Jatropha curcas L.
Physic nut, Purging nut
Source: James A. Duke. 1983. Handbook of Energy Crops. unpublished.
- Folk Medicine
- Yields and Economics
- Biotic Factors
According to Ochse (1980), "the young leaves may be safely eaten, steamed or
stewed." They are favored for cooking with goat meat, said to counteract the
peculiar smell. Though purgative, the nuts are sometimes roasted and
dangerously eaten. In India, pounded leaves are applied near horses' eyes to
repel flies. The oil has been used for illumination, soap, candles,
adulteration of olive oil, and making Turkey red oil. Nuts can be strung on
grass and burned like candlenuts (Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk, 1962). Mexicans
grow the shrub as a host for the lac insect. Ashes of the burned root are used
as a salt substitute (Morton, 1981). Agaceta et al. (1981) conclude that it
has strong molluscicidal activity. Duke and Wain (1981) list it for homicide,
piscicide, and raticide as well. The latex was strongly inhibitory to
watermelon mosaic virus (Tewari and Shukla, 1982). Bark used as a fish poison
(Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk, 1962). In South Sudan, the seed as well as the
fruit is used as a contraceptive (List and Horhammer, 19691979). Sap stains
linen and can be used for marking (Mitchell and Rook, 1979). Little, Woodbury,
and Wadsworth (1974) list the species as a honey plant.
According to Hartwell, the extracts are used in folk remedies for cancer.
Reported to be abortifacient, anodyne, antiseptic, cicatrizant, depurative,
diuretic, emetic, hemostat, lactagogue, narcotic, purgative, rubefacient,
styptic, vermifuge, and vulnerary, physic nut is a folk remedy for alopecia,
anasorca, ascites, burns, carbuncles, convulsions, cough, dermatitis, diarrhea,
dropsy, dysentery, dyspepsia, eczema, erysipelas, fever, gonorrhea, hernia,
incontinence, inflammation, jaundice, neuralgia, paralysis, parturition,
pleurisy, pneumonia, rash, rheumatism, scabies, sciatica, sores, stomachache,
syphilis, tetanus, thrush, tumors, ulcers, uterosis, whitlows, yaws, and yellow
fever (Duke and Wain, 1981; List and Horhammer, 19691979). Latex applied
topically to bee and wasp stings (Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk, 1962). Mauritians
massage ascitic limbs with the oil. Cameroon natives apply the leaf decoction
in arthritis (Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk, 1962). Colombians drink the leaf
decoction for venereal disease (Morton, 1981). Bahamans drink the decoction
for heartburn. Costa Ricans poultice leaves onto erysipelas and splenosis.
Guatemalans place heated leaves on the breast as a lactagogue. Cubans apply
the latex to toothache. Colombians and Costa Ricans apply the latex to burns,
hemorrhoids, ringworm, and ulcers. Barbadians use the leaf tea for marasmus,
Panamanians for jaundice. Venezuelans take the root decoction for dysentery
(Morton, 1981). Seeds are used also for dropsy, gout, paralysis, and skin
ailments (Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk, 1962). Leaves are regarded as
antiparasitic, applied to scabies; rubefacient for paralysis, rheumatism; also
applied to hard tumors (Hartwell, 19671971). Latex used to dress sores and
ulcers and inflamed tongues (Perry, 1980). Seed is viewed as aperient; the
seed oil emetic, laxative, purgative, for skin ailments. Root is used in
decoction as a mouthwash for bleeding gums and toothache. Otherwise used for
eczema, ringworm, and scabies (Perry, 1980; Duke and Ayensu, 1984). We
received a letter from the Medicial Research Center of the University of the
West Indies shortly after the death of Jamacian singer Robert Morley, "I just
want you to know that this is not because of Bob Morley's illness, why I am
revealing this ... my dream was: this old lady came to me in my sleep with a
dish in her hands; she handed the dish to me filled with some nuts. I said to
her, "What were those?" She did not answer. I said to her, "PHYSIC NUTS." She
said to me, "This is the cure for cancer." We found this Jamaican dream rather
interesting. Four antitumor compounds, including jatropham and jatrophone, are
reported from other species of Jatropha (Duke and Ayensu, 1984).
