Herbs & Plants: Leonotis nepetifolia – ‘A Lion ear’

In traditional medicine, the plant is used to treat a number of diseases like bronchial asthma, fever, influenza, cough, as well as treatment of epilepsy.

Medicinal plants are a huge element of the indigenous medical systems. Leonotis nepetifolia (Family Lamiaceae) is one of such medicinal plant species with significant medicinal values. It is commonly known as ‘Lion ear’ or ‘Christmas candlestick’ and is a shrub that originated from tropical Africa and now spread in many tropical regions worldwide. It is an erect annual herb that can grow up to 2.5 m in height.

The stem is unbranched at the base and loosely branched towards the apex with strongly angled stems having appressed retrorse hairs that are longer at the nodes. Leaves are smooth with toothed margin, ovate, lobed, acute, and winged in the upper part. Inflorescence comprises axillary dense, globose many-flowered verticillasters.

The flowers are orange, borne in spiny clusters, the floral leaves are lanceolate and deflexed, bracts are linear, highly spinous-pointed, and deflexed. The calyxes are tubular, incurved, hairy with 8-9 sharp pointed teeth. The plant typically has a bilabiate corolla, which is orange-scarlet. The stamens are four and didynamous. The ovary has four lobes and the fruit contains four nutlets and ovoid.

In traditional medicine, Leonotis nepetifolia is used to treat and/or manage a number of disease conditions and disorders including bronchial asthma, fever, influenza, cough, womb prolapse, analgesia, burns, breast swelling, ringworm, scalds, malaria, and rheumatic pain. In some communities, the plant is used in the treatment of epilepsy.

The whole Leonotis nepetifolia plant is powdered and decoctions made from it are used in the treatment of malaria. Similarly, the leaf infusion is also used to treat malaria in some parts of Africa. It has been used in the treatment of diarrhea and other digestive system disorders in various communities along its distribution range. In addition, the decoction made from the whole Leonotis nepetifolia plant can be orally administered for the treatment of stomach-ache and dysentery.

The stem, leaves, and flowers of Leonotis nepetifolia are used in the treatment of asthma. The ash made from burning the whole plant of Leonotis nepetifolia is externally applied to treat paralysis. The ash of the whole plant mixed with mustard oil on external application relieves breast pain during the post-natal period and pain due to swelling anywhere in the body including joint pain. Decoction of the stem, leaf and flowers is administered for jaundice.

The whole plant is used for regulating the menstrual cycle as well as diarrhoea. The paste made from the whole plant is applied for the treatment of joint pain. Similarly, the infusion of Leonotis nepetifolia is drunk and rubbed to treat backache. The plant is boiled in mustard oil and used to manage waist pain.

The decoction is given orally for relieving joint pains. The decoction of the leaves is used to treat burns and skin ailments. The ash from the leaves of Leonotis nepetifolia is used to treat stomach infections. The paste made from the leaves is applied externally to treat eczema conditions. Crushed leaves of the plant are rubbed gently on the affected part to alleviate the burning sensation due to the scorpion sting.

The leaf paste of the plant is applied locally to cure joint pains and back pain. In some communities, the roots are used to treat vomiting in pregnant women. The decoction of flowers and seeds are used to treat burns and skin ailments.

The powdered flower of Leonotis nepetifolia added in porridge or tea is utilized in the treatment of diarrhoea. The seed, flower and inflorescence (ash and paste) are used as an external application for burns. The application of the paste of inflorescence mixed with groundnut oil is used for wound healing. The paste of the inflorescence fried in ghee is administered for treating cough.

The juice of the flower mixed with sugar is drunk for the treatment of night blindness. The nectar from the flowers tastes sweet and is often eaten as food. The therapeutic potency of Leonotis nepetifolia may be attributed to the phytochemicals contained in it, including alkaloids, tannins, saponins, flavonoids, steroids, and terpenoids.

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