Saptaparni is an evergreen tree with small greenish-white flowers and a distinctive strong smell that can be observed from December through March in the sub-Himalayan regions in India. The plant has a greyish bark with a whitish-yellow latex.  

This herb has been used in Ayurvedic, Siddha and Unani medicine for the treatment of various health conditions ranging from debility to open wounds, impotence and jaundice. Saptaparni bark is said to be effective as an alternative to the malaria drug quinine. 

However, the herb has anti-fertility effects and hence it is best to consult a doctor before taking it in any form. 

Some facts about Saptaparni:

  • Botanical name: Alstonia scholaris
  • Family: Apocynaceae
  • Other names: Devil’s tree, Scholar tree, Dita bark, Blackboard tree
  • Sanskrit name: Saptaparna, Saptachada, Chatraparna
  • Parts used: Leaves, flowers, latex, stem bark
  • Geographical distribution: Saptaparni is native to South-East Asian countries and the Indian subcontinent. In India, the plant is found all over the sub-Himalayan region, especially east of the Yamuna river. Saptaparni is also found in southern China, tropical Africa and some parts of Australia. 
  • Interesting facts: Alstonia scholaris is believed to be inauspicious and the devil’s abode which is believed to be due to the strong fragrance of its flowers that is apparent especially in the night. 
  1. Saptaparni (Alstonia) health benefits
  2. Other health benefits of Saptaparni/Alstonia scholaris
  3. Side effects of Saptaparni/Alstonia scholaris
Doctors for Saptaparni benefits and side effects

Alstonia is a bitter and astringent herb that is used for the treatment of skin conditionsdiarrhoea and snake bites in Ayurvedic medicine, while Alstonia bark is used as an alternative to quinine for malaria treatment.

Here are some of the health benefits of Alstonia plant that you should know about.

Saptaparni (Alstonia) for healing wounds

Alstonia plant is known to be highly effective in the treatment of wounds. A study done on animal models showed that methanol extracts of Alstonia leaf promote healing of open wounds. 

In another study done on animal models, treatment with Alstonia extracts was shown to improve skin healing and promote skin regeneration in wounds. 

According to a research published in the journal Der Pharmacia Lettre, a polyherbal formulation containing methanol extracts of Alstonia leaves and bark along with the leaves of some other plants contains potent wound healing activity.      

However, since there is no clinical study to prove the wound-healing effects and safety of Alstonia on open wounds, it is best to consult an experienced healthcare practitioner before using Alstonia on any kind of wound.

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Antimicrobial effects of Saptaparni (Alstonia)

Alstonia or Saptaparni is rich in biologically active compounds that impart it potent antimicrobial properties. Various parts of the Saptaparni plant have been shown to be beneficial against a wide range of bacteria—both gram-positive (those that stain blue with gram stain) and gram-negative (those that stain red with gram staining) bacteria. These include E coli (causes diarrhoea and dysentery), Klebsiella pneumoniae (causes pneumonia and wound infections), and Methicillin resistance Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). 

In a study done in India, natural dye obtained from Alstonia scholaris bark was found to be effective against a wide range of bacteria including Psuedomonas aeruginosa (causes infections of the skin, lungs and urinary tract) and Bacillus cereus (causes food poisoning). It was also found to be effective against the fungus Aspergillus flavus (causes skin and wound infections) and the common infectious yeast Candida albicans

According to a study published in the International Journal of Current Pharmaceutical Research, root and bark extracts of A. scholaris are more effective antimicrobials than stem and bark extract, which is stronger than the fruit, flower and leaf extracts of this plant. 

Antimalarial effects of Saptaparni (Alstonia scholaris)

The bark of Alstonia plant is said to be an effective substitute of the antimalarial drug quinine. Several studies indicate the antiplasmodial activity of Alstonia against the malarial parasite Plasmodium

In an in vivo study done on mice, Alstonia bark was found to be effective in reducing parasitic load, and increasing survival time as compared to controls. 

A study done in Tamil Nadu, India, indicated that the leaf and bark extracts of Alstonia plant possess antiparasitic activity against Plasmodium falciparum (the deadliest malaria parasite to infect humans). 

However, the antimalarial activity of Alstonia plant is a bit controversial. For example, a study done in Chandigarh, India, found no effect of Alstonia against Plasmodium.

Another study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology indicated that the active compounds present in Alstonia plant were found to be ineffective against Plasmodium spp.

Read more: Home remedies for malaria

Saptaparni (Alstonia scholaris) helps manage diarrhea

Alstonia is traditionally used for the treatment of diarrhoea and dysentery. A study done on animal models found that the methanolic extract of Alstonia plant not only helps to relieve diarrhoea but also it has antinociceptive (reduced awareness of pain) effects on the body. 

In another study, ethanolic extract of Alstonia bark was found to be effective in reducing the defecation frequency in mice models with diarrhoea. Compounds like saponins, tannins and some alkaloids were said to be responsible for these effects.

According to a study published in the journal Phytotherapy Research, the anti-diarrhoeal effects of Alstonia extracts are mediated by calcium channel blockade.

However, more studies are needed to better understand the effects and benefits of Alstonia plant in diarrhoea.

Saptaparni (Alstonia) stimulates the immune system

Alstonia is known as a strong immunomodulatory herb. In a study done on mice, aqueous extracts of Alstonia plant were shown to improve immune function and reduce allergic reactions at various doses. (Read more: Allergy symptoms)

In a study done in Madhya Pradesh, India, the stem bark of Alstonia plant was indicated to be effective in stimulating both the humoral and cell-mediated immune system. These are two arms of the acquired immune system, the immunity we develop slowly as we face new pathogens.