Homeopathically used for cold sweats, colic, collapse, cramps, cyanosis,
diarrhea, leg cramps.
Per 100 g, the seed is reported to contain 6.6 g H2O, 18.2 g protein, 38.0 g
fat, 33.5 g total carbohydrate, 15.5 g fiber, and 4.5 g ash (Duke and Atchley,
1983). Leaves, which show antileukemic activity, contain a-amyrin,
b-sitosterol, stigmasterol, and campesterol, 7-keto-b-sitosterol,
stigmast-5-ene-3-b, 7-a-diol, and stigmast-5-ene-3 b, 7 b-diol
(Morton, 1981). Leaves contain isovitexin and vitexin. From the drug (nut?)
saccharose, raffinose, stachyose, glucose, fructose, galactose, protein, and an
oil, largely of oleic- and linoleic-acids (List and Horhammer, 19691979),
curcasin, arachidic-, linoleic-, myristic-, oleic-, palmitic-, and
stearic-acids are also reported (Perry, 1980).
The poisoning is irritant, with acute abdominal pain and nausea about 1/2 hour
following ingestion. Diarrhea and nausea continue but are not usually serious.
Depression and collapse may occur, especially in children. Two seeds are
strong purgative. Four to five seed are said to have caused death, but the
roasted seed is said to be nearly innocuous. Bark, fruit, leaf, root, and wood
are all reported to contain HCN (Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk, 1962). Seeds
contain the dangerous toxalbumin curcin, rendering them potentially fatally
Shrub or tree to 6 m, with spreading branches and stubby twigs, with a milky or
yellowish rufescent exudate. Leaves deciduous, alternate but apically crowded,
ovate, acute to acuminate, basally cordate, 3 to 5-lobed in outline, 640 cm
long, 635 cm broad, the petioles 2.57.5 cm long. Flowers several to many
in greenish cymes, yellowish, bell-shaped; sepals 5, broadly deltoid. Male
flowers many with 10 stamens, 5 united at the base only, 5 united into a
column. Female flowers borne singly, with elliptic 3-celled, triovulate ovary
with 3 spreading bifurcate stigmata. Capsules, 2.54 cm long, finally drying
and splitting into 3 valves, all or two of which commonly have an oblong black
seed, these ca 2 x 1 cm (Morton, 1977; Little et al., 1974).
Reported from the Central and South American Centers of Diversity, physic nut,
or cvs thereof, is reported to tolerate Slope. There is an endemic species in
Madagascars J. mahafalensis, with equal energetic promise. (2n =
Though native to America, the species is almost pantropical now, widely planted
as a medicinal plant which soon tends to establish itself. It is listed, e.g.,
as a weed in Brazil, Fiji, Honduras, India, Jamaica, Panama, Puerto Rico, and
Salvador (Holm et al, 1979).
Ranging from Tropical Very Dry to Moist through Subtropical Thorn to Wet Forest
Life Zones, physic nut is reported to tolerate annual precipitation of 4.8 to
23.8 dm (mean of 60 cases = 14.3) and annual temperature of 18.0 to 28.5°C
(mean of 45 cases = 25.2).
Grows readily, from cuttings or seeds. Cuttings strike root so easily that the
plant can be used as an energy-producing living fence post.
For medicinal purposes, the seeds are harvested as needed. For energy
purposes, seeds might be harvested all at once, the active medicinal compounds
might be extracted from the seed, before or after the oil, leaving the oil cake
for biomass or manure.
According to Gaydou et al (1982), seed yields approach 68 MT/ha with ca 37%
oil. They calculate that such yields could produce the equivalent of
2,1002,800 liters fuel oil/ha (see table under Energy). In Madagascar, they
have ca 10,000 ha of purging nut, each producing ca 24 hl oil/ha for a
potential production of 240,000 hl (Gaydou, et al, 1982).
