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Zanthoxylum chalybeum Engl.

 Pflanzenw. Ost-Afrikas C: 227 (1895).
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 Fagara chalybea (Engl.) Engl. (1896).
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Vernacular names  
 Kundanyoka knobwood, knobwood (En). Mjafari (Sw).
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Origin and geographic distribution  
 Zanthoxylum chalybeum occurs from Ethiopia and Somalia south to eastern Botswana and Zimbabwe.
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 Zanthoxylum chalybeum is widely used in traditional medicine. Stem bark decoctions or root bark decoctions are widely taken to treat malaria, fevers and headache, sickle cell disease, respiratory tract ailments including colds and tuberculosis, skin diseases including ulcers, urticaria, tumours and measles, intestinal problems including abdominal pain, diarrhoea, intestinal worms, bilharzia, amoebas, colic, general body pain and vomiting. Root bark decoctions are considered stronger than stem bark decoctions. A root infusion is drunk to treat bacterial muscle infections, female sterility, venereal diseases, uterine fibroids and, together with chicken meat, as an aphrodisiac. In Rwanda a root bark infusion is taken to treat urinary complaints. A tea prepared from the leaves is used to ease the child-birth process. Dried powdered roots are added to porridge or tea to treat asthma, or together with black pepper to treat abdominal pain. A bath of crushed leaves is taken and the infusion is drunk to treat convulsions, oedema, swollen legs and body pains. The stem bark is chewed to treat toothache.
In Kenya a root decoction, mixed with other plants, is taken to treat bubonic plague; the root powder is rubbed on the glands for the same purpose. Crushed root or stem bark is applied to sores, wounds and tumours. The smoke from burning stem bark is inhaled to stop fainting, dizziness and headache. The hot and peppery fruits are chewed as breath fresheners and for treatment of fever, sore throat, severe colds, pneumonia and chest pain. An infusion of the fruits or leaves is given as a tonic to children. The crushed leaves are applied to snakebites. The Samburu people macerate pounded seeds in water, boil the fruit in tea or boil the roots in milk to treat sore throat and tonsillitis. In Uganda the So people add pounded seeds, leaves and stem bark to food to treat fever and colds. In Tanzania a paste of the root bark is applied on swellings, hernia and rheumatism, and a decoction of the root bark together with the root of Sureda zanzibariensis Baill. is drunk to treat asthma. A leaf decoction is drunk to treat psychiatric problems. In East Africa a decoction of the root bark extract is administered for life in patients with sickle cell disease.
In northern Rwanda the juicy stem or wood is used in an arrow poison based on Acokanthera schimperi (A.DC.) Schweinf. In Tanzania the Ndorobo hunters use the wood in an arrow poison based on Vernonia hildebrandtii Vatke.
Water extracts from the bark or root are used in the treatment of the livestock diseases including anaplasmosis, fever, lever disease, lumpy skin disease in cattle and diarrhoea in cattle, camels and goats. A decoction of leaves is used to treat intestinal tract infections in cattle.
The leaves are cooked and eaten as a vegetable. The leaves and fruits are eaten by goats throughout the year. The leafy branches are sometimes cut for feed. Zanthoxyllum chalybeum is also commonly harvested for firewood, as it burns easily. It is also used for lighting fires. The timber is very hard, elastic and termite resistant and is used in the construction of houses. It works well, although it is difficult to nail. It finishes and polishes well and has been used for turnery, carving and walking sticks. Twigs are used as toothbrushes. The woody protrusions are carved into stoppers for gourds and are used as floaters for fishing nets. The aromatic fruits and leaves are used to make tea and to flavour soup. The shiny black seeds are used to decorate dresses. Twigs are used to smoke the inside of milk gourds, to clean and disinfect them. The ash of young leaves, together with animal fat and soda, are made into soap.
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Production and international trade  
 In Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda the fruits, stem bark and root bark are commonly sold in local markets.
