The peepal tree, botanically known as Ficus religiosa, is considered to be sacred in India. It has a deep-rooted significance in the Indian culture as it is the tree underneath which Lord Buddha was believed to have attained enlightenment. So, it is often referred to as the ‘bodhi tree’. Traditional Indian literature describes the peepal tree as ‘ashwatta’, that is, the tree is an emblem of the ‘tree of life’.

Ficus religiosa also commonly called as the sacred fig is native to tropical parts of Asia, especially, India and China. It is large with a wide trunk, the diameter of which can be up to 3 metres. The leaves of the tree are heart-shaped and have a distinctive tip. The fruits of the tree are usually small figs that are green when young and turn purple upon ripening.

The lifespan of the peepal tree is usually very long, with an average of 900 to 1500 years. The Jaya Sree Maha Bodhi peepal tree in Sri Lanka, regarded as ‘Oldest historical tree in the world with religious importance’ is, in fact, more than 2250 years old.

Some basic facts about the peepal tree

  • Botanical Name: Ficus religiosa
  • Family: Moraceae
  • Common Name: Sacred fig, bodhi tree, peepul tree, peepal tree
  • Sanskrit Name: Ashwatta, Pippala
  • Parts Used: Leaves, branches, flowers, fruits, bark
  • Native Region and Geographical Distribution: Native to tropical Asia, especially India and China.
  1. Health benefits of peepal tree
  2. Side effects of peepal tree

The health benefits of the peepal tree are numerous as evident by its use being prevalent since the ancient times. The most important of these have been described in detail below.

Peepal tree for wounds

The extract of the leaves of the peepal tree has the property to heal wounds due to cuts or burns. According to a study, the extract when applied to these wounds showed a significant contraction of the wounded area and reduced the time required for healing. The property of wound healing, however, works in a dose-dependent manner and depends on how immediately it is applied to the wounded area.

Peepal tree for diabetes

The root bark extract of Ficus religiosa is found to have the property of lowering blood sugar. Studies have suggested that the extracts possess significant anti-diabetic property. The extract, when given in appropriate doses to diabetic patients, showed an effective lowering of the blood sugar. The hypoglycemic or the blood sugar lowering activity of the root extract of the peepal tree was due to the presence of the compound β-Sitosterol-D-glycoside.

(Read more: Diabetes symptoms)

Bodhi tree for ulcers

The extract prepared from the leaves of the peepal tree has anti-ulcer property. According to a recent study, the leaf extract may inhibit the formation of ulcers induced by stress conditions.

The mechanism of prevention of ulcer formation is believed to have been contributed by the action of bioactive compounds like flavonoids. However, further, studies are required to establish the exact mechanism of the anti-ulcer property demonstrated by the leaf extract of the peepal tree.

Sacred fig for inflammation and pain

The leaf and bark extract of Ficus religiosa have anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain relieving) properties. Ayurvedic medicine suggests the use of the bark extract of peepal tree as a pain reliever for toothaches.

The bark of the peepal tree has also been traditionally used in Indian folk medicine to reduce swelling. Studies found that the presence of bioactive compounds like tannins and steroids present in the bark and leaf extract of the peepal tree is responsible for its activity against inflammation and pain.

Peepal tree as antibacterial

The ethanolic and aqueous extracts of the various parts of peepal tree were found to be effective against bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella paratyphi, Salmonella typhimurium, Salmonella aureus, Salmonella typhi, Shigella dysenteriae, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Bacillus subtillis, and Escherichia coli.

Another study found that the fruit extract of peepal tree in chlorophyll showed significant activity against Azobacter chroococcum, Bacillus megaterium, Bacillus cereus, Streptomycin lactis, Streptococcus faecalis, and Klebsiella pneumonia. Additionally, extracts of the peepal tree were also active against Aspergillus niger and Penicillium notatum as demonstrated in the study.

