Pharmacognosy of Chitraka (Plumbago zeylanica)

Chitraka (Plumbago zeylanica)
By Dr. Hemant Vinze M. S.

Many experts in Ayurvedic System of medicine are not enthused with this wonder medicine, Chitraka (Plumbago zeylanica). They are not even aware of its pleiotropic pharmacological activity compared to some other Ayurvedic herbal stars. Well! Let not this obliviousness fool you!! Chitraka (Plumbago zeylanica) has withstood the test of time in Ayurvedic pharmacopoeia, especially as a digestant and is a powerful ally to many herbs in digestive formulations. Rightly so as Ayurveda recognizes that health begins in the digestive system.
Growing in abundance in the wild in any type of soil, its delicate white flowers and beautiful, gorgeous, lustrous green foliage had enticed many passers-by. This led the garden lovers and botanists to cultivate and domesticate Chitraka (Plumbago zeylanica) in gardens and indoor flower pots.
Chitraka (Plumbago zeylanica) may seem gentle or fragile in nature. Its appearance hides a much different personality as there is nothing ‘gentle’ or ‘delicate’ or ‘fragile’ about Chitraka’s (Plumbago zeylanica) herbal strength. In fact it is quite hardy when cultivated in gardens and flower pots and has a pretty   ‘fiery attitude’ as a medicine.
Chitraka meaning “spotted one” in Sanskrit is reminiscent of the spotted leopard and alludes the speedy medicinal activity of the plant, similar to the speedy power of chase of the spotted leopard to destroy its prey. Chitraka (Plumbago zeylanica) is also known asagni meaning fire or jwaalaa meaning flame. That Chitraka (Plumbago zeylanica) is epitomized with fire is no joke. Just touching the leaves and stem can irritate and cause a red, inflamed, itchy rash! This explains why the Spanish call it ‘erva de diablo’ (devil’s herb). Some practitioners use this irritating quality for therapeutic purposes.
The names agni, jwaalaa, erva de Diablo demand respect. Just as one wouldn’t flippantly or casually play with fire, Vaidyas (Ayurvedic physicians) would not use this medicinal plant thoughtlessly as a medicine. This explains the obliviousness of Chitraka (Plumbago zeylanica) in Ayurvedic pharmacopoeia.
Chitraka (Plumbago zeylanica) is the food plant for Zebra blue butterfly (Leptotes plinius ) during its larvae stage. [1], [2], [3], [4]

Other Names

Taxonomic name: Plumbago Zeylanica L, Plumbago scanders L        
Sanskrit: Anala, Dahana, Agni, Agnika, Jyotee, Vahni, Hutaashana,
English: Leadwort, White Leadwort, Doctor bush
Arabic: Sheetaraj, Shitraj
Assamese: Agnachit, Agiyachit, Boga agechita
Bengali: Chita, Sufaid, Safed (Safaid)-sitarak, Chitrak, Chitra     
Gujarati: Chitro, Chitrakmula, Chitrak-safed, Chitrak
Hawaiin: Ilie’e, Ilihe’e, Lauhihi
Hindi: Chitrak, Chitra,Chira, Cheetah, Chita, Chiti, Vahni
Indonesian: Daun encok
Javanese: Bama
Kannada: Chitramula, Chitramulika, Vahni, Bilichitramoola, Bilary
Kashmiri: Chitra, Shataranja
Malayalam: Vellakeluveli, Vellakoduveli, Thum     pokkoduveli, Thumpukotrochi
Malaysian: Cheraka, Jarak
Manipuri: Telhidak angouba
Marathi: Chitramoola, Chitraka
Oriya: Chitamula, Chitoparu, Chitaaparu, Dhola, Krisanu, Ogni.
Persian: Shitrak, Shitrah
Punjabi: Chitra, Chitrak
Samoan: Lautafifi
Sudanese: Ki enchok
Tamil: Chittiri, Chittira, Chittiramoolam, Karimai, Kodiveli
Telugu: Chitramulam
Thai: Chet tamun plengkao
Urdu: Sheetraj,
Zimbabwean: Umatshisa  [5], [6], [7], [8], [9]

