Cryptolepis sanguinolenta Lindl. Schltr. (Periplocaceae) is a scrambling shrub native to West Africa (Figure 8.1). The genus Cryptolepis R.Br. includes about 20 species found mainly in tropical Africa and in Southeast Asia (Mendes and Jensen, 1984). In some literature, members of the family Periplocaceae are included in the family Asclepiadaceae. This explains why some texts assign C. sanguinolenta to the latter family.

Cryptolepis sinensis Lour. Merr. and Cryptolepis buchanani Roem. Shult. grow in parts of Southeast Asia. C. sinensis is used externally as a treatment for snake bites and scabies. The fruits and roots of C. buchanani are used to treat chills and edema (Ping-tao et al., 1995). Mendes and Jensen (1984) indicate that the aqueous extract of the roots of Cryptolepis obtusa N.E.Br. is used in Mozambique to relieve abdominal pains.

In Ghana C. sanguinolenta is found mainly on the slopes of the Akwapim and Kwahu mountain ranges. The extract of the roots of this plant has been used traditionally by some ethnic groups in the eastern region of Ghana for the treatment of fevers, urinary and upper respiratory tract infections, and thrush. It is also taken as a panacea (Boye, 2002) and a diuretic (Sam, 2002). The average adult dose prescribed by the herbalist is a cupful (about 150 ml) up to three times daily. More liberal amounts are taken when it serves as a panacea. This is thought to suggest that the extract is relatively safe. Collection of the roots of the wild, mature plant is done all year round (Boye, 2002). Some cultivation of the shrub is now done to meet an increased demand for the roots.

C. sanguinolenta was introduced to the Center for Scientific Research into Plant Medicine (CSRPM) in 1974. Decoctions of the roots of this plant have since then been used as an effective treatment for malaria and some bacterial infections (Boye and Ampofo, 1983). At the center, the decoction is prepared by boiling 3 parts of powdered root in 100 parts water (Sam, 2002).

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FIGURE 8.1 C. sanguinolenta. (Copyright 2002, Jonathan Addae-Kyereme.)


According to Sarpong (1983), the leaves of C. sanguinolenta are thinly herbaceous and elliptic oblong to ovate or lanceolate in shape. Margins of the leaves are entire and apices curved and acuminate. They have symmetrical and obtuse or rounded bases. The texture of the leaf is described as glabrous and papery. It is odourless and has a slightly bitter taste. The flowers are small and yellow in colour (Figure 8.2). Seeds are small and flat (Amponsah et al., 2002). A transverse section through the stem reveals a narrow region of cork. The xylem is porous, has a yellow colour, and surrounds a central pith. The roots of the plant are tortuous and branched with a yellowish brown outer surface. A section through the root shows thin-walled rectangular cork cells containing yellowish brown material. A significant portion of the root is made up of thin-walled, irregularly shaped parenchymatous cells that are filled with starch grains (Sarpong, 1983).


C. sanguinolenta is propagated either by the seeds or by root cuttings (Amponsah et al., 2002). To facilitate harvesting of the roots, the plant is best grown on mounds or on raised ridges. Harvesting begins when the shrub is about a year old. Limiting root collection to about a third at a time ensures that plant growth is not disrupted.


Sarpong (1983) has determined that the leaves, stems, and roots of C. sanguinolenta contain approximately 1, 0.5, and 0.5% of alkaloids, respectively. The major alkaloid was found to be cryptolepine, an N-methyl derivative of the indoloquinoline compound quindoline (Figure 8.3). Cryptolepine was first isolated from Cryptolepis triangularis by Clinquart in 1929. Dwuma-Badu et al. (1978) subsequently isolated both cryptolepine and quindoline from the roots of C. sanguinolenta.

FIGURE 8.2 C. sanguinolenta. (Copyright 2002, Jonathan Addae-Kyereme.)

Other alkaloids that have been isolated from C. sanguinolenta include cryptospirolepine, a spirononacyclic compound (Tackie et al., 1993); cryptolepicarboline, a dimer of b-carboline and an indoloquinoline (Sharaf et al., 1994); and the indolobenzazepinone homocryptolepinone (Sharaf et al., 1995).

Paulo et al. (2000) have reported the presence in the leaves of C. sanguinolenta of cryptolepinoic acid, methyl cryptolepinoate, hydroxycryptolepine, and the indolobenzazepine alkaloid cryptohep-tine. An earlier study had found hydroxycryptolepine and cryptoheptine also in the roots of C. sanguinolenta (Paulo et al., 1995). Neocryptolepine (an isomer of cryptolepine) and biscryptolepine (a cryptolepine dimer) have been isolated from the roots of C. sanguinolenta (Cimanga et al., 1996).

Fort and coworkers (1998) have isolated cryptolepinone from C. sanguinolenta. They concluded from its synthesis and from spectroscopic studies that it is the keto form of hydroxycryptolepine and further state that cryptolepinone is an oxidation artifact of cryptolepine extraction. Isocryptol-epine is another isomer of cryptolepine that is found in C. sanguinolenta (Grellier et al., 1996).

Cryptosanguinolentine and cryptotackieine have been isolated from the roots of C. sanguinolenta and their structures elucidated by Sharaf et al. (1996a) (Figure 8.3). These alkaloids have structures identical to isocryptolepine and neocryptolepine, respectively. Cryptomisrine is one of the dimeric alkaloids from the roots of C. sanguinolenta (Sharaf et al., 1996b).

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