Calumba Common names Parts used Uses Habitat and cultivation Research Constituents Usual dosage Side effects and cautions Collection and harvesting


Jateorhiza palmata syn. J. calumba

Herbs gallery - Calumba

Common names

  • Calumba
  • Colombo
Calumba (botanical name Jateorhiza palmata) is an intensely bitter herb. The root of this vine is actually a medication with origin in East Africa where it has been traditionally employed in the form of a digestive tonic as well as to cure an assortment of infections of the digestive tract, counting dysentery. It has been found that calumba augments the appetite as well as digestive activity, making the remedy an effective herbal medication for treating conditions like anorexia nervosa. The texture of calumba is soft and slippery and, as may be anticipated, this herb has an intensely bitter flavour. Calumba is a dioecious plant, denoting that each plant has a separate sex. The cluster of flowers (inflorescences) of the male plant of the species are about 40 cm in length and possess green sepals that measure anything between 2.7 mm to 3.2 mm in length and 1.2 mm to 1.6 mm in width. The stamens of the male inflorescences are unbound, but merged at their base with the intricate margins of the petals. On the other hand, the female inflorescence of calumba measures approximately 8 cm to 10 cm in length and possess a rust-red hued pubertal ovary measuring about 1.0 mm to 1.5 mm. The fruit of this herb is about 2.0 cm to 2.5 cm in length and approximately 1.5 cm to in width. The fruit is a globoid drupe enclosing a stone akin to the shape of a moon. Calumba is a timbered, spread out liana that can often climb up to the canopy of a tree. Initially, the liana is soft and subsequently it turns rough with bristles to end as villous (covered with hair). The leaves appear opposite to each other and their petiole is approximately 18 cm to 25 cm in length. The leaf blades measure anything between 15 cm and 35 cm in length and 18 cm and 40 cm in width. They have bristly hairs on both sides, are generally curved, profoundly heart-shaped (cordate) at the bottom and generally have five wide oval-shaped lobes each. The diameter of calumba root is normally between 3 cm and 8 cm and it has a greenish-black hue. In addition, the root of this herb has a starchy evenness, a hollowed center and a dense bark. Crosswise, the roots have a yellowish color having circulatory bundles arranged in spreading out lines.

Parts used



The bitter properties of the calumba are attributed to the herb's bitter principles and, to some smaller degree, to the isoquinoline alkaloids present in the herb. These isoquinoline alkaloids invigorate particular taste receptors present on the tongue, which, in turn, encourage the secretion of digestive juices. Calumba is considered to be among the bitterest plants existing and it has several things common with gentian. Nevertheless, calumba's bitterness is owing to a diverse assortment of elements. Dissimilar to several bitter herbs, calumba encloses an extremely small amount of volatile oil and does not contain tannins, which provide astringency and, hence, this herb has all the times been classified in the form of a 'pure bitter'. Calumba is effective in preventing infections of the digestive system since it makes the stomach additionally acidic and, thereby, unreceptive to pathogens. This herb also augments the intensity of digestive secretions, in that way enhancing the breakdown as well as assimilation of ingested food by the body. In addition, calumba eases indigestion or dyspepsia, which especially occurs owing to shortage of digestive secretions and also due to diminished levels of stomach acids. Calumba has an unadulterated bitter action which makes the herb a very valuable herbal medication for a feeble or under active digestive system as well as for poor appetite. This medication is particularly used to cure loss of appetite as well as anorexia nervosa. Like in the instance of any other bitter herb, calumba is effective in treating several chronic ailments. Provided this medication is taken on a regular basis prior to meals, if possible in its tincture form, calumba strengthens the digestive system and, at the same time, augments the assimilation of nutrients by the body. Calumba is especially useful in treating chronic fatigue syndrome that is usually related to scarce production of stomach acids. Calumba is an effective remedy for treating dysentery and in East Africa, the native place of this herb, it is has been traditionally employed for this purpose as well as to force out worms from the body. While calumba ought to be usually avoided by pregnant women, often small doses of this medication have been prescribed to such women with a view to alleviate morning sickness. It may be noted that calumba encloses isoquinoline alkaloids and is primarily employed in the form of a bitter tonic to treat anorexia nervosa. However, this herb does not enclose tannins and, therefore, it may be used in iron preparation without any harm to treat anemia devoid of any apprehension of any precipitation caused by interaction in any artificial environment (in vitro). The root of calumba is the basis of 'radix calumbae', an herbal remedy that was highly popular in earlier times and was imported by European countries from Tanzania and Mozambique. This medication was employed to treat diarrhea and dyspepsia, and is particularly appropriate for people having a weak stomach. People in Tanzania consumed the root of this herb to treat snakebites as well as in the form of a vermifuge (a medication that expels worms). In fact, people belonging to the Zigua tribe in Tanzania continue to employ 'radix calumbae' to cure ruptures and hernia. The scrapings of calumba roots are applied topically to scarifications or scratches made in abscesses with a view to mature them. The roots of this herb are believed to possess tonic properties by people all over south-eastern Africa and they take it to cure diarrhea and dysentery. People in India, take the roots of calumba in the form of a bitter tonic having anthelmintic and antipyretic attributes to cure gastric irritability as well as vomiting during pregnancy. In Europe, people still use Jateorhiza palmata in different herbal purgative mixtures. People in the United States and in Italy add the root of calumba to herbal bitters.