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 The major bioactive components of Zanthoxylum chalybeum are the alkaloids. The root bark, collected from Kenya and Zimbabwe, yielded the furoquinoline alkaloid skimmianine, the benzophenanthidine alkaloids chelerythrine and nitidine, the aporphine alkaloids tembetarine, magnoflorine, N-methylcorydine, N-methylisocorydine (menisperine) and berberine and the phenylethyamine candicine. The stem bark also contained these alkaloids, but in lower quantities. Other alkaloids that have been identified from the stem bark include the benzophenanthidine alkaloid dihydrochelerythrine, the pyranoquinoline alkaloid N-methylflindersine, the isoquinoline alkaloid usambanoline, the secoisoquinoline alkaloid arnottianamide, the benzylisoquinoline alkaloid oblongine, the quinoline alkaloid N-methylplatydesmine, the tetrahydroprotoberberine alkaloid usambarine, the aporphine alkaloid palmatine and the protoberberine alkaloid jatrorrhizine. The sequiterpene germacrone, the ketone 2-tridecanone and the lignan sesamine have also been identified from the root bark.
Analysis of the essential oil obtained from leaves collected from different localities showed the existence of several chemovariants. Leaf oil from Zambia contained various terpenes, including 1,8-cineole (24.3%), sabinene (11.1%), geranial (10.7%), neral (8.2%), limonene (6.4%), linalool (5.3%), trans-p-menth-2-en-1-ol (5.3%), α-terpineol (5.0%) and terpinen-4-ol (5.0%) as major components. Leaf oil from Zimbabwe contained limonene (48.1%), geranial (13.2%), neral (12.1%), terpinolene (7.9%), linalyl propionate (7.9%), citronellal (7.3%), camphene (5.3%), neryl acetate (5.7%) and terpinen-4-ol (5.3%) as major components.
Skimmianine has been shown to exhibit significant inhibitory effects on 5-hydroxytryptamine-induced vasopressor responses, spontaneous motor activity, exploratory behavior, cataleptogenic activity conditioned avoidance response and long-term isolation-induced fighting of different species of rodents. It also shows hypothermic, antidiuretic, sedative, analgesic and anticonvulsive activities in rats. Recent in-vivo experiments showed that skimmianine also had significant antiviral activity against measles virus (Edmonston and Swartz strains). The LD50 is >1000 mg/kg in mice (orally). Candicine caused nicotine-like effects in the autonomic nervous system. The LD50 is 50 mg/kg in rats (orally). It also showed significant antifungal activity against Trichophyton mentagrophytes, Syncephalestrum racemosum and Mucor griseocyanus. N-methylflindersine and flindersine showed high insecticidal, antifungal and antibacterial activities against Gram-positive bacteria. Sesamine showed antimycobacterial activity against Mycobacterium tuberculosis. In experiments with rats chelerythrine (3–5 mg/kg intravenously) has been shown to cause a temporary increase of the blood pressure, but when given at 15 minute intervals, hypotension was produced within 40–60 minutes. Chelerythrine also has an analgesic effect, potentiates the effect of morphine and prolongs the sleep induced by thiopental or chloral hydrate. It also showed moderate antibacterial activity in vitro.
Different root bark, stem bark and leaf extracts showed significant antibacterial and antifungal activities in vitro as well as antifeedant activity against the crop pest Spodoptera exempta.
Methanolic root bark extract showed high antiplasmodial activity in vitro against several strains of Plasmodium falciparum. Stem bark extracts also showed promising antiplasmodial activity. Furthermore, it was found that samples collected during the rainy season had a higher activity than samples collected during the dry season. Fresh material also showed higher activity than dried material. A chloroform and carbon tetrachloride stem bark extract was toxic to the brine shrimp. Several leaf extracts showed highly significant antitrypanosomal activity against Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense and Trypanosoma brucei brucei in vitro with IC50 < 5μg/ml. The extracts showed moderate cytotoxic activity against HL60 cells in vitro.
In a laboratory experiment with male Wistar rats long-term administration of low doses of the root bark extract showed no adverse results in a range of blood parameters. High doses however are associated with impaired renal function and intestinal neoplasms. These effects may be due to the toxicity of several of the alkaloids present in the species.