Taxonomic Classification

Kingdom: Plantae
Subkingdom: Tracheobionata (Vascular plants)
Unranked: Angiosperm
Unranked: Eudicots
Unranked: Core eudicots
Order: Caryophyllales, Plumbaginales
Division: Magnoliophyta (Flowering plant)
Superdivision: Spermatophyta (Seed plants
Class: Magnoliopsida (Dicotyledons)
Subclass: Caryophyllales
Family: Plumbaginaceae (Leadwort family)
Genus: Plumbago L
The name of the genus derived from the Latin words plumbum “lead” and agere   “to resemble” was first used by Pliny the Elder (23-79) for a plant known as “molybdaina”.  Pliny probably wished to describe blue colored flowers of chitraka (Plumbago zeylanica), or the ability of the sap of the plant to create lead-colored stains on skin or did Pliny believe that chitraka (Plumbago zeylanica) was a ‘cure’ for lead-poisoning?
Carl Linnaeus described Plumbago zeylanica and Plumbago scandens as separate species and NOT synonyms.  [10], [11], [12]
In Ayurveda following vrieties of chitraka (Plumbago zeylanica) are described:
White: Plumbago  zeylanica
Red:   Plumbago rosea L
Blue:  Plumbago capensis

Waagbhata mentions three varieties:

Shweta (White), Peeta (Yellow) and Asita (Black)
For therapeutic purposes White variety (Plumbago  zeylanica) is used.
 According to taxonomy Plumbago is a genus of 10-20 species of flowering plants in the family Plumbaginaceae native to warm temperate to tropical regions.
The following species are accepted by taxonomists.
·        Plumbago amplexicaulis Oliv.
·        Plumbago aphylla Bojer ex Boiss
·        Plumbago auriculata Lam.
·        Plumbago ciliata Engl. Ex Wilmot-Dear
·        Plumbago coerulea Kunth
·        Plumbago dawei Rolfe
·        Plumbago europaea L.
·        Plumbago glandulicaulis Wilmot-Dear
·        Plumbago indica L.
·        Plumbago madagascariensis M. Peltier
·        Plumbago montis-elgonis Bullock
·        Plumbago pearsonii L. Bolus
·        Plumbago pulchella Bois
·        Plumbago stenophylla Wilmot-Dear
·        Plumbago tristis Aiton
·        Plumbago wissii  Frieder
·        Plumbago zeylanica L

Among these species for therapeutic and research purposes the species Plumbago zeylanica L is accepted. [13], [14]

Geographical Distribution

Chitraka (Plumbago zeylanica) a perennial shrub is native to India, old tropical regions of pacific and Hawaiian islands. Chitraka (Plumbago zeylanica) is densely distributed in South India and Sri Lanka. Chitraka (Plumbago zeylanica) enjoys a pan-tropical and subtropical distribution. It can be found in Australia and Arabia. One may find it in palm groves, thickets (a dense group of bushes or trees), shell mounds and rocky places. It can be grown in green houses in cool climates. It is now grown in gardens and indoor flower pots. It can be found in monsoon forests and can be commonly found growing around the bottom of the Olea tree trunks and vine thickets. It is found at altitudes below 900 m. [15], [16], [17]

Plant morphology

Macroscopic characteristics


There is no unanimous opinion in the literature regarding the classification of Chitraka (Plumbago zeylanica) as herb or shrub. Some authors have described it as perennial dicot herb while others have described it as a shrub.
Chitraka (Plumbago zeylanica) a large perennial, sub-scandent (i. e. having tendency to climb or creep), herbaceous, slender, much branched, ever green shrub with glabrous numerous stems that are erect, climbing and prostrate. Branches green in color. The plant grows up to 3-4 feet in height. [18], [19], [20], [21]


