Bellyache bush (Jatropha gossypifolia
) is an erect, highly toxic, annual woody tropical or sub-tropical perennial. It is considered an invasive weed in many areas. J. gossypifolia
looks similar to the castor oil and physic nut plants. It has leaf stalks covered with coarse dark brown hairs and the young leaves are sticky. It produces purple flowers and capsular fruits which contain three tiny brown seeds. There is a large variation in flower color.
Many cultures use parts of J. gossypifolia
in medicinal attributes. In Peru the leaves and latex are used to treat abscesses, tonsillitis, asthma, diarrhea, toothache, fever, gingivitis, fungal skin infections, inflammations, burns and coughs. The leaves are boiled up and used as a bath for fever and the leaves are used as a purgative in Jamaica. Roots of J. gossypifolia
have been used for treatment of leprosy.
Most parts of J. gossypifolia
contain toxins of various concentrations; however the seeds are the most toxic. Ingestion of just one seed can be lethal to an average sized adult horse. The main toxins include purgative oil and curcin, which is found mainly in the seeds and also in the fruit and sap. Curcin is similar to ricin, the toxic protein of castor oil plant (Ricinus communis)
. Once released, protein toxins (toxalbumins) inhibit the function of ribosomes, which are the subcellular organelle responsible for protein synthesis. Once the toxins are absorbed into the blood stream, rapid multi-system organ failure follows close behind.
The latex sap from J. gossypiifolia
can cause contact dermatitis