Creeping vine with a perennial rootstock, growing to a great height and often reaching the tops of trees. Has large palm-shaped leaves, small greenish-white flowers, with male and female flowers on separate plants, and round, fleshy fruit.
Habitat & Cultivation
Native to the rainforests of eastern Africa, especially Mozambique and Madagascar, calumba is also grown in other tropical regions. The roots are dug up in dry weather in March and dried.
Calumba contains isoquinoline alkaloids (notably palmatine, columbamine, and jatrorrhizine), diterpene bitter principles, mucilage, and volatile oil (about 1%).
Medicinal Actions & Uses
Profoundly bitter, calumba is an extremely good remedy for underactive or weakened digestion, stimulating stomach acid production and increasing appetite. It is a specific for loss of appetite and anorexia, and by making the stomach more acidic (and therefore hostile to pathogens) helps to prevent digestive infections and improve the breakdown and absorption of foods. It is a useful treatment for chronic intestinal infection such as dysentery.
Calumba’s bitterness is due both to the bitter principles and the alkaloids. Palmatine and jatrorrhizine reduce blood pressure, palmatine is a uterine stimulant, and jatrorrhizine is sedative and anti-fungal.
Calumba has much in common with gentian (Gentiana lutea), although it owes its bitterness to a different range of constituents.
Avoid during pregnancy.