Aspilia (botanical name Aspilia mossambicensis), also known as wild sunflower, is a perennially growing partially-wood or shrub-like plant that belongs to the Compositae family. This herb bears coarse, lanceolate and creased akin to accordion leaves that are covered with small, supple hairs known as trichomes. Aspilia has somewhat rigid branches and usually grows up to a height of 1.5 meter in height. It has a tendency to clamber on top of other vegetation in the vicinity.
Aspilia is a shrubbery having a solitary or several stems that rise from a squat rootstock having several fibrous roots that are inflexible branched out. The color of the base of the stems of this herb usually varies from red to purple. The branches of aspilia have a rough surface that is covered with small hairs, and at times they are also glandular. Leaves of this herb emerge directly from the stem without any stalk (sessile) or accompany a petiole, which is about 1 cm in length. The leaves are oval, lance-shaped or intently elliptic and grow up to 2.5 cm to 20 cm in length and 1 cm to 8.5 cm in width.
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The florets of aspilia are arranged in the form of ray and their color varies from cream, yellow to orange. While each ray is anything between 7 mm to 18.5 mm in length and about 6.5 mm in width, they do not have any style. The tube is around 1.5 mm to 4.5 mm in length. The disc of the florets has a creamy, yellow or orange hue, occasionally having purple lines about 5.5 mm to 9.0 mm that come down from the lobes. The lower portion of the tube and lobe is minutely pubescent, while the anther attachments have a yellowish hue. This herb produces achenes (petite, dry, firm, single-seeded fruits that do not open up even when ripe), which are intently obovoid or sub-cylindrical measuring about 2.5 mm to 5.5 mm in length. These fruits are either covered with small hairs or devoid of them (glabrous).
People in Africa who make use of aspilia have many different names for the herb. Aspilia is known as 'headband', 'to draw out mucus' and 'friend of pepper' in Nigeria, where cattle and sheep graze on the herb. The name 'headband' is derived from the fact that aspilia is considered to be a male plant and the males often tie it around their head or hide the plant in their homes to attract females. A decoction prepared with the herb is used as a bathe for horses, as a component in plaster as well as a dye.
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Contemporary research recognized aspilia primarily owing to the use of this herb by wild chimpanzees in the Mahale Mountains National Park and the Gombe National Park in Tanzania. It has been found that the chimpanzees swallow the aspilia leaves as a whole and subsequently excrete them in one piece. Interestingly enough, the defecated leaves do not show any noticeable indication of the fact that they have passed through the digestive tract of any animal. According to the findings of one research, over 56 leaves and 20 worms were ejected in a single case of defecation. The study also suggested that the small supple hair on the surface of aspilia leaves is known to possess a 'Velcro effect', which relates to appending to as well as getting rid of worms as they pass through the intestine. This action of aspilia leaves is augmented owing to the discharge of chemical substances that are likely to slow down the ability of the parasites to stick to the walls of the intestine.
Chemical analysis of aspilia has shown that the plant is not only a potent anti-parasitic, but, at the same time, an effectual antibiotic. In effect, scientists have detected hints of thiarubrine A, reddish oil that eliminates parasites, bacteria, fungi and viruses, in the root of the herb. In addition, the herb is also known to eliminate cancerous cells in hard or unyielding tumours, for instance those present in the breasts and lungs. People in Africa use this herb for therapeutic reasons to cure a number of ailments, such as sciatica, lumbago (recurring pain in the lumbar region), malaria, scurvy, tuberculosis, rheumatism and even the sexually transmitted disease (STD) gonorrhea.
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Traditional healers have employed aspilia for treating a number of health conditions, including abdominal pains, skin disorders, and respiratory ailments and well as injuries. The herb is also a minor medication for treating aching eyes, sore gums and lumbago. Apart from these therapeutic uses of aspilia, roots of this herb are also used in the form of a snuff - a medication believed to be used by chimpanzees. The leaves of this herb are used to feed animals to heal their ulcers.
Aspilia (Aspilia mossambicensis) is native to the eastern regions of Africa, but now it grows naturally all over tropical Africa.
Thus far, scientists have been able to isolate two strong substances from the Aspilia mossambicensis leaves that promote contraction of the uterus - grandiflorenic acids and diterpenes kaurenoic acids. The presence of these compounds approves a hypothesis that says that wild chimpanzees eat plants belonging to the Aspilia species owing to their therapeutic properties. In fact, this may also throw light on the fact as to why the female chimpanzees eat the Aspilia leaves more often compared to their male counterpart. It may be noted that none of the leaf samples collected from the Gombe National Park or Mahale Mountains National Park in Tanzania contained thiarubrines. However, the roots of the plants collected from these places contained these antifungal as well as nematocidial dithianes in considerable amounts.
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Phytochemical or phytonutrient examination of Aspilia mossambicensis leaves has shown that the herb encloses active alkaloid, flavonoid, and steroid compounds along with anthraquinones and carbohydrates. The methanol extract obtained from aspilia has revealed that the plant possesses antimicrobial actions against three microbes - Streptococcus pyogenes (S. pyogenes), Aspergillus niger (A. niger) and Streptococcus typhi (S. typhi), but at a comparatively lesser intensity.
On the other hand, root extracts of aspilia have shown greater effectiveness in inhibiting the growth of A. niger, while its actions against S. typhi and S. pyogenes is a little less effective. It has been found that compared to the root extracts of aspilia, the extracts of the plant's leaves have higher levels of inhibiting the growth of microbes, possibly owing to the aldehyes in the roots or further intensive reciprocal or synergic actions of the vigorous compounds occurring in the plant's leaves.
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Findings of the research have revealed that different Aspilia mossambicensis species have significant actions against gram positive (any bacterium that retains the violet dye when tinged by Gram's Method) bacterium S. pypgenes, gram negative bacterium S. typhi as well as another fungal strain - A. niger. The study also affirms the earlier claims by conventional naturopaths using the plant to cure numerous ailments in customary Kenyan communities. Findings of this research offer a strong proof regarding fresher sources of drugs against microbes from this herb.
Chemical analysis or phytochemical screening of the aspilia plant has suggested that it encloses several elements, including steroids, alkaloids, flavonoids, ketones, anthraquinones and aldehydes. However, dissimilar to the aspilia leaves, the extracts from the roots of the shrub was not found to contain aldehydes. In effect, the leaves enclosed both aldehydes and ketones. The roots only contain flavonoids. In addition, the root extract also contained plenty of sterols compared to the extracts of the leaves. The extracts of the roots as well as the leaves of aspilia were found to have rich contents of alkaloids. In addition, the root and leaf extracts also contained Meta and Ortho hydroxyls, but the leaves only contained Para hydroxyl. This established that the leaves enclosed carbohydrates, especially monosaccharides. While nine active compounds were isolated from the aspilia roots, as many as seven compounds were quarantined from the plant's leaves. All extracts from this herb were found to have actions that inhibit or slow down the growth of microbes.
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