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Medicinal Plant Rauvolfia serpentina

  Common Name
  Serpentina Plant
  Chemical Constituents
  Serpentina as Medicinal Herb
  Serpentina Side Effects
  Recent research


  Rauvolfia serpentina or Sarpaghandha plant is widely used medicinally both in the Modern Western Medical system and also in Ayurveda, unani and folk medicine. Sarpagandha is an important medicinal plant distributed in the foot-hills of Himalayan range, up to the elevation of 1300-1400 m. and almost all over the country. It is used in traditional medicine in India, China, Africa and many other countries.

          Serpentina plant

  It has been used for centuries for the relief of various central nervous system disorders, both psychic and motor, including anxiety states, excitement, maniacal behaviour associated with psychosis, schizophrenia, insanity, insomnia and epilepsy. Extracts of the roots are valued for the treatment of intestinal disorders, particularly diarrhea and dysentery and also an anthelmintic. Mixed with other plant extracts, they have been used in the treatment of cholera, colic and fever.

  In India and Nepal, it is a common treatment for hypertension and insomnia. Hindus used this plant for centuries as a febrifuge and as an antidote to the bites of poisonous reptiles like snakes. Its medicinal value has been accepted by the allopathic system.

  Common Name

Hindi -         Chandrabhaga, Chota-chand, Sarpagandha
English -      Rauvolfia / Indian snakeroot
Latin  -         Rauvolfia serpentina
Sanskrit -     Sarpaghandha
Tamil    -      Chevanamalpodi, Sarpagandha
Kannada -    Keramaddinagaddi
Telgu       -   Patalaguni, Patalagandha, Sarpagandha
Malayalam-  Churannavilpori, Suvapavalporiyam., Amalpori
Marathi     -  Harkaya,  Harki, Hadaki/Adakai
Assamese:  Arachoritita
Bengali:       Chandra
Kannada:     Sutranabhi
Chinese:      Lu fu mu

  Serpentina Plant

  Rauvolfia serpentina  is an evergreen, perennial, glabrous and erect under shrub. The maximum height of the plant is up to 60 cm.  Its roots are tuberous with pale brown cork. The Leaves of the plant are in whorls of three, elliptic to lanceolate or obviate, bright green above and below  pale green and thin.

  Its flowers are in irregular corymbs cymes, white, often tinged with violet. The flowering time is from March to May in Indian conditions. Its fruits are Drupe, single or didymium, shining black, the inflorescence with red pedicels and calyx and white corolla.

  Chemical Constituents

  The major alkaloid present in root, stem and leaves of the plant is Reserpine  varies from 1.7 to 3.0 %. The root barks has more than 90% of the total alkaloids in roots. The minor alkaloids present in the plant are Ajmalicine, ajmaline, isoajmaline, ajmalinine, chandrine, rauwolfinine, renoxidine, rescin-namine, reserpiline, reserpin, reserpinine, sarpagine,  serpentine, serpentinine, tetraphyllicine, yohimbine, 3-epi-a-yohimbine.  The root contains ophioxylin , resin, starch and wax.


  LAND PREPARATION : The plant requires slightly acidic to neutral soils for good growth with medium to deep well drained fertile soils. Clay-loam to silt-loam soils, rich in organic content are suitable for its commercial cultivation.  

  PLANTING: The crop can be propagated by seed, stem cutting and root cuttings. Seed propagation is the best method for raising commercial plantation.

  By root cutting:  Nearly 5 cm long root cutting are planted during spring season closely in nursery beds containing well matured FYM,sand and saw-dust. The beds are kept moist through watering. The cuttings begin to sprout within 3 weeks. These can be planted in field during rainy season after 8 to 10 cm rains are received; the seedlings are transplanted at 45 cm row to row and 30 cm plant to plant distance. In this manner, an estimated 100 kg of root cuttings are found sufficient for planting one hectare area.

  By stem cuttings:  Hard wooded stem cutting measuring 15 to 22 cm are closely planted during June in the nursery beds where continuous moisture is maintained. After sprouting and giving out roots, these plants are transplanted in the main field at given spacing.

  By root stumps:  About 5 cm of roots, intact with a portion of stem above the collar, are directly transplanted in the field having irrigation facilities.

  By seed:  Seed germination in Rauvolfia is highly variable. It is reported to vary from 5 to 30 percent even when only heavy seeds are chosen for sowing purpose. Light and heavy seeds can easily be separated by simple water flotation. Germination of heavy seeds during May-June after soaking them in water for 24 hours was 20-40 percent and 62.77 percent germination was recorded in freshly collected heavy seed lot. In all, 6 kg of seeds are sufficient to raise one-hectare plantation.


  The medicinal plants have to be grown without chemical fertilizers and use of pesticides. Organic manures like, Farm Yard Manure (FYM), Vermi-Compost, Green Manure etc. may be used as per requirement of the species. To prevent diseases, bio-pesticides could be prepared from Neem (kernel, seeds & leaves), Chitrakmool, Dhatura, Cow's urine etc.

  IRRIGATION: Rauvolfia, if grown in areas which receive rainfall of 150 cm or above well distributed throughout the growing season such as in Assam and Kerala, can be raised and rainfed crop under subtropical conditions. It need regular irrigation where temperature rise high combined with low rain fall during rainy season. It is suggested that 15 to 16 irrigations, amounts to irrigation at 20 days interval in summer and at 30 days interval in winter.

