Rauvolfia Serpentine Supplement Review
Serpentina or Serpentine plant is a perennial (always growing) undershrub (low-growing) widely used in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Burma, and Thailand. as a medicinal plant. It is widely cultivated in many parts of the India. It is one of the 50 fundamental herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine.
Scientific names: Justicia and Andrographis paniculata
There are many names for this herb. It is also called by both names, Justicia Paniculata and Andrographis Paniculata. In the USA, it’s common to refer to it as “King of Bitters,” Green chirayta, or Creat.
However, there is another version of the plant that is mostly cultivated in the rest of Asia. Although the Indian snake root or Sarpagandha is most popular in India, in the rest of Asia, Serpentine or Serpentina variaty is also known and called by these names:
Cambodia – Smau pramat manuss (Khmer)
China – Chuan Xin Lian (穿心蓮)
India & Pakistan – Chirota (চিরতা in Bengali) or कीरायत (Punjabi)
Indonesia – Sambiloto, sambiroto
Malaysia – Hempedu Bumi, Akar Cerita
Philippines (Tagalog) – Aluy, Likha, Sinta, Serpentina
Thailand – Fa Thalai Chon (ฟ้าทะลายโจร)
Vietnamese – Xuyên Tâm Liên
Rauvolfia serpentina, or Indian snakeroot is an evergreen (remains green all year) herb, native to the Indian subcontinent and East Asia (from India to Indonesia). It’s also known as Chandrabhaga in Hindi, Sarpaghandha in Tamil, Lu fu mu in Chinese, and commonly known as devil pepper and snakeroot in English.
It’s an erect undershrub that grows up to 60 cm. height, with a tuberous root. The leaves are generally found in whorls of three and are of bright green color on the above and of pale green color on the below. The base of the leaves is slender and tapering in nature. The petioles of this plant are long.
The flowers are white and at times color violet with a bright red calyx. The corolla is usually longer than the calyx. Drupes of this plant are slightly connate, ovoid and are of purplish black color. The flowering period of this plant is March to May in India.
Known traditional benefits
Analgesic – Helps manage pain
Anti-inflammatory – Reduces and controls swelling
Antibacterial – Reduces diarrhea or bacterial infection in the body
Antimalarial – Helps prevent parasite infection and multiplication in the blood stream
Antihepatotoxic and Hepatoprotective – Protects liver and gall bladder
Antipyretic – Reduces fever
Antithrombotic – Blood clot prevention, helps prevent heart attack
Antiviral – Inhibits viral activity including HIV*
Antioxidant – Fights free radicals
Canceolytic – Fights cancer
Cardioprotective – Protects heart muscles
Choleretic – Increases the flow of bile
Depurative – Cleans the system and particularly the blood streams
Expectorant – Releases mucus in the respiratory system
Hypoglycemic – Lowers blood sugar and protect againts diabetis
Immunity – Help increase overall immune system
Vermicidal – Kills intestinal worms
Growing, cultivation, and propagation
This herbal plant is easy to grow. Anyone can adopt seed germination, root cutting, stem cuttings (hard wooded stem). It does not require special care and can be watered at any time. You can plant it directly in any soil bed, as well as any sandy or rocky soil will do, preferably directly exposed to the sun.
Serpentine is said to have been used for more than a thousand years in India. It is said that Alexander the Great used administered Serpentine to cure his general Ptolemy I Soter of a poisoned arrow. Mahatma Gandhi regularly took it as a tranquilizer during his lifetime. The plant contains reserpine, which was used as a pharmaceutical drug in Western medicine from 1954 to 1957 to treat high blood pressure and mental disorders including schizophrenia. (Source: EOL)
This sarpagandha plant contains more than 50 different alkaloids. Out of 50 alkaloids, major alkaloids present are ajmaline, ajmalicine, indobine, indobinine, ajmalimine, serpentine, serpentinine deserpidine, reserpine, reserpiline, rescinnamine, rescinnamidine, and yohimbine.