Roots are straight, smooth, short, stout pieces including root stocks, branched or unbranched, with or without secondary roots, 30 cm or more in length, 6 mm or more in diameter; light colored inside, reddish to deep brown when dry; outer surface brown and striated; scars of rootlets present; bark thin and brown; internal structure striated; have a strong, characteristic, disagreeable odor; acrid and bitter taste. [22], [23], [24]



Stems many, somewhat woody, scandent (climbing or spreading), spreading, striate, glabrous  [25]


The leaves are alternate simple, opposite, entire, spirally arranged; 0. 4 to 0.12 cm long, 0.3-0.5 cm broad, lanceolate (oval or elliptic), acuminate (pointed), minutely pubescent (hairy) when young, often with hairy margin; glabrous when mature; with tapered base; smooth and shiny, dark green above, paler beneath; main nerves 10 to 12 pairs with reticulate venation between; the stipules are absent; petioles 1 to 1.2 cm long with small auricles in young leaves.
During summer, the plant remains almost leafless under natural conditions, but under irrigated conditions the active growth starts in April. [26], [27], [28], [29]

Flowers / Inflorescence


Chitraka Flowers                                            Chitraka Inflorescence

Flowers in short dense axillary pedunculate spikes 2-8 cm. long, towards the end of branches; peduncles 3-10cm., stout, shorter than the leaves; bracts reaching 1-2 by 0.5—1.2 cm., elliptic, subacute, glabrous or nearly so, 5-7 nerved, reticulately veined; bracteoles 1.5-2 by 0.3-0.4 mm., lanceolate (oblong), acute, with ciliolate (hairy) margins, one nerved, reticulately veined.
Calyx is persistent and tubular with viscid hairy glands which secrete mucilage that is capable of attracting and killing insects. It is unclear what the purpose of these tricomes (hairs) is. Calyx is less than 1.3 cm. long, glabrous or slightly pubescent, divided to within 2 mm. of the base; sepals imbricate (overlapping like tiles of roof) ,  lanceolate (oblong), acute three- nerved, reticulately veined. Corolla tubular, with five petal-like lobes; they are produced in racemes. Corolla is white, with few irregular pinkish colored bars in the throat, 2.5 -3 cm. long, pubescent outside; tube 1-2 cm. long, the lower half cylindrical, 4 mm. in diameter, the upper half much inflated laterally; upper lip 2 by 1.3 cm. long, ovate-oblong, curved, obtuse, notched; lower lip as long as the upper, the lobes 1.3 cm. oblong, deep, rounded, the middle lobe is the broadest. Filaments hairy at base, long, stout, curved; lower anther-cells minute apiculate (ending abruptly) at the base. Ovary pubescent; lower part of style pubescent, Capsules 1.5-2 by 0.6-08 cm. clavate (club shaped), subacute, shortly and bluntly pointed, pubescent; solid stalk flattened, 1 cm. long.
The inflorescence is of terminal raceme-type about 6-30 cm long and many flowered. [30], [31], [32], [33], [34]   


Fruits are green in color, have apex, have 5 furrows, with sticky hairs when young and become dark when mature. Fruits are capsules 1.5-2 by 0.6-08 cm.; clavate, subacute, shortly and bluntly pointed, pubescent; solid stalk flattened, 1 cm. long. Fruits have apex, have 5 furrows. Each fruit contains a single seed. [35], [36], [37]

One in each fruit, 5-6 mm. long, orbicular-oblong, tubercular-verrucose (covered with warty growth), glabrous and reddish brown or dark brown in color [38], [39], [40]
Microscopic structure
Transverse section of root shows outermost tissue of cork consisting of 5-7 rows of cubical to rectangular dark brown cells; secondary cortex consists of 2-3 rows of thin-walled rectangular, light brown cells; most of the cortex cells contain starch grains; secondary cortex followed by a wide zone of cortex composed of large polygonal to tangentially elongated parenchymatous cells varying in size and shape containing starch grain and some cells with yellow contents, fibers scattered singly or in groups of 2-6; phloem a narrow zone of polygonal, thin-walled cells consisting of usual elements and phloem fibers similar to cortical zone, phloem fibers usually in groups of 2-5 or more but occasionally occurring singly, lignified with pointed ends and narrow lumen similar in size and shape to those of secondary cortex; cambium indistinct; xylem light yellow to whitish, vessels radially arranged with pitted thickenings; medullary rays straight, 1-6 striate, cells radially elongated starch filled with grains; stone cells absent.  [41]   