The hexane, methanol and water extracts of the leaves, root bark and stem bark showed significant anti-inflammatory activity in the cyclooxygenase (COX-1) assay.
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Adulterations and substitutes  
 In Kenya Zanthoxylum usambarense (Engl.) Kokwaro is used as a medicinal plant in a similar way as Zanthoxylum chalybeum, whereas in Uganda Zanthoxylum leprieurii Guill. & Perr. is used in a similar way as a medicinal plant as Zanthoxylum chalybeum.
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 A dioecious, deciduous shrub or tree to 10 m tall; stem with large woody spines; branches glabrous, with terminal buds protected by dark scales, with black or reddish recurved, usually paired, prickles 5–17 mm long. Leaves alternate, imparipinnately compound with (5–) 7–11 leaflets, 6–22 cm long, glabrous to densely hairy; stipules absent; rachis below with few prickles, slightly grooved above; petiole 1–5 cm long; leaflets (almost) opposite, sessile or terminal leaflet with petiolule up to 15 mm, ovate-oblong to elliptical, 2.5–9.5 × (1–)2–4.3 cm, apex acute to obtuse, base cuneate, margin entire or slightly toothed, papery, sparsely dotted with glandular dots, pinnately veined with 6–9 pairs of lateral veins. Inflorescence a raceme or panicle up to 10 cm long, at the base of the new branches below the first leaves, rarely in the axils; rachis pendulous in male plants and straight in female plants. Flowers unisexual, 4–5-merous, regular, yellowish green; male flowers with slender pedicel 1.5–2 mm long, female flowers almost sessile; sepals united at the base, c. 0.5 mm long; petals elliptical, c. 2.5 mm × c. 1 mm; male flowers with 4–5 stamens, filaments as long as the petals, gynophore very short, ovary rudimentary; female flowers with reduced staminodes, ovary superior, 1–1.5 mm long, carpels 2, 1 aborted, style short, incurved, stigma broadly saucer-shaped, peltate. Fruit an almost globose follicle, 5–8 mm long, glandular pitted, pinkish; stipe up to 1.5 mm long. Seed ovoid, 5–7 mm in diameter, black, shiny.
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Other botanical information  
 Zanthoxylum is pantropical and comprises about 200 species, with tropical America being richest in species. Mainland Africa harbours about 35 species, whereas about 5 species are endemic to Madagascar. In Zanthoxylum chalybeum two varieties are distinguished, var. chalybeum, with glabrous leaves and var. molle Kokwaro, with densely rusty-haired leaves.
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Growth and development  
 In Kenya Zanthoxylum chalybeum fruits in March or July–August depending on the ecological region.
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 Zanthoxylum chalybeum occurs in semi-evergreen, dry bushland and wooded grassland, often in rocky localities or on termite mounds, from sea-level up to 1600 m altitude in areas with an annual rainfall of 750–1500 mm. On the coast it also occurs in dry forest and thickets near the sea.
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Propagation and planting  
 There are about 30,000 seeds/kg. The seeds cannot be stored, as they loose viability quickly. Zanthoxylum chalybeum is propagated by seedlings and wildlings.
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 Zanthoxylum chalybeum can be coppiced and pollarded.
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 The stem bark and root bark is collected throughout the year, often by commercial collectors.
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Genetic resources and breeding  
 In Kenya and Tanzania Zanthoxylum chalybeum has been harvested to near extinction for medicinal purposes. In Uganda it is scarce and its habitat has been much degraded. Sustainable harvesting methods need to be developed in order to stop the genetic erosion.
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 Zanthoxylum chalybeum is an important medicinal plant that is widely used in traditional medicine. Extracts are highly active against Plasmodium falciparum, and are given for life to patients with sickle cell anaemia. However, its safety profiles need to be established due to the presence of toxic alkaloids. There is an urgent need establish sustainable harvesting protocols for use at community level. The direct participation of traditional healers and farmers is considered essential for a successful domestication process.