Bodhi tree against parasitic worms

The bark extract of the peepal tree was also found to be effective against Haemonchus contortus worms. Different worms are a cause of different kinds of diseases in human beings. The extract of the peepal tree is lethal for Ascaris, the worm responsible for causing ascariasis. The antihelmintic (against worms) activity of this tree is due to the action of the compound called ficin present in the latex of the plant.

Peepal tree as an antioxidant

The bark and fruit of the peepal tree were found to have strong antioxidant properties. The aqueous extract obtained from the fruits and bark reduced oxidative stress by means of neutralizing free radicals (cause damage to the body’s internal organs). The leaf extract inhibited the production of another type of free radicals, nitric oxides, thus, contributing to the antioxidant property.

(Read more: Antioxidants)

Sacred fig for better immunity

The extracts obtained from the bark of the peepal tree are found to have immune boosting properties. According to studies, the bark extracts were capable of generating cellular and antibody response when administered in appropriate dosages. The extract was thus, capable of stimulating the immune system. These findings, however, require further research so as to determine the exact mechanism of peepal tree bark extract on the generation of the immune responses.

Peepal tree for cholesterol

The extract from various parts of the peepal tree has been demonstrated to reduce the low-density lipoproteins, also known as the bad cholesterol. The hypocholesterolemic (cholesterol-lowering) effect occur due to the excretion of cholesterol through the faeces. These findings, however, require further studies to establish the cholesterol-lowering property of peepal tree in vivo.

(Read more: High cholesterol symptoms)

Peepal tree for epilepsy

Ficus religiosa has been widely used in folk medicine to treat several diseases related to the central nervous system. There have also been reports of its use for the treatment of epilepsy. The extract of the peepal tree has an effect in reducing seizures, due to which it is used for the treatment of epilepsy. Studies have found that the anti-seizure effect of the extract was due to a bioactive compound called cyproheptadine that produces a relaxing effect on the muscles.

(Read more: Seizures)

Sacred fig tree for Alzheimer’s

In India, a number of traditional medicine practitioners recommend specific herbal formulations prepared from the stem bark of Ficus religiosa for the treatment of memory loss and various neurodegenerative (degrading neurons) disorders.

The methanolic extract of the stem bark of the peepal tree has potent acetylcholinesterase (enzyme responsible for the breakdown of acetylcholine) inhibiting property, which makes it beneficial for the treatment of diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Rapid breakdown of acetylcholine is the cause for loss of memory in Alzheimer’s disease. Many bioactive compounds found in peepal tree extract were demonstrated to have the ability to inhibit the action of acetylcholine esterase along with promoting the growth of nervous tissue, as found in a study conducted in 2014. This stem bark extract of the peepal tree can thus be a potential drug for treatment of disorders related to the brain.

Peepal tree for Parkinson’s disease

 Parkinson's disease is caused by the selective loss of the neurotransmitter, dopamine that is responsible for transferring signals to other nerve cells. The disease can also lead to manifestations of other conditions such as dementia and rigidity of the muscles. Oxidative stress is one of the has factors that affect the metabolism of the dopamine neurotransmitter and causing Parkinson’s.

The antioxidising property of the leaf extract of the peepal tree is effective against the disease as per research evidence. Further studies are required to evaluate the mechanism of antioxidants and their relative effect on the disease.

Bodhi tree for cancer

All parts of the peepal tree ie, leaves, bark, roots, and fruits are found to have anti-cancerous properties. In a study conducted in the year 2012, it was demonstrated that the extracts from the peepal tree have an antiproliferative (inhibits cell growth) effect on the tumour cells and can also cause apoptosis, that is, programmed cell death.

The anti-proliferative effect of the peepal tree extract can be attributed to its ability to alter biochemical mechanisms including suppression of cell proliferation, inhibition of the cell cycle and enhanced induction of apoptosis.