Parts used

Root, Bark, Leaves


The important phytochemicals found in Chitraka (Plumbago zylanica) are:
Plumbagin, 3-Chloroplumbagin, Chitranone, Droserone, Elliptinone, Zeylanone, Zeylinone, Maritone, Plumbagicasid, sterols (β-sitosterol, psitosterol, sitosterone, stigmasterol and stigmasterol acetate), and Dihydrosterone
Phytochemicals identified by researchers recently are: naphthalene derivatives, naphtoquinones, flavones, terpenes (lupeol, lupeol acetate, friedenol and lupanone), plumbagin, chitranone, amino acids, and zeylinon, aminoacids (aspartic acid, tryptophan, tyrosine, threonine, histidine, glycine, hydroxyproline, alanine and methionine)  
Cai (2007) mentions: of nine compounds identified and accepted as constituents of Chitraka (Plumbago zeylanica), (1) plumbagin (2) isoshinanolone (3) plumbagic acid (4) β- Sitasterol (5) 4-hydroxybenzaldehyde (6)trans-cinnamic acid (7) vanillic acid (8) 2, 5-dimethyl-7-hydroxychromone (9) indole-3-carboxaldehyde; compounds (5) 4-hydroxybenzaldehyde (7) vanillic acid (8) 2, 5-dimethyl-7-hydroxychromone (9) indole-3-carboxaldehyde have been isolated for the first time.  
Recently researchers from National Research Institute of Chinese Medicine have identified and isolated seselin, a new phytochemical from Chitraka (Plumbago zeylanica).   
Apart from the constituents mentioned above Chitraka (Plumbago zeylanica) also contains a variety of important compounds:
Alkaloids, glycosides, tannins, phenolic compounds, saponins, coumarins, carbohydrates, fats, proteins and fixed oils [42], [43], [44], [45], [46]  

Identity, Purity and Strength   

Foreign matter: Not more than 3 percent
Total Ash: Not more than 3 percent
Acid-insoluble ash: Not more than 1 percent
Alcohol-soluble extractive: Not less than 12 percent
Water-soluble extractive: Not less than 12 percent [47]

Physico-chemical values

Loss on drying at 1050 C                                 8.18
Total Ash                                                         3.11   
Water-soluble ash                                           2.27           
Acid-insoluble ash                                          0.96
Alkalinity of water soluble ash                      0.2 ml/g
Alcohol-soluble extractive                             12.83
Water-soluble extractive                               14.67                       
Crude fibe content                                         14.30
(Values are mean of 3 readings)                                 [48]

Inorganic Mineral Analysis of Plumbago zeylanica

Iron                                  2.92
Copper                             0.47
Manganese                      1.17
Nickel                               0.02       
Zinc                                   0.51        
Cobalt                               0.09
Cromium                         0.00
Sodium                            80.00
Potassium                       89.00
Calcium                           24.00

(Values in ppm)  [49]

Heavy Metal Analysis of Plumbgo zeylonica

Element              Observed Value                      Permissible Limits

Arsenic                        0.0001                                                3.00
Cadmium                     0.0065                                               0.30
Lead                            0.2605                                             10.00
Mercury                      0.0031                                               1.00   

(Values in ppm. Permissible limits are as per the Ayurvedic Pharmacopoeia of India, 2008)    [50]