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Major references  
 • Engeu, O.P., Tumusiime, R.H., Agwaya, M., Mugisha, G., Nambatya, G.K., Galiwango, M. & Waako, P., 2008. Repeat-dose effects of Zanthoxylum chalybeum root bark extract: a traditional medicinal plant used for various diseases in Uganda. African Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology 2(6): 101–105.
• Katende, A.B., Birnie, A. & Tengnäs, B., 1995. Useful trees and shrubs for Uganda: identification, propagation and management for agricultural and pastoral communities. Technical Handbook 10. Regional Soil Conservation Unit, Nairobi, Kenya. 710 pp.
• Kokwaro, J.O., 1982. Rutaceae. In: Polhill, R.M. (Editor). Flora of Tropical East Africa. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, Netherlands. 52 pp.
• Maundu, P.M., Ngugi, G.W. & Kabuye, C.H.S., 1999. Traditional food plants of Kenya. Kenya Resource Centre for Indigenous Knowledge (KENRIK), Nairobi, Kenya. 270 pp.
• Muganga, R., Angenot, L., Tits, M. & Frédérich, M., 2010. Antiplasmodial and cytotoxic activities of Rwandan medicinal plants used in the treatment of malaria. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 128(1): 52–57.
• Neuwinger, H.D., 1996. African ethnobotany: poisons and drugs. Chapman & Hall, London, United Kingdom. 941 pp.
• Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
• Nibret, E., Ashour, M.L., Rubanza, C.D. & Wink, M., 2010. Screening of some Tanzanian medicinal plants for their trypanocidal and cytotoxic activities. Phytotherapy Research 24(6): 945–947.
• Samuelsson, G., Farah, M.H., Claeson, P., Hagos, M., Thulin, M., Hedberg, O., Warfa, A.M., Hassan, A.O., Elmi, A.H., Abdurahman, A.D., Elmi, A.S., Abdi, Y.A. & Alin, M.H., 1993. Inventory of plants used in traditional medicine in Somalia. 4. Plants of the families Passifloraceae to Zygophyllaceae. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 38: 1–29.
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Other references  
 • Abegaz, B. & Demissew, S., 1998. Indigenous African food crops and useful plants: their preparation for food and home gardens in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, with special emphasis on medicinal plants and issues associated with their management. In: Baidu-Forson, J.J. (Editor). Africa's natural resources conservation and management Surveys, Proceedings of the UNU/INRA regional workshop, Accra, Ghana. pp. 11–14.
• Augustino, S. & Gillah, P.R., 2005. Medicinal plants in urban districts of Tanzania: plants, gender roles and sustainable use. International Forestry Review 7(1): 44–58.
• Chilufya, H. & Tengnäs, B., 1996. Agroforestry extension manual for northern Zambia. Regional Soil Conservation Unit, Nairobi, Kenya. 120 + 124 pp.
• Chisowa, E.H., Hall, D.R. & Farman, D.I., 1999. Volatile constituents of the leaf oil of Zanthoxylum chalybeum Engl. Journal of Essential Oil Research 11(3): 360–362.
• Dery, B.B., Otsyina, R. & Ng'atigwa, C. (Editors), 1999. Indigenous knowledge of medicinal trees and setting priorities for their domestication in Shinyanga Region, Tanzania. ICRAF, Nairobi, Kenya. 98 pp.
• Ejobi, F., Olila, D., Arionga, S., Eyudu, P., Oluanah, C., Komakech, F.A. & Okubal, P., 2004. Validation of selected ethno-veterinary medical practices in the Teso farming system. Final technical report to NARO / DFID COARD PROJECT, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda.
• Freiburghaus, F., Jonker, S.A., Nkunya, M.H.H., Mwasumbi, L.B. & Brun, R., 1997. In vitro trypanocidal activity of some rare Tanzanian medicinal plants. Acta Tropica 67: 181–185.
• Geissler, P.W., Harris, S.A., Prince, R.J., Olsen, A., Achieng’ Odhiambo, R., Oketch-Rabah, H., Madiega, P.A., Andersen, A. & Mølgaard, P., 2002. Medicinal plants used by Luo mothers and children in Bondo district, Kenya. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 83: 39–54.
