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  • Botanical: Acokanthera schimperi
  • Family: Apocynaceae
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Acokanthera schimperi



Known as


Parts Used

bark, roots, wood


Much-branched, evergreen tree, sometimes a shrub, up to 9(–10) m tall, with short trunk; bark brown, soft; crown dense, rounded; young branches glabrous or hairy, conspicuously angled and ribbed.

Leaves decussately opposite, simple and entire; stipules absent; petiole 1–6(–9) mm long; blade elliptical to ovate or broadly ovate, 2–10 cm × 1.5–6.5 cm, base cuneate or rounded, apex acute, obtuse or rounded, with hard mucro, leathery, glossy, glabrous or shortly hairy, pinnately veined, lateral veins obscure, with looping connections.

Flowers bisexual, regular, 5-merous, fragrant; sepals free, ovate to lanceolate, (1–)1.5 –2.5 mm long, apex acuminate to acute, shortly hairy or glabrous outside, ciliate; corolla tube cylindrical, 8–12.5 mm long, glabrous or shortly hairy outside, inside sparsely hairy in the upper half and wrinkled below, pink or red, lobes ovate, 2.5–5 mm long, apex acute, glabrous above, glabrous to shortly hairy below, ciliate, white; stamens inserted at 7–10 mm from the base of the corolla tube, slightly exserted; ovary superior, ellipsoid, 2-celled, style slender, 7–10 mm long, stigma minutely bifid.

Fruit an ellipsoid berry 1–2.5 cm long, purple when ripe, pulp green to deep red, 1–2-seeded.

Seeds ellipsoid, plano-convex, 6–13 mm long, smooth, glabrous.

Properties & Uses

Acokanthera species are among the most commonly used plant species for the preparation of poison in East Africa. It is either used on its own or mixed with other plant or animal parts. The bark, wood and roots are the usual ingredients for arrow poison, and they are also used for suicide and homicide. The only treatment against the poison is immediate excision of the flesh around the wound, or sucking the blood from the wound. The poison is also used in killing wild animals and stray dogs from fields and homes.

In Ethiopia the leaves and bark are applied to the skin to treat skin disorders, and an infusion of the leaves is gargled to treat tonsillitis. Dried pulverized leaves with honey are taken as an antifertility medicine.

In Kenya Samburu women drink a bark decoction when their menstruation does not stop. In Kenya and Tanzania a hot infusion of the pounded root is drunk in small quantities to treat sexually transmitted diseases, and also as an aphrodisiac.

In Uganda a leaf decoction is given to cattle that have a cold. A mixture made from the leaves, bark and butter is used for gall-bladder problems. The smoke of dried roots and twigs is insect repellent; too much smoke is harmful for humans as well. The fruits are edible and an important famine food. They are sweet and slightly bitter when fully ripe. They are also used to make jams. The unripe fruits and seeds are highly poisonous, and several cases of accidental poisoning of children have been recorded. The latex in the fruits is used as chewing gum by children. The wood is very hard and compact and branches are used in making spear shafts. In Uganda, it is used as firewood and to make charcoal. Acokanthera schimperi serves as an ornamental, shade or live fence tree in parks or around houses.


highly cardiotoxic


Acokanthera schimperi occurs from Eritrea south to Tanzania and west to Uganda, Rwanda and eastern DR Congo. It is also found in southern Yemen.


cardiac glycosides (cardenolides) - are responsible for the activity as arrow poison, but also act as cardiac stimulant.

The main compounds are acovenoside A (0.3–1.8%), with acovenosigenin as aglycone, followed by ouabain (0.1–5%) with ouabagenin as aglycone, and traces of acolongifloroside K.


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For educational purposes only This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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