Habitat and cultivation

Calumba is a crawling vine that is indigenous to the East African rainforests, particularly Madagascar and Mozambique. This herb usually grows up to a great height, frequently reaching the canopies of trees. Besides the rainforests of East Africa, calumba is grown in different regions having tropical climatic conditions as well as in Europe. Calumba is propagated by its seeds that are sown in spring and grow with the help of supports. The root of this vine is unearthed during arid weather in the early part of spring.


A study undertaken by scientists in 1986 has suggested that the herb contains a number of alkaloids and two of the isoquinoline alkaloids - jatrorrhizine and palmatine, are helpful in lowering blood pressure. Moreover, palmatine also stimulates the uterine and jatrorrhizine is employed in the form of a sedative and an anti-fungal agent. The actions of both these isoquinoline alkaloids are similar to those found in goldenseal and barberry.


Calumba contains:

  • Bitter principles (furanoditerpenol, palmanin)
  • Isoquinoline alkaloids (palmatine, columbamine, jatrorrhizine)
  • Mucilage
  • Volatile oil (up to 1 % - mostly thymol)

Usual dosage

Therapeutically, calumba is used in the form of a decoction as well as a tincture. Decoction: To prepare a decoction from the root of calumba, add one to two teaspoonfuls of the herb's root in one cup (250 ml) of cold water and boil the mixture. Subsequently, allow the mixture to permeate for about 10 minutes and drink 1/2 cup of the decoction about 30 minutes prior to meals. Tincture: The usual dosage of calumba tincture is 1 ml to 4 ml taken thrice every day.

Side effects and cautions

People using this herb or planning to use it ought to be aware of the side effects caused by it and take the necessary precautions to avoid them. Generally, there is no record of any side effect or perils caused by the therapeutic dosages of calumba. However, taking this herb in excessive doses may result in symptoms of unconsciousness and paralysis.

Collection and harvesting

The tube-like roots of calumba are excavated during arid weather in early spring. Following the collection, the tubers are discarded, while the juicy roots are cleansed and sliced diagonally or at an angle into small pieces that are dried in a shady location. When the roots have dried up they are approximately 0.5 cm to 1.5 cm in thickness. Subsequently, the dried up sliced roots are rinsed and brushed. They are then graded and sold as 'radix calumbae'. Dense, consistent and vividly yellow hued root pieces are usually preferable. This herbal medication possesses a small, pale fracture, a somewhat moldy smell and an intensely bitter flavour. Occasionally, the dried up calumba root slices or 'radix calumbae' are contaminated or made impure by adding small pieces of cut rhizome and people in India adulterate the product by adding pieces of the dried up stems of Coscinium fenestratum.

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