Saptaparni (Alstonia) effects on liver

Animal studies indicate that Alstonia has hepatoprotective properties. In one such study done in India, it was found that the ethanolic extract of Alstonia plant is effective in reducing liver damage and restoring liver architecture. 

Another study done in Taiwan indicated that the hepatoprotective effects of Alstonia are comparable to that of Bupleurum chinense, a herb well known for its beneficial effects on liver health.

In a study published in the World Journal of Pharmacological Research, aqueous extracts of Alstonia bark were found to be effective against both ethanol and paracetamol-induced liver damage in mice.

However, no clinical studies have been done so far on the effects of Alstonia on liver function and liver health in humans.

Read more: Foods to improve liver health

Anticancer effects of Saptaparni (Alstonia scholaris)

Several studies indicate the anticancer effects of Alstonia extracts. A study done in Karnataka, India, suggested that Alstonia extracts, when given along with a drug called berberine hydrochloride, can suppress tumorigenesis (development of tumours) in early stages. However, it does not have a significant effect in the later stages of tumour development.

In another study done in India, the alkaloid fraction of Alstonia plant was indicated to have a stronger anticancer effect than the chemotherapy drug cyclophosphamide. 

Both in vivo and in vitro studies indicate that Alstonia extracts reduce the number of mutations and hence prevent cancer development. 

According to a study published in the journal Molecules, the alkaloids and triterpenes present in Alstonia plant possess both apoptotic and immunoregulatory properties which together aid in the prevention and treatment of non-small cell lung cancer. 

Here are some other health benefits of Saptaparni:

  • Alstonia is traditionally used to treat chronic diarrhoea, stomach pain, snake bites, tooth pain and dysentery. 
  • Alstonia leaves are used to treat beriberi (caused by vitamin B1 deficiency).
  • Methanol extracts of the leaves, stem bark and root bark of Alstonia plant are suggested to be effective in suppressing the growth of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacteria that cause tuberculosis
  • An in vitro study done in Korea showed that Alstonia bark extract is effective in increasing the antiageing effects of topical retinoids and reducing the skin irritation caused by them. Topical retinoids are medications that increase collagen production in skin and help in reducing fine lines and wrinkles. However, they sometimes cause side effects like inflammation, scaling, and erythema (redness of skin).
  • Alstonia extracts have been shown to possess anti-tussive (relieving cough), expectorant (promotes sputum expulsion) and anti-asthmatic effects. In in vivo (animal) studies, an alkaloid called picrinine present in Alstonia plant was suggested to be responsible for its anti-asthmatic and anti-tussive effects.
  • In animal studies, Alstonia is indicated to have both anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain-relieving) properties. 
  • A decoction made from Alstonia bark is suggested to help reduce hypertension
  • Alstonia is said to promote breast milk production and release in lactating women. 
  • The milky sap of Alstonia plant is traditionally used to heal ulcers. An in vivo study found that the ethanolic extracts of Alstonia scholaris leaves is effective against stomach ulcers.

The following are some of the side effects of Alstonia plant:

  • Pollen from Alstonia plant can cause allergic reactions and Alstonia sap is a known irritant.
  • Certain compounds present in Alstonia extracts are shown to have antifertility effects in vivo (animal models), hence, it is best to talk to an experienced doctor before using this plant for any purpose.
  • Alstonia is suggested to have teratogenic effects (promotes birth defects) in mice. Though the effect is not tested in clinical studies yet, pregnant women should avoid this plant.
  • If you have a chronic health condition or are taking medicines for one, it is best to consult your doctor before taking Alstonia.

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References

  1. Kaushik Pawan, Kaushik Dhirender, Sharma Neha, Rana AC. Alstonia scholaris: It's Phytochemistry and pharmacology. Chronicles of Young Scientists. 2011 Jan; 2(2): 71-78.
  2. Dey Abhijit. Alstonia scholaris R.Br. (Apocynaceae): Phytochemistry and pharmacology: A concise review. Journal of Applied Pharmaceutical Science. 2011; 1(6): 51-57.
  3. Y. L. Ramachandra, H. V. Sudeep, Padmalatha S. Rai, K. Ramadas. Evaluation of wound healing activity of leaf extract of Alstonia scholaris Linn. In rats. International Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. 2012; 1: 390-393.
  4. Arulmozhi S.L., Rasal Vijaykumar, Lohidasan Sathiyanaraya, Ashok Purnima. Screening of Alstonia scholaris Linn. R. Br., for wound healing activity. Oriental Pharmacy and Experimental Medicine. 2007 September; 7(3):254-260.
  5. Pratap Bhanu, Chakraborthy G.S., Mogha Nandini. Complete Aspects Of Alstonia Sholaris. International Journal of Pharma Tech Research. 2013; 5(1): 17-26.
  6. Antonty Molly, Shekhar M.C., Thankamani Vaidyanathan. Antibacterial activity of plant extracts of Alstonia scholaris. International Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemical Research. 2014; 5(4):285-291
  7. Kachhawa Jai Bahadur Singh, et al. Antibacterial activity of Alstonia scholaris: An in vitro study. International Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences Review and Research. 2012; 12(2): 40-41.
  8. Parcha Versha, Ghosh Bijay, Nair Anroop, Mittal Ramanjith. Antimicrobial activity of Alstonia scholaris leaf extracts. Indian Drugs. 2003; 40(7):412-413.
  9. Saivaraj S, Chandramohan G. Antimicrobial activity of natural dyes obtained from Alstonia Scholaris barks. Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry. 2018; 7(3): 752-754.
  10. Thomas Shirly K., George Roshin Elizabeth, Kunjumon Manesh, Thankamani V. In vitro antibacterial profile of Alstonia venenata R. BR-A Comparative study. International Journal of Current Pharmaceutical Research. 2015; 7(4): 86-88.
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