Reserpine is the most useful alkaloid of this plant. The concentration of alkaloid may vary depending upon the location from where the plant is collected. The variation may be from 1.7 % to 3 %. About 90 percent of these alkaloids are found in the tuberous roots of this plant.
The Indian physician Rustom Jal Vakil is considered responsible for introducing Rauwolfia to Western medicine. He collected data on patients treated with Rauwolfia for 10 years, from 1939 to 1949. In 1949, he published a watershed paper on the antihypertensive properties of serpentina in the British Medical Journal.
Hypertension and blood pressure
He presented his detailed results from treating 50 patients who had high blood pressure with the root of Rauwolfia. The results were remarkable and significant. By 1949, more than 90% of Indian physicians were using Rauwolfia in the treatment of high blood pressure. After Vakil’s original paper, more than 100 scientific articles were published throughout the world. (Source: Rauwolfia in the Treatment of Hypertension)
Rauwolfia serpentina is a safe and effective treatment for hypertension says Douglas Lobay, a Naturopathic physician. It is also said to help alleviate high blood pressure.
Rauwolfia has been used for mental diseases, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, epilepsy and seizures, and of insomnia and sleep problems. It has been studied as a treatment for autistic children between the ages of 3.5 and 9 years.
Another study found it to be effective in the treatment of delirium tremens in alcohol and drug addicted patients. The researchers in that study observed a noted decrease in agitation, excitement, and acute hallucinatory episodes.
According to the Thammasat Journal (Thailand), Serpentine has a cholinesterase inhibitors component that can be used in the treatment of memory impairment diseases. Rauwolfia Serpentine is widely used in Thai traditional anti-rejuvenating and neurotonic remedies (improves the tone or force of the nervous system) to potentiate hypnotic and tranquil effects.
Migraine and skin diseases
One study found that Rauwolfia treated migraine headaches effectively, with a noted improvement in the quality of life and a decrease in pain. Rauwolfia is also said to improve psychogenic dermatosis and psoriatic outbreaks.
Other medicinal uses
It is commonly used in Thailand as cough remedy while as an immune booster in the Philippines.
American Cancer Society
According to ACS, “available scientific evidence does not support claims that Indian snakeroot is effective in treating cancer, liver disease, or mental illness. It also has many dangerous side effects and is likely to increase the risk of cancer.
However, according to NCBI, ‘Reserpine’ as one of the major alkaloids of this plant does not appear to have a correlation with cancer. No increased risk of birth defects has been shown in female humans who consumed reserpine at any time during their pregnancy. No mutagenic, genotoxic, or recombinogenic effects of reserpine have been demonstrated.
Itegrative Medicine (USA)
Adverse side effects of reserpine include lethargy, sedation, psychiatric depression, hypotension, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping, gastric ulceration, nightmares, bradycardia, angina-like symptoms, bronchospasm, skin rash, itching, galactorrhea, breast enlargement, sexual dysfunction, and withdrawal psychosis in 1 case.
The most common side effect noted in all patients was nasal congestion, occurring in 5% to 15% of all patients. After several months of use, mental depression can occur and may persist. With extremely large doses, Parkinson-like symptoms, extrapyramidal reactions, and convulsions can occur. Allergic reactions to Rauwolfia, including asthma, are rare.
Dosage and caution
The total daily dose of Rauwolfia should be lower than 500 mg of root and, in most cases, can be less than 250 mg per day. The chopped fresh leaves can be swallowed (not chewed) or placed in a food grade capsule to avoid the bitter taste. It can also be dried but taking it fresh with the leaves enzyme is more potent.
There have been unverified reports of damage to the liver or kidney for those who took an overdose of the herb.
 eFloras. “Rauvolfia serpentina”. Flora of China. Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO & Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA. Retrieved 9 April 2012.
Oudhia, P. and Tripathi, R.S. (2002). Identification, cultivation and export of important medicinal plants. In Proc. National Seminar on Horticulture Development in Chhattisgarh: Vision and Vistas. Indira Gandhi Agricultural University, Raipur (India) 21-23 Jan. 2002:78-85.