The clear oil expressed from the seed has been used for illumination and
lubricating, and more recently has been suggested for energetic purposes, one
ton of nuts yielding 70 kg refined petroleum, 40 kg "gasoil leger" (light fuel
oil), 40 kg regular fuel oil, 34 kg dry tar/pitch/rosin, 270 kg coke-like char,
and 200 kg ammoniacal water, natural gas, creosote, etc. In a startling study,
Gaydou et al. (1982) compare several possible energy species with potential to
grow in Malagasy. Oil palm was considered energetically most promising.
Agriculture Handbook No. 165 lists the following as affecting Jatropha
curcas: Clitocybe tabescens (root rot), Colletotrichum
gloeosporioides (leaf spot), and Phakopsora jatrophicola (rust).
| ||Crop production |
|Fuel production |
|Energetic equivalent |
|Elaeis guineensis ||1820 ||3,6004,000 ||33,90037,700 |
|Jatropha curcas ||68 ||2,1002,800 ||19,80026,400 |
|Aleurites fordii ||46 ||1,8002,700 ||17,00025,500 |
|Saccharum officinarum ||35 ||2,450 ||16,000 |
|Ricinus communis ||35 ||1,2002,000 ||11,30018,900 |
|Manihot eaculenta ||6 ||1,020 ||6,600 |
Complete list of references for Duke, Handbook of Energy Crops
- Agaceta, L.M., Dumag, P.U., and Batolos, J.A. 1981. Studies on the control of
snail vectors of fascioliasis: Molluscicidal activity of some indigenous
plants. In: Bureau of Animal Industry, Manila, Philippines, NSDB Technology
Journal: Abstracts on Tropical Agriculture 7. 38008; 6: 2: 3034.
- Agriculture Handbook 165. 1960. Index of plant diseases in the United States.
- Duke, J.A. and Atchley, A.A. 1984. Proximate analysis. In: Christie, B.R.
(ed.), The handbook of plant science in agriculture. CRC Press, Inc., Boca
- Duke, J.A. and Ayensu, E.S. 1985. Medicinal plants of China. Reference
Publications, Inc. Algonac, MI.
- Duke, J.A. and Wain, K.K. 1981. Medicinal plants of the world. Computer index
with more than 85,000 entries. 3 vols.
- Gaydou, A.M., Menet, L., Ravelojaona, G., and Geneste, P. 1982. Vegetable
energy sources in Madagascar: ethyl alcohol and oil seeds (French). Oleagineux
- Holm, L.G., Pancho, J.V., Herberger, J.P., and Plucknett, D.L. 1979. A
geographical atlas of world weeds. John Wiley & Sons, New York.
- List, P.H. and Horhammer, L. 19691979. Hager's handbuch der pharmazeutischen
praxis. vols 26. Springer-Verlag, Berlin.
- Little, E.L., Jr., Woodbury, R.O., and Wadsworth, F.H. 1974. Trees of Puerto
Rico and the Virgin Islands, vol. 2. Ag. Handbook 449. USDA, Washington, DC.
- Mitchell, J.C. and Rook, A. 1979. Botanical dermatology. Greenglass Ltd.,
- Morton, J.F. 1977. Major medicinal plants. C.C. Thomas, Springfield, IL.
- Morton, J.F. 1981. Atlas of medicinal plants of middle America. Bahamas to
Yucatan. C.C. Thomas, Springfield, IL.
- Ochse, J.J. 1931. Vegetables of the Dutch East Indies. Reprinted 1980. A. Asher
& Co., B.V. Amsterdam.
- Perry, L.M. 1980. Medicinal plants of east and southeast Asia. MIT Press,
- Tewari, J.P. and Shukla, I.K. 1982. Inhibition of infectivity of 2 strains of
watermelon mosaic virus by latex of some angiosperms. Geobios. Jodhpur, India.
- Watt, J.M. and Breyer-Brandwijk, M.G. 1962. The medicinal and poisonous plants
of southern and eastern Africa. 2nd ed. E.&S. Livingstone, Ltd., Edinburgh
Last update Wednesday, January 7, 1998 by aw