• Gessler, M.C., Msuya, D.E., Nkunya, M.H.H., Mwasumbi, L.B., Schär, A., Heinrich, M. & Tanner, M., 1995. Traditional healers in Tanzania: the treatment of malaria with plant remedies. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 48: 131–144.
• Gradé, J.T., Tabuti, J.R.S. & van Damme, P., 2009. Ethnoveterinary knowledge in pastoral Karamoja, Uganda. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 122: 273–293.
• Johns, T., Faubert, G.M., Kokwaro, J.O., Mahunnah, R.L.A. & Kimanani, E.K., 1995. Anti-giardial activity of gastrointestinal remedies of the Luo of East Africa. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 46: 17–23.
• Kamuhabwa, A., Nshimo, C. & de Witte, P., 2000. Cytotoxicity of some medicinal plant extracts used in Tanzanian traditional medicine. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 70: 143–149.
• Kato, A., Moriyasu, M., Ichimaru, M., Nishiyama, Y., Juma, F.D., Nganga, J.N., Mathenge, S.G. & Ogeto J.O., 1996. Isolation of alkaloidal constituents of Zanthoxylum usambarense and Zanthoxylum chalybeum using ion-pair HPLC. Journal of Natural Products 59(3): 316–318.
• Matu, E.N. & van Staden, J., 2003. Antibacterial and anti-inflammatory activities of some plants used for medicinal purposes in Kenya. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 87: 35–41.
• Musila, W.M., 2000. A preliminary survey of medicinal plants used by Kamba traditional midwives in Mwingi district, Kenya. UNESCO People and Plants Programme, National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi, Kenya. 50 pp.
• Olila, D., Odyek, O. & Opuda Asibo, J., 2002. Screening of extracts of Zanthoxylum chalybeum and Warburgia ugandensis for activity against measles virus (Swartz and Edmonston strains) in vitro. African Health Sciences 2(1): 2–10.
• Tabuti, J.R.S., 2008. Herbal medicines used in the treatment of malaria in Budiope county, Uganda. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 116(1): 33–42.
• Tabuti, J.R.S., Dhillion, S.S. & Lye, L.A., 2004. The status of wild food plants in Bulamogi County, Uganda. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition 55: 485–498.
• Tabuti, J.R.S., Kukunda, C.B. & Waako, P.J., 2010. Medicinal plants used by traditional medicine practitioners in the treatment of tuberculosis and related ailments in Uganda. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 127(1): 130–136.
• Tabuti, J.R.S., Lye, K.A. & Dhillion, S.S., 2003. Traditional herbal drugs of Bulamogi, Uganda: plants, use and administration. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 88: 19–44.
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Afriref references  
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Sources of illustration  
 • Kokwaro, J.O., 1982. Rutaceae. In: Polhill, R.M. (Editor). Flora of Tropical East Africa. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, Netherlands. 52 pp.
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J.R.S. Tabuti
Institute of Environment and Natural Resources (MUIENR), Makerere University, P.O. Box 7062, Kampala, Uganda

G.H. Schmelzer
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
A. Gurib-Fakim
Faculty of Science, University of Mauritius, Réduit, Mauritius
Associate editors  
R. Arroo
Leicester School of Pharmacy, Natural Products Research, De Montfort University, The Gateway, Leicester LE1 9BH, United Kingdom
Correct citation of this article  
 Tabuti, J.R.S., 2011. Zanthoxylum chalybeum Engl. [Internet] Record from PROTA4U. Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. <>. Accessed .

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General importance
Geographic coverage Africa
Geographic coverage World
Ornamental use
Forage/feed use
Timber use
Auxiliary use
Fuel use
Medicinal use
Spices and condiment use
Stimulant use
Fibre use
Food security
Conservation status

Zanthoxylum chalybeum

Zanthoxylum chalybeum
1, branch with female flowers; 2, fruiting branch; 3, male flower; 4, seed.
Redrawn and adapted by Iskak Syamsudin

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