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Nigeria’s medicinal plants: Cissus populnea (Afato)

The Punch logo The Punch 01/08/2021 The Punch
Published 1 August 2021

just discovered something that thrilled me and I will like to share it with you all. Over the week, we cut a male pawpaw tree in our compound. I never knew that pawpaw roots smell like pawpaw until the root was uprooted. A phytonutrient may be responsible for the smell. Nature is so interesting.

Men who patronise paraga (alcohol-laced herbs) sellers are familiar with the slimy concoction called ‘Afato.’ It is made with Cissus populnea plant and that is the plant I will be discussing. It is nature’s sperm booster and it is also good for women’s ovaries and uterus. Let us enjoy the ride together.

While I was preparing this article, I stumbled on an interview by Dr Ibrahim Lawal of the Bio-Medicinal Research Centre, Forestry Research Institute of Nigeria. He talked extensively on Cissus populnea. He mentioned that it is the stem that is used for treating infertility and that it (the stem) should be soaked for three days and it should be left for another 24 hours. Then it can be taken for seven days before another is prepared. He however warned that it should be soaked with water and not alcohol when using it to treat infertility. The plant, Cissus populnea, belongs to the family Amplidaceae. It is commonly known as ‘Okoho’ by the Idoma and Igala tribes of Nigeria. It is known as Ajara’ or ‘Orogbolo’ in Yoruba. People are familiar with the name “Afato”, so I will like to stick to it.

Cissus populnea is a plant associated with a myriad of medicinal uses in different parts of the world and it is a good source of carotenoids, triterpenoids and ascorbic acid. It contains active phytochemicals like tannins, glycosides, flavonoids, carotenoids, anthraquinones and vitamin C. It has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It is a tropical medicinal plant used to correct male infertility factors in the South-West. The plant is also called food gum and used as soup thickener. It is widely used as medicine for the treatment of venereal diseases and indigestion. It has antimicrobial activities which may cure many sexually transmitted infections that could be responsible for male infertility. It is used as diuretic in the Benin Republic. Extracts from the root of the plant have been used for the treatment of skin disease, boils, infected wounds and for treating urinary tract infections, thus suggesting antibacterial activity.

A soup made from the stick which is slimy after preparation is the main traditional food peculiar to the Idoma people of Benue State. It is usually prepared with bush meat (such as grass-cutter, alligator and smoked meat etc.) and best served with pounded yam. It can also be eaten with semolina, eba and yam flour. This soup is usually prepared without the use of oil. It is the most respected and demanded food in all Idoma events such as; traditional weddings, burial ceremonies, birthdays and other festivities. The soup is highly medicinal and also known for its ability to aid digestion. The fruits are edible in soups. Ethno-medicinal uses include treatment of sore breast, indigestion, venereal diseases, intestinal parasites, oedema and eye problems resulting from attack of black cobra.

The root has been used traditionally in the management of sickle cell disease. The plant is also used as a cathartic, aphrodisiac and antidote to arrow wounds. The stem bark has been reported to contain carbohydrates, tannins, cyanogenic glycosides, anthraquinones and flavonoids. It is used in the management of infertility in males and also used to treat respiratory issues, ulcers, mouth sores, inflamed gum and sore throat.

Its extracts have been credited with antibacterial properties, as an anti-trypanosomal plant and a source of gum powder. It is a component of a herbal anti-sickling Nigerian formula. In Benin Republic, it is used for its diuretic properties while in Ghana, it is used as a post-harvest ethnobotanical protectant. The aqueous extract of its stem bark is associated with aphrodisiac/fertility potential among the Yoruba-speaking people of South-West. The use of C. populnea as an aphrodisiac and fertility enhancer among the males has been attributed to the declining fertility trend that has been established in this population over the years coupled with the attendant increasing levels of erectile dysfunction.

In a study titled, “Nutritional and Phytochemical Content of Cissus populnea (Okoho) Stem Bark,’’ by Achikanu et al, the results indicate that the stem bark of Cissus populnea is a good source of food nutrients and phytochemicals. These phytochemicals may be responsible for the medicinal properties of the plant. The assessment of the spermatogenic effects of aqueous extract of Cissus populnea stem bark was done in a study titled, “Study of the Aqueous Extract as Potential Spermatogenic Enhancers in Male Wistar Rat,’’ by Ojekale, the oral administration of C. populnea extract over a 64-day period to male wistar rats resulted in a four-fold increase in sperm count in the test rats (145±55) compared with the control group (44±17).Testicular histology shows better packed spermatozoa in a group of rats treated with Cissus populnea. The findings show that oral administration of Cissus populnea aqueous extract improves spermatogenesis in male wistar rats.

A study titled, “Effects of Aqueous Extract of Cissus populnea Stem on Function Indices of the Ovary and Uterus of Female Wistar Rats,’’ by Salimon et al concluded that the aqueous extract of C. populnea stem at 18, 36 and 72 mg/kg body weight could promote the normal functioning of the ovary and uterus and maintain the integrity of the histoarchitecture of these organs in the female rats. One of the causes of male infertility factor is venereal diseases, Cissus populnea and Sesamum radiatum are two tropical medicinal plants used to correct male infertility factor. In a study titled, “Assessment of Antimicrobial Activity of the Essential Oil from the Stem Powder of Cissus populnea and the Leaves of Sesamum radiatum, Herbal Medications for Male Infertility Factor,’’ by Osibote et al, whose aim was to extract the essential oil from the stem powder of C. populnea and the leaves of S. radiatum and screen them for antimicrobial activity, the results confirmed the antimicrobial properties of the essential oil from the two plants. Hence, these plants may correct male infertility factors arising from bacterial infection. In another study titled, “Anti-sickling Activity of the Fresh and Dried Roots of Cissus populnea,’’ by Adebayo et al, the study provided scientific evidence for the traditional use of CP (Cissus populnea) in the management of sickle cell disease.

If you find it irritating to ingest such slimy substances, you can blend the slimy water with fruits. It can be made into soups the way you cook ogbono. Women are not left out since it has been proven scientifically to be good for ovaries and uteruses. Cissuss populnea is slippery like a man’s sperm and is also a potent sperm booster, yet, modern medicine rejects the doctrine of signatures even with all these winks and nods from Mother Nature herself. This baffles me.

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