  HARVESTING/ POST HARVESTING: Root yields at different age and season have showed that 18 months duration crop produce maximum root yield. Transplanting is done in July, the harvesting period coincides with the shedding of leaves during early autumn season next year. At this stage, the roots contain maximum concretion of total alkaloids. At harvest the root may be found to go up to 40 cm deep in the soil. Harvesting is done by digging up the roots and thin roots are also collected. 
  After digging the roots are cleaned, washed and cut into 12 to 15 cm pieces for convenience in drying and storage. The dry roots possess upto 8-10 per cent of moisture. The dried roots are stored in polythene lined gunny bags in cool dry place to protect it from mould.


  On an average, root yield vary from 15 to 25 q/ha of dry weight under irrigation depending upon soil fertility, crop stand and management. Some cultivators reports that the average yield is  2700 to 3300 kg dried roots/ha and 8–10 kg seed per hectare.

  Serpentina as Medicinal Herb

     Serpentina roots

 Serpentina Roots

 The roots of Rauvolfia is generally used in medicine. Rauvolfia is mainly used for the treatment of various central nervous system disorders associated with psychosis, schizophrenia, insanity, insomnia, and epilepsy. Extracts of the roots are valued for the treatment of intestinal disorders, particularly diarrhea and dysentery and also as anathematic. Mixed with other plant extracts, they have been used in the treatment of cholera, colic and fever. The root was believed to stimulate uterine contrition and recommended for use in child-birth in difficult cases. The juice of the leaves has been used as a remedy for opacity of the cornea. Rauvolfia main uses are: 
  High blood pressure:  The Rauvolfia herb is the best remedy for high Blood Pressure and it has been adapted by medical fraternity in most countries.  Those alkaloids which have a direct effect on hypertension have been isolated in it and are widely used by the practitioners of modern medicine. But they have certain unpleasant side effects which the drug taken in its raw form, does not have. Half a teaspoon of its powder taken thrice a day is effective in relieving hypertension.

  In insanity:  The rauwolfia plant is highly beneficial in treating insanity. One gram of powdered root can be taken twice a day with 250 ml of goat’s milk, sweetened with sugar candy. It is unsuitable for those with a low blood pressure, depressed and hypotensive patients.

  In insomnia: Rauwolfia is a wee-known remedy in treating insomnia because of its sedative properties. The very first dose of Rauwolfia enables the patient of a phlegmatic and gouty nature to go to sleep. About 0.6 to 1.25 grams of the powder of its root is mixed with some scented vehicle and taken. It is non-stimulating and should be given in doses of 0.25 grams to the patient at bedtime for sound sleep.

   In Hysteria:  Rauwolfia is useful in treating hysteria. One gram of powdered root can be administered thrice with milk. Treatment should be continued till a complete cure is obtained.

  In itching skin: It relieves itching in urticaria. One gram of powdered root can be taken with water.

  Other uses:  It is used as an antidote to the bites of poisonous reptile like snakes. It is also used to treat dysentery and other painful affections of the intestinal canal. The root of Serpentina also possess anti bacterial properties. Infusion, decoction and extract of the roots are employed to increase uterine contractions for expulsion of foetus, to treat painful affections of bowels, diarrhea, dysentery, cholera, colic and fever.

  The root was believed to stimulate uterine contraction and recommended for use in child-birth in difficult cases. The juice of the leaves has been used as a remedy for capacity of the cornea (Wealth of India)

  Serpentina Side Effects

  In patients with cardiac arrhythmia, myocardial infarction or severe cardiac damage, bronchitis, asthma or gastric ulcer, Serpentinas' s chemical reserpine has a relatively low toxicity, but even the minimum therapeutic doses may give rise to nasal congestion, lethargy, drowsiness, peculiar dreams, vertigo and gastro-intestinal upsets; sometimes dyspnea and urticarial rash may occur. Higher doses may cause flushing, injection of conjunctivae, insomnia, bradycardia, occasionally Parkinson's, and severe mental depression which may lead to suicide. Cases of asthenia and edema have also been reported. Side effects of reserpine are usually transient and quickly disappear on reducing the dosage or discontinuing treatment


  Expenditure per ha. Rs.19,000/-     Return per ha. Rs.60,000/-

  Net income Rs.41,000/-  
  Note: Market for medicinal plants is volatile and the economics may vary.

  Recent research

  * The rauvolfia root is an effective blood-pressure lowering agents, acting on the central nervous system.  
  *  Very high doses used for hypertension, rauvolfia alkaloids cause a depletion of norepinephrine, resulting in a tranquilizing effect. 
  * Many  researchers discovered that only Rauvolfia alkaloids and clonidin do not have an undesirable influence on balance  
  * In a Chinese study on 200 patients with moderate hypertension, rauvolfia alkaloids lowered blood pressure was reduced by as much as 30-40% with minimal side effects.
 * Rauwolfia root has proven highly effective (89%) in cases of chronic hives. 
 * In epidemiological studies, rauvolfia alkaloids did not increase the risk of breast cancer  
 * Rauwolfia root has occasionally proven effective in cases of malnutrition that were unresponsive to high protein or high-energy diets.


 1. Ministry of Health & Family Welfare 
 2. Regional Research Laboratory  CANAL ROAD, Jammu Tawi (J&K) CIMAP, PO CIMAP, KUKRAIL PICNIC SPOT,  Lucknow (UP)
 3.Tropical Forest Research Institute, Mandlar Road, Jabalpur (MP)



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