Aflatoxins in Plumbago zeylanica

Aflatoxin B1                          BDL (DL: 1.0 ppb)
Aflatoxin B2                          BDL (DL: 0.5 ppb)         
Aflatoxin G1                          BDL (DL: 1.0 ppb)
Aflatoxin G2                         BDL  (DL: 0.5 ppb)
BDL = Below Detectable Limit
DL = Detectable Limit   [51]

Permissible Microbial Load for Plumbago zeylonica

Name of bacteria                     WHO Limit

Escherichia coli                                 102        
Salmonella species                          Absence
Shigella species                               Absence         
Enterobacter species                         104
Total bacterial Count                        107
Yeast and Mould                               104                       [52]

Genetic Identity

Because of the simplicity of assay and strong discriminatory power, Random Amplified Polymorphic DNA (RAPD) markers have been used for many types of genetic analyses including genome mapping, genotype fingerprinting, reconstruction of phylogeny and measuring genetic similarities. RAPD does not require any specific information about DNA sequence to be amplified. By using the method of RAPD markers Gadge and Nathar were able to determine accurately the taxonomic identity of Plumbago rosea, Plumbago auriculata and Plumbago zeylanica.

Johnson et al also reported similar results by using isozyme and RFLP data for three species of Plumbago mentioned above.  [53] 

Using ISSR method of molecular markers K. Dharmar et al determined the genetic identity of Plumbago zeylanica L. [54]

PCR Analysis and SSR Sequencing

 PCR and SSR were useful in determining DNA sequencing of Plumbago zeylanica L.   [55]

Chromosomal Identity

The importance of karyomorphology in distinguishing plant species is well known. Karyomorphology and chromosome number are useful in identification of closely related plant species. No data on the karyomorphological details of the chromosomes in the species of plumbago L is available.

There is no unanimous agreement among researchers regarding the somatic chromosome numbers in Plumbago zeylanica L. One confusing finding of the earlier studies is that varying numbers of the somatic chromosomes had been reported for the same species by different workers. Thus Sanjappa and Sathyananda (1979) recorded 2n= 16 chromosomes for Plumbago zeylanica L. while earlier Dahlgren (1964), Jha and Jim (1968), Jha and Jha (1968a) recorded 2n=28 chromosomes in the same species.  [56]

The size of metaphase chromosomes is extremely small. This can lead to errors in counting the number of chromosomes. Hence the workers in Thailand feel that the study of the chromosome numbers needs to be done from the microsporocyte in the anther by collecting inflorescences between November and January. For Plumbago zeylanica L, 11 bivalent chromosomes were found in the first meiotic metaphase. Thus workers from International Society for Horticultural Science reported n=22 number of chromosomes in Plumbago zeylanica L. [57], [58]

M. Pant et al reported chromosome number, 2n=24 in Plumbago zeylanica L. [59]

HPTLC Analysis

The high performance thin layer chromatography (HPTLC) fingerprinting provides a chromatographic fingerprint of phytochemicals. It is suitable for confirming the identity, purity and quantity of phytochemicals found in medicinal plants. By using this method, Mohanty et al have determined the phytochemical identity of Chitraka (Plumbago zeylanica). [60]

Properties and Pharmacology

Ayurvedic properties


Charaka Ganas:

Deepaneeya: Appetizer
Shoolaprashamana: Antispasmodic
Arshoghna: Relieves piles, fissures in ano
Lekhaneeya: Having Scraping power

Sushruta Ganas:


Waagbhata Ganas:

Varunaadi   [61]

Rasa (Taste): Katu (Acrid, Pungent), Tikta (Bitter)
Weerya/ Virya (Potency, Potent Energy): Ushna (Hot, Heating)
Wipaaka/Vipak (Post Digestive Effect): Katu (Pungent)
This wipaaka tends to cause fissures in ano, haemorrhoids (piles), irritation of the colon, rectum, anal canal (proctocolitis).