The bioactive components of the peepal tree, leaf extract, in particular, have the capability to induce apoptosis through generation of reactive oxygen species within the cells. These reactive oxygen species (which are related with free radicals) mediate fast death of the proliferating cells, thus, contributing to the anti-cancerous property of the peepal tree extract.

(Read more: Cancer treatment)

Peepal is generally considered safe when used in appropriate amounts. However, some people may experience certain side effects upon consumption of peepal. The possible side effects have been described below.

  • The leaf extract of the peepal tree, when consumed in medicinal amounts up to a month, is usually safe. However, if consumed in high doses, the latex might cause bleeding in the digestive tract in some people. It is better to seek physician's advice before consuming peepal tree extract.
  • The extract of the peepal tree can cause sensitivity towards the sun in some people. So it is advisable to not step out in the sun immediately after applying peepal tree extract to the skin.
  • The fruit of the peepal tree might also cause skin rash or allergies upon contact in some people. Additionally, people who are sensitive to natural rubber latex might have allergic reactions to fig.
  • There have been no reports of studies concerning the effect of the peepal tree extract on pregnant and breastfeeding women. It is, therefore, advisable to consult a physician before its use by such women.
  • Peepal tree is known to have anti-diabetic effects. People consuming formulations prepared from peepal tree extracts need to monitor their blood sugar levels on a timely basis. Use of such formulations might also interfere with the levels of blood sugar during or after surgery. It is thus, advised to stop using peepal tree extract at least two weeks prior to a scheduled surgery.

Medicines / Products that contain Peepal

References

  1. Jazir Haneef et al. Bax Translocation Mediated Mitochondrial Apoptosis and Caspase Dependent Photosensitizing Effect of Ficus religiosa on Cancer Cells. PLoS One. 2012; 7(7): e40055. PMID: 22792212
  2. S. B. Chandrasekar, M. Bhanumathy, A. T. Pawa, T. Somasundaram. Phytopharmacology of Ficus religiosa. Pharmacogn Rev. 2010 Jul-Dec; 4(8): 195–199. PMID: 22228961
  3. Singh D, Goel RK. Anticonvulsant effect of Ficus religiosa: role of serotonergic pathways. J Ethnopharmacol. 2009 Jun 22;123(2):330-4. PMID: 19429380
  4. Priyanka Siwach, Anita Rani Gill. Micropropagation of Ficus religiosa L. via leaf explants and comparative evaluation of acetylcholinesterase inhibitory activity in the micropropagated and conventionally grown plants . 3 Biotech. 2014 Oct; 4(5): 477–491. PMID: 28324379
  5. Oyinlola O Olaokun et al. Evaluation of the inhibition of carbohydrate hydrolysing enzymes, antioxidant activity and polyphenolic content of extracts of ten African Ficus species (Moraceae) used traditionally to treat diabetes . BMC Complement Altern Med. 2013; 13: 94. PMID: 23641947
  6. Jitendra O. Bhangale, Sanjeev R. Acharya. Anti-Parkinson Activity of Petroleum Ether Extract of Ficus religiosa (L.) Leaves . Adv Pharmacol Sci. 2016; 2016: 9436106. PMID: 26884755
  7. Amit S. Choudhari, Snehal A. Suryavanshi, Ruchika Kaul-Ghanekar. The Aqueous Extract of Ficus religiosa Induces Cell Cycle Arrest in Human Cervical Cancer Cell Lines SiHa (HPV-16 Positive) and Apoptosis in HeLa (HPV-18 Positive) . PLoS One. 2013; 8(7): e70127. PMID: 23922932
  8. Marslin Gregory et al. Anti-ulcer activity of Ficus religiosa leaf ethanolic extract. Asian Pac J Trop Biomed. 2013 Jul; 3(7): 554–556. PMID: 23836366
  9. Vishal Gulecha et al. Screening of Ficus religiosa leaves fractions for analgesic and anti-inflammatory activities . Indian J Pharmacol. 2011 Nov-Dec; 43(6): 662–666. PMID: 22144770
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