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Euphorbia hirta Linn. (asthma plant) belongs to the largest genus Euphorbia (1600 species) in the plant family Euphorbiaceae, which is characterized by the production of milky white latex. The plant is a small annual (ephemeral) herb. It has simple leaves that are displayed in opposite arrangement. It is erect, grows to a maximum height of 40 cm and may be seen lying down (Figures 1 & 2). The stem is slender (about 3 mm in diameter), often reddish or purplish in colour and produces branches at about 5 cm height. The colour of the stem may be green at tender stage. This plant derives its common name, asthma plant from its anti-asthmatic activity due to the relaxation effect it has on the bronchial tubes and a depressant action on respiration.

Euphorbia hirta is native to Central America but found in pan-tropic (partly sub-tropic) areas including Western Australia, Northern Australia, Northern territory of Queensland, New South Wales, Central America, Africa, Indo-Malaysia, Philippines, China and India. It is found growing wild in waste places along the roadsides and on lawns in Nigeria. It has a long list of local names across the globe and in Nigeria, which may indicate its use by humans for various purposes, including medicinal applications.

Overview of some medicinal uses of Euphorbia hirta

The oldest remedies of diseases known to mankind are herbal medicines. Across the world, the use of different parts of several medicinal plants to cure specific ailments has been in practice from creation. Also, in modern medicine, plants occupy a very important place as the raw material for many important drugs. Medicinal plants have curative actions due to the presence of complex chemical constituents.

Euphorbia hirta is reported to contain triterpenes, phytosterols, tannins, polyphenols, flavonoids, essential oil, alkaloids, saponins, amino acids and minerals. Quercitrin, a flavanoid glycoside, isolated from the herb showed anti-diarroheal activity.

Ethno-pharmacological activities

Researchers across the world, including the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, have reported extensively on medicinal properties of this humble but wonderful plant. Euphorbia hirta is used in the treatment of gastrointestinal disorders (diarrohea, dysentery, intestinal parasitosis, etc.); and bronchial and respiratory diseases (asthma, bronchitis, hay fever, flu etc.). The aqueous extract exhibits anxiolytic, analgesic, antipyretic, and anti-inflammatory activities. Root decoction of the plant is also beneficial for nursing mothers deficient in milk (galactogogue). The aqueous extract of E. hirta showed antioxidant effect and a free radical scavenging activity. It is used to lower blood pressure, treat athletes foot and dengue fever and for production of blood platelets. It can also be used to relieve anxiety and stress.

In south India, it is used as ear drops, in the treatment of boils, sore and wounds. A decoction of leaves induces milk flow and the leaf chewed with palm kernel for restoration of virility. It is also effective in treating ulcers. The plant is also eaten as vegetables.

In Benin (Nigeria), the plant is pounded, mixed with palm oil and licked to treat any form of cough. Traditionally in Nigeria, a handful (50 gm) of fresh leaves steeped in four cups (one litre) of water, bring to boil, live boiling for 3-4 minutes and taken as tea for 2-3 times a day softens dry cough to release mucus as phlegm, which will clear airways and nasal chambers experienced by someone suffering from chronic flu. If in powder form, steep two teaspoonful in one cup (250 ml) of boiled water, live to extract for 15 minutes and drink 3-5 times a day. It is a powerful herb and must be used with care. It is reported to have anti-fertility activity. Use for short period of time ranging from 1-3 days, and not more than 7 days at a time. If it must be repeated take a 7-day recess. Not recommended for expectant and nursing mothers, and small children.

The various medicinal uses of E. hirta are well documented among human populations in Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Tanzania, Gabon, Congo, Guinea, Liberia and East Africa. Though the plant is reported to have anti-fertility activity, report from Guinea revealed that the plant extract had practically no toxicity towards man and guinea pigs.

The plant may be a handy first-aid treatment as tea for people experiencing dry cough, respiratory failure, fever and diarrohea which are some of the symptoms of COVID-19 infection. Using the plant may thus help the patients to breath with ease and remove the need for a ventilator for mild cases. There is no evidence yet that Euphorbia hirta can cure coronavirus, but it can be useful in mitigating some of the symptoms like fever, cough and respiratory challenges.

A research group in the University of Ibadan is exploring the benefits of Euphorbia hirta and similar plants for the cure of chronic flu and other respiratory diseases including COVID-19. Contributing to the study on medicinal efficacy of the plant in different ways are: Professor Ademola Ladele (Agricultural Extensionist); Professor Rasheed Awodoyin (Weed Ecologist); Professor Olaniyi Babayemi (Animal Scientist), Professor Olapeju Aiyelaagbe (Chemist); Dr Okhiomah A. Abu (Animal Scientist); Dr. Olugbenga AdeOluwa (Organic Agriculturist); Dr Olajumoke Oke Fayinminnu (Toxicologist); Dr Funmilayo Adebiyi (Animal Scientist); Dr Idayat Gbadamosi (Ethnobotanist) and Dr Joseph Badejo (Cardiovascular Pharmacologist).


Focal Person: Professor Ademola A. Ladele (+2348023251293;;, Department of Agricultural Extension and Rural Development, University of