Jatropha zeyheri Sond.
Common names: verfbol (Afr.); sefapabadia (Sesotho); xidomeja (Xitsonga); mafuredonga (Tshivenda); ugodide (isiZulu)
A common medicinal plant used in women’s health care in many rural communities in southern Africa.
Jatropha zeyheri is a densely hairy, perennial herb, 300 mm high, with simple or sparsely branched stems and a thick rootstock. Leaves are alternate, sessile or shortly petioled. Leaves are also variable in this species, in some plants they are palmate (where the leave is segmented from a common point like the fingers of a hand) and in others they are runcinate (where the leaf is lobed half its distance or more to the midrib, but not reaching the midrib).
The inflorescence is a terminal corymb with a single female flower terminating from each major axis and male flowers in lateral cymules. The flowers are yellow and silky outside, with bases covered by hairy, leaf-like structures called bracts. The fruit is a densely hairy oblong 3-chambered capsule, with each capsule bearing a narrowly oblong seed.
Jatropha zeyheri is assessed on the Red List of South African Plants (http://redlist.sanbi.org) as Least Concern (LC).
Distribution and habitat
The plant occurs in Zimbabwe, Botswana, Swaziland and South Africa. In South Africa, it is found in the following Provinces: Limpopo, Gauteng, North West, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal. The plant grows in wooded grassland with scattered shrubs, and in mopani woodland. It is also common in disturbed areas, and prefers sandy soils.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus Jatropha is derived from the two Greek words, iatròs, meaning ‘physician’ and trophe, meaning ‘food’, which describes the medicinal and nutritional properties that the plants of this genus have. The species is named in honour of a 19th century German botanist, Karl Ludwig Zeyher (1799–1858).
The genus Jatropha has approximately 172 species that are cultivated globally for their economic importance. These plants are used in the pharmaceutical, energy, manufacturing and environmental sectors.
Pharmacological studies have shown that these plants produce secondary metabolites that have anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. For example, Jatropha zeyheri has been found to exhibit anti-bacterial activity against 11 human pathogenic bacterial strains.
In tribal communities in southern Africa, J. zeyheri is primarily used in women’s health care. Fresh tubers are pounded and mixed with porridge to regulate menstrual cycles, ease uterine pain and treat urinary tract infections. The plant is also used as a general blood purifier to promote fertility and ensure a strong foetus during pregnancy. The rhizomes are also used to heal wounds and boils.
It is also used by small-scale farmers for the treatment of wounds and retained placenta in livestock. The roots are pounded together with those of Pterocarpus angolensis, soaked in water and then administered to the animal.
Jatropha plants play an important role in the energy and manufacturing sector. In the energy sector they are used in the manufacturing of biofuel. During the production of biofuel, the plants produce glycerine as a by-product that is used to manufacture soap.
Jatropha species are also important for cleaning the environment; they are used in phytoremediation to extract compounds and heavy metals from contaminated soils.
Growing Jatropha zeyheri
Jatropha zeyheri can be propagated from seeds and stem cuttings. However, seeds usually have low germination rates and viability. The propagation of the species by seeds also poses a challenge for many horticulturalists, as the fruit capsule bursts open when ripe and seeds are released into the atmosphere and then scattered over long distances by wind. To prevent loss of seeds, horticulturalists either place nylon stockings around the ripe fruit capsule or they apply a thin layer of glue to the capsule. The collected seeds are then soaked in water for a few hours and sown in pots or trays that contain a combination of fine to medium grain sand and loam soil. The seeds should be sown 5–10 cm deep into the medium. It is recommended that the soil should be sterilized in an oven or autoclave for 20 minutes or pre-treated with fungicides to prevent infections.
Stem cuttings can be rooted in water and planted into the same medium that is used for seeds. The use of rooting power should be avoided as the species does not usually produce roots when using hormones.
- Archer, R.H. & Victor, J.E. 2005. Jatropha zeyheri Sond. National Assesment: Redlist of South African plants version 2015.2 . Accessed on 14/04/2014.
- Kumar, A. & Sharma, S. 2008. An evaluation of multipurpose oil seed crop for industrial use (Jatropha curcas L.): a review. Industrial crops and production, doi:101016/j.indcrop.2008.01.001.
- Luseba, D. et al 2007. Antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and mutagenic effects of some medicinal plants used in South Africa for the treatment of wounds and retained placenta in livestock. South African Journal of Botany 73 (3): 378–383.
- Mongalo, N.I., Opoku, A.R. & Zobolo, A.M. 2013. Antibacterial activity of root and leave extracts of Jatropha zeyheri Sond (Euphorbiaceae). African Journal of Biotechnology 12 (5): 476–480.
- Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (eds). 2008. Medicinal plant (1). Prota.
- Van Wyk, B.-E. & Gericke, N. 2000. People's plants . Briza Publications, Pretoria.
National Herbarium, Pretoria
Plant Type: Perennial
SA Distribution: Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North West
Soil type: Sandy, Loam
Flower colour: Yellow
Aspect: Full Sun
Gardening skill: Average