yields plumbagin (Harborne 1966, Thomson 1971). The roots of Plumbago scandens yield plumbagin (de Paiva et al. 2004).


  • Behl PN, Captain RM, Bedi BMS, Gupta S (1966) Skin-Irritant and Sensitizing Plants Found in India. New Delhi: PN Behl [WorldCat]
  • Burkill IH (1935) A Dictionary of the Economic Products of the Malay Peninsula, Vols 1 & 2. London: Crown Agents [doi] [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Chopra, R.N. (1933) Indigenous Plants of India: Their Medical and Economic Aspects. Calcutta. The Art Press.
  • de Paiva SR, Lima LA, Figueiredo MR, Kaplan MAC (2004) Plumbagin quantification in roots of Plumbago scandens L. obtained by different extraction techniques. Anais da Academia Brasileira de Ciências 76(3): 499-504 [doi] [url] [url-2]
  • Harborne, J.B. (1966) The evolution of flavonoid pigments in plants. In: Comparative Phytochemistry. Ed. Swain, T. London. Academic Press.
  • Irvine FR (1961) Woody Plants of Ghana. With special reference to their uses. London: Oxford University Press [doi] [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Lewis, J. (1922) Some observations on South African toxicology. South Afr. Med. Rec. 20: 350.
  • Martínez M (1969) Las Plantas Medicinales de México. [The medicinal plants of Mexico], 5th edn. Mexico City: Ediciones Botas [WorldCat]
  • Morton JF (1962a) Ornamental plants with toxic and/or irritant properties. II. Proceedings of the Florida State Horticultural Society 75: 484-491 [url]
  • Morton, J.F. (1971) Plants Poisonous to People in Florida and other Warm Areas. Miami, Florida. Hurricane House Publishers Inc.
  • Piffard HG (1881) A Treatise on the Materia Medica and Therapeutics of the Skin. New York: William Wood & Company [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Quisumbing E (1951) Medicinal Plants of the Philippines. Technical Bulletin 16, Philippines Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Manila, Philippine Islands: Manila Bureau of Printing [WorldCat]
  • Salih Hisar R (1954) Note sur l'isolement d'un composé cristallisé très vésicant à partir des racines de Babini. [Note on the isolation of a strongly vesicant crystalline compound from Babini roots]. Bulletin de la Société Chimique de France, 5e Série 21: 33-34
  • Salih Hisar R, Wolff RE (1955) Sur l'identification de cristaux vésicants extraits des racines de Babink. [On the identification of vesicant crystals extracted from Babink root]. Bulletin de la Société Chimique de France, 5e Série 21: 507
  • Shcherbanovskii LR (1974) PLUMBAGIN FROM Plumbagella micrantha. Chemistry of Natural Compounds 10(4): 518 [doi] [url] [url-2]
  • Thomson RH (1971) Naturally Occurring Quinones, 2nd edn. London: Academic Press [doi] [WorldCat] [url]
  • van der Vijver LM (1972) Distribution of plumbagin in the Plumbaginaceae. Phytochemistry 11(11): 3247-3248 [doi] [url]
  • Waring EJ (1883) Remarks on the Uses of some of the Bazaar Medicines and Common Medical Plants of India with a Full Index of Diseases, Indicating their Treatment by these and other Agents Procurable throughout India. 4th edn. London: J & A Churchill
  • Watt JM, Breyer-Brandwijk MG (1962) The Medicinal and Poisonous Plants of Southern and Eastern Africa. Being an account of their medicinal and other uses, chemical composition, pharmacological effects and toxicology in man and animal, 2nd edn. Edinburgh: E & S Livingstone [doi] [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Wren RC (1975) Potter's New Cyclopaedia of Botanical Drugs and Preparations. (Re-edited and enlarged by Wren RW). Bradford, Devon: Health Science Press [WorldCat] [doi] [url] [url-2]

Richard J. Schmidt

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