Poison berry is very closely related to Arcangelisia flava, with which it is sometimes confused[
]. The two plants, however, can easily be distinguished. The domatia in the leaves of Anamirta cocculus are hairy patches while in Arcangelisia flava they are hollow with the margin of the aperture hairy[
]. Besides, Anamirta cocculus has white wood while Arcangelisia flava has yellow wood[
Anamirta baueriana Endl.
Anamirta jucunda Miers
Anamirta paniculata Colebr.
Anamirta populifolia (DC.) Miers
Anamirta racemosa Colebr. ex Steud.
Anamirta toxifera Miers
Cocculus indicus Royle
Cocculus lacunosus DC.
Cocculus populifolius DC.
Cocculus suberosus DC.
Menispermum cocculiferum Stokes
Menispermum cocculus L.
Menispermum heteroclitum Roxb.
Menispermum lacunosum Lam.
Menispermum monadelphum Roxb. ex Wight & Arn.
Menispermum populifolium Spreng.
Tinospora lacunosus Miers
Common Name: Poison Berry
Poison berry is a large, dioecious climbing plant, with stems up to 15 metres long. These stems scramble over the ground and twine into other plants for support, the stems twining to the left[
The plant is not usually cultivated, but is often harvested from the wild for its medicinal uses[
The seed, when taken internally, is a powerful poison for all vertebrates affecting the central nervous system, stimulating the motor and inhibitory centres in the medulla, especially the respiratory and vagus centres, acting on the heart and respiration[
]. It also irritates motor centres, either in the cerebrum or in the medulla and cord, producing in all vertebrates alternating epileptiform spasms, with periodic stoppage of the motions of the diaphragm and slowness of the pulse[
]. The poisoning causes vomiting, purging, profuse sweating and intoxication, with extreme giddiness, dimness of vision and unconsciousness[
]. Breathing and the pulse become weak. The poisoning also results in chronic convulsions; during spasms and intervals of relaxations the pupils correspondingly contract or dilate[
]. Death occurs rapidly from respiration failure, or slowly from gastro-intestinal symptoms[
E. Asia - Indian subcontinent, Thailand, Indonesia to the Philippines and New Guinea.
Occurs naturally in forest and forest fringes, in thickets, on river banks, near streams, in savannah, at elevations up to 400 metres[
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A plant of the lowland tropics. It prefers a seasonal climate[
The plant grows best on volcanic basalt, limestone, calcareous rocks and sandy soils[
The dried fruits have long been exported from India to the Near East and Europe[
]. They were known to the physicians of the Arabic schools from the tenth century, and in the following centuries passed on to Europe, obtaining the name 'cocci orientalis'[
The plant often bears flowers in abundance, the fragrant smell can be detected by people from 50 metres away[
]. Pollination is probably effected by insects which are attracted by the scent of the flowers[
In the past the fruit was sometimes used fraudulently in the United Kingdom to flavour beers with its bitterness[
]. An extremely unsafe practice considering the toxicity of the fruit![
Poison berry is a very toxic plant and its medicinal use should only be carried out by competent practitioners.
The plant has a wide range of traditional herbal uses and its fruits are officially listed in the Pharmacopoeias of various countries[
]. The fruit, and especially the seed, contain picrotoxin, a very strong poison. Picrotoxin has been used intravenously as an antidote against poisoning by barbiturates and morphine[
]. However, the safe therapeutic dose range is very narrow[
]. Picrotoxin has also been used in very minute doses as a nervine tonic in schizophrenia and epilepsy and similar afflictions[
The fruits contain about 1.5% picrotoxin, which is also known as cocculin. On a biochemical level, picrotoxin (or more precisely its active constituent, picrotoxinin) act as GABA (gamma-amino butyric acid) antagonists. It stimulates the central nervous system, particularly the medulla oblongata and respiratory centre[
Administration of picrotoxin via the vertebral artery decreased sinus rate and increased circulating levels of vasopressin[
]. On the other hand, infusion of picrotoxin into the internal carotid artery caused increases in sinus rate, blood pressure and plasma vasopressin[
Picrotoxin can be used as a specific barbiturate poisoning antagonist, although its safety limits are very narrow[
]. The fruits also contain a number of isoquinoline alkaloids, whilst the stem and roots contain only small amounts (about 0.1%) of alkaloids. In general, the alkaloids isolated have antibacterial, antimicrobial, and antifertility activities[
An infusion of the roots is used to treat fevers, dyspepsia and menstrual problems[
An extract of the stem is added to native wine and is drunk to make the blood strong[
The leaves may be used as a poultice for headache, stomach-ache or delayed menstruation[
The dried fruits constitute the drug known as 'cocculus' or 'cocculus indicus'. The fruit is used in very small doses to treat eruptive fevers, whilst the powdered fruit is used to treat acute barbiturate poisoning[
Applied externally, the fruits and seeds are made into an ointment to treat skin diseases. The seeds are also applied to the scalp to kill head lice[
]. The juice of the fruits is applied externally to ulcers and scabies[
The fruits are an ingredient of many homeopathic formulations[
The bast-fibres are used for basketry rope and belt making[
The poisonous fruit can be used as an insecticide[