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The medicinal and other importance of the plant Jatropha Curcas

  • Introduction

    The use of a plant for food and as a medicinal source for relief from sickness is as old as mankind. Thus, every human race had developed their own peculiar kind of food and ethnomedicine or traditional therapy from various vegetal medicine resources in their catchment communities. No one knows where or when plants first began to be used in the treatment of diseases but the connection between plants and health has existed from the beginning of human race.

    Evidence of this early association has been found in some religious groups and more scientific documentation in the grave of a Neanderthal man buried 60,000 years ago. Pollen analysis indicated that the numerous plant buried with the corpse were all of medicinal value. An accidental discovery of some new plant food or juice that eased pain or relieved fever might have been the beginning of folk knowledge, which was passed down for generation and eventually became the foundation of medicine.

    Recent statistics have shown that 75% to 90% of the rural population in the rest of the world still rely on herbal medicine as their main health care. The long tradition of herbal medicine continues to present day in China, Indian and many countries including Nigeria.

    The plant Jatropha Curcas

    Jatropha curcas is commonly called physics nut, pignut, purge nut, Barbados nut, Black vomit nut. In Nigeria, the Hausa's call it Bini da Zugu, Igbo- Olulu idu, Owulu idu. Yoruba- Botuje, lapa lapa fun fun. Fulfulde- kwalk walaje.

    Description/habitat of Jatropha Curcas

    Jatropha curcas is a shrub or tree of the Euphorbiaceae family, that grows up to a height of about 3-4 0r 3-8 meter high. The family includes about 283 genera and 7,300 species worldwide, with a wide distribution in temperate and tropical regions. Jatropha curcas is resistant to drought and can be planted in the desert climate, it thrives on any type of soil, it grows almost anywhere; in sandy, gravelly, saline soil and rocky crevices. It is a drought resistant perennial plant living up to 50 years, it has no insect pest. Jatropha curcas has short boles, branched from the base, translucent latex, with thick brittle erect branches and an open crown. The latex is usually translucent easily oxidized in air, turning blackish brown, the barks of jatropha curcas are usually smooth, peeling off in thin layers, green to bronze-green, with a whitish slash. The stem is thick, smooth more or less densely spotted with small lenticels. Stipules are in pairs, triangular and 2-6mm long.

    The leaves alternate, usually glabrous or pentagonal. The nerves are palmate, prominent with 5 basal nerves and 4-5 pairs of lateral nerves. The flower jatropha curcas is corolla green-yellow,6-7cm in diameter with 5 petals. The fruits are usually green when young and turn brown/black when dry. The fruit has 3 black seeds with conspicuous carbuncles, the fruits are ovoid, more or less trilobed or angular 3.5cm long and 3cm across. The growth of this plant is rapid, it forms a thick live hedge after only a month planting and starts yielding from the second year onwards and continues for 40 years.

    Distribution

    in terms of climate, jatropha curcas is found in the tropics and subtropics and likes heat although it does well even at lower temperatures and can withstand a light frost. Jatropha curcas is a pantropical species, although a native of tropical America, it now thrives throughout Africa and Asia. It is grown occasionally in warmer parts of Australia, it grows in a number of climatic zones in tropical and subtropical Regions of the world and can be grown in areas of low rainfall and problematical sites.

    Medicinal uses of the plant Jatropha Curcas

    The plant is known to be toxic when ingested but applied as a remedy for external injuries. Its internal uses are always prescribed with caution under medical supervision. The roots (oil) can be used for hemolytic disease. The leaves are used to relieve pains and rheumatism, fever, malaria, oedema, wounds, colic syphilis, jaundice, scabies, the leaves are also made in the form of decoction to sterilize umbilicus of newborn babies.

    The seed of Jatropha curcas is widely used for a various ailment such as renal infection, constipation, paralysis, gout, dropsy, guinea worm, skin ailment and also as contraceptives. The stem is used to treat urinary infections, the twigs are used as chewing stick to prevent tooth decay, oral thrush, bleeding, and toothache. The latex is used to treat skin disease such as ringworm, scabies, eczema, herpes, wounds, tooth decay, snake bites. Latex is also applied tropically to bee and wasp stings. Colombians and Costa Ricans apply the latex to burns.

    Other uses of Jatropha Curcas

    The wood and fruit of jatropha curcas can be used for numerous purposes including fuel. The seed of jatropha contains (0.50% by weight) viscous oil, which can be used for manufacturing of candles and soap, in cosmetic industries. It can be used for cooking and lighting by itself or as diesel/paraffin substitute or extender. This latter use has important implications for meeting the demand for rural energy services and exploring practical substitutes for fossils fuels to counter greenhouse gas accumulation in the atmosphere. The organic matter from shed leaves enhances earth-worm activity in the soil around the roots zone of the plants, which improves the fertility of the soil.

    Jatropha curcas is also suitable for preventing soil erosion and shifting of sand dunes, being drought tolerant, it can be used to reclaim areas, to be grown as a boundary fence or live hedge in the arid/semi-arid area. The seed can be used as insecticides, the leaves cures cattle coughs, the flowers are liked by the bees, used for agricultural purposes, the bark is being used to make deep blue dye, the leaves are used to make gray dye, the roots of purple dye, the oil is used in soap lighting, also use as insecticides against grasshoppers and termites.

    This and many more others are the benefits of the plant Jatropha curcas.

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