Actions on Srotasas (Actions on systems): Annawaha srotas (Digestive system, Shukrawaha srotas (Male reproductive system), Aartaw-waha srotas (Female reproductive System), Majjaawaha srotas (Bone marrow, Nervous system)  [62], [63]

Ayurvedic Actions

Laghu (Light), Ruksha/Rooksha (Drying, Desiccating), Tikshna/ Teekshna (Penetrating)
Shothahara (Anti-inflammatory, Relieving edema), Deepana (Appetizer), Paachana (Digestant, Digestive), Grahee (Constipating, Astringent), Kapha-waata-hara (Relieves formation of phlegm, Antiflatulent), Arshohara (Relieves hemorrhoids, fissures in ano), Shoolahara (Antispasmodic, Anticolic) [64]

[5] http:/
[9] zeylanica-chitrak-chitramulam.html
[12] 06_chapter%201.pdf           
[21] Manu Pant et al, Plumbago zeylanica L.: A mini Review, International Journal of Pharmaceutical Applications, Volume 3, Issue 3, 2012, pp 399-405
[24] Manu Pant et al, Plumbago zeylanica L.: A mini Review, International Journal of Pharmaceutical Applications, Volume 3, Issue 3, 2012, pp 399-405
[28] 08_chapter-3.pdf
[29] Manu Pant et al, Plumbago zeylanica L.: A mini Review, International Journal of Pharmaceutical Applications, Volume 3, Issue 3, 2012, pp 399-405
[34] Manu Pant et al, Plumbago zeylanica L.: A mini Review, International Journal of Pharmaceutical Applications, Volume 3, Issue 3, 2012, pp 399-405
[40] Manu Pant et al, Plumbago zeylanica L.: A mini Review, International Journal of Pharmaceutical Applications, Volume 3, Issue 3, 2012, pp 399-405
[45] National Research Institute of Chinese Medicine, No. 155-1, sec 2, Li-Nung Street, Shih-Pai, 112, Taipei, Taiwan
[46] 06_chapter%201.pdf   

[48] S. Ariyananthan et al, Quality control standards for roots of three Plumbago species, Indian J Pharm Sci. 2010 Jan-Feb; 72(1):86-91 

[49] S. Ariyananthan et al, Quality control standards for roots of three Plumbago species, Indian J Pharm Sci. 2010 Jan-Feb; 72(1):86-91 

[50] S. Ariyananthan et al, Quality control standards for roots of three Plumbago species, Indian J Pharm Sci. 2010 Jan-Feb; 72(1):86-91 

[51] S. Ariyananthan et al, Quality control standards for roots of three Plumbago species, Indian J Pharm Sci. 2010 Jan-Feb; 72(1):86-91 

[52] S. Ariyananthan et al, Quality control standards for roots of three Plumbago species, Indian J Pharm Sci. 2010 Jan-Feb; 72(1):86-91 

[53] Prashant J Gadge and Varsha N Nathar, Detection and analysis of genetic variations in species of Plumbago L using RAPD markers, Indian Journal of Biotechnology, Volume 13, 2014, pp 140-143

[54] K. Dharmar et al, Analysis of Genetic Diversity of Plumbago zeylanica L, ScieXplore: International Journal of Research in Science,Volume 2(1), 19-22, January-June 2015   

[55]                            14_chapter%203.pdf

[56]                           11_discussion.pdf

[57]  Indananda C Chromosome Numbers of Thai Herbs in the Plumbago,

[58] Indananda C 2005, Chromosome Numbers of Thai Herbs in the Plumbago, Acta Hortic, 675, 187-189

[59] Manu Pant et al, Plumbago zeylanica: A Mini Review, International Jornal of Pharmaceutical Applications, Volume 3, Issue 3, 2012, pp. 399-405

[60] I. C. Mohanty et al, Development of phytochemical fingerprint of an Indian medicinal plant Chitrak (Plumbago zeylanica L)using high performance thin layer chromatography (HPTLC), Journal of Medicinal Plant Research, Vol. 8(18), pp. 669-685, 10 May, 2014.

[66]                blog/ethnobotanical_studies_medicinal_plant_chitrak-87905                 



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