Euphorbia: Characterization and uses

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With nearly 2,000 species, Euphorbia (spurges) is the third biggest genus of blossoming plants, promptly discernable by their milky latex and particular inflorescences, called cyathia. This review presents scientific results as well as popular uses for plants from Euphorbia. The commercial release of Ingenol mebutate (diterpene ester) extracted and purified from the plant Euphorbia peplus for the tropical treatment of actinic keratosis, stimulated the interest in natural products from Euphorbia. Evolutionary methodologies could anticipate potential bioactivity of different plant lineages, based on the distribution of medicinal applications, and globally recognized medical standards are widely used, but data exchange and comparison among different studies are a challenge. Species of the genus Euphorbia, with an extensive distribution and remarkable morphological diversity, show diverse uses. The major classes of secondary metabolites present in Euphorbia are alkaloids, terpenes, cyanogenic glycosides, glucosinolates, lipids and tannins. Some ornamental and household plants like Crow-of-thorns (E. milii) are used as a potent molluscicide and a promising alternative for schistosomiasis control. Euphorbia helioscopia L leaves and stems can be used against fever and parasites, the seeds' oil is used as purgative, the roots are used against helmints and the seeds for the treatment of cholera. Euphorbia hirta, a popular herb among practitioners of traditional medicine (Ayurvedic) is widely used as a decoction or infusion to treat gastrointestinal disorders, conjunctivitis and hypertension. The aqueous extract exhibits activity against anxiety, pain, fever, and inflammatory processes. Studies postulate the presence of bronchodilator effects by oral administration, potentially useful for asthma, and the stem latex is used in the treatment of eyelid styes, swelling and boils. Euphorbia hirta leaves, stems, roots and flowers exhibited high phenolic and flavonoid content and significant antioxidant activity. The extracts have shown anticancer activity and prostaglandins inhibition, and also inhibits aflatoxin contamination in crops. The leaves' extract show activity against bacteria and fungi, and when pounded with turmeric and coconut oil can be applied to itchy soles. The latex is applied on lower eyelids to cure eye sores. Other parts such as the root exudate can be used against the nematode Meloidogyne incognita. Decoction of dry herbs is used for skin diseases, and of fresh herbs is used as gargle to treat thrush. Root decoction acts as a galactagogue for mothers with defficient milk production. The whole plant as an ethanolic extract displays antidiabetic activity in rats and sedative effect on the genitourinary tract. The crude dried latex from E. pulcherrima displays anticonvulsive effect in mice, the hydro-alcoholic extract of E. neriifolia provides protection against maximal electro-shock-induced convulsion, and an alkaline extract of E. fisheriana produced expressive antiepileptic effect. The ointment from E. tirucalli is used in rheumatism, asthma, earache, cough and toothache. Interest in the biopolymeric constituents has increased because they determine the therapeutic effect acting as biological response modifiers (BRMs) through modulation of the immune system.





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Advances in Medicine and Biology. Volume 136, v. 136, p. 63-89.