Wednesday, 30 November 2016



In the tropical regions of West Africa, traditional herbal medicine practitioners have discovered numerous uses of strophanthus. They prepare a massaging compound with the leaves of this plant to alleviate fevers. They also crush the leaves and apply them externally to the affected areas to heal wounds, skin ulcerations and parasites, while a decoction prepared from the leaves is used as a medication to treat the sexually transmitted disease (STD) gonorrhoea. However, a substance obtained from strophanthus seeds called ouabain is the most widely used product of this plant by the natives of West Africa. This toxic substance is employed as a source of arrow venom, used for hunting as well as in combats. Interestingly enough, the use of ouabain by the natives drew the attention of the Western science towards this herb.15

Way back in 1861, renowned explorer and missionary Dr. David Livingstone had noticed the natives of tropical West Africa hunting with a poison arrow that had been created from the seeds of an intimately related plant - a genuine vine known as S. Kombe. Afterwards, he provided details of the substance saying that it was a supposed stimulant for the heart. This report prompted the scientists to undertake studies on several comparable species, among which S. gratus proved to be of utmost value.15

It may be noted that the fast action of ouabain is the foremost quality of this natural chemical which differentiates it from other slow-acting, digitalis-type of cardiac stimulants. In addition, while digitalis constricts the peripheral blood vessels, ouabain does not do this. Nevertheless, there are dangers of using ouabain too. For instance, it is not possible to administer this medication orally, but it needs to be administered in the form of an injection in small and cautiously measured doses. In addition, ouabain cannot be administered to any patient who has endured a heart attack lately. Also, ouabain cannot be given to any patient who has taken digitalis within a week. Despite such constrictions, ouabain is still an extremely important medication for treating heart ailments as well as to cure low blood pressure (hypotension) due to administration of anaesthesia medicaments prior to undergoing a surgery.

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