Pharmacognosy of Babool (Acacia arabica)

Pharmacognosy of Babool (Acacia Arabica)




Gum Acacia is the name originally pertaining to Sudan, Kordofan or Egyptian Gum. It possesses properties rendering it superior to others and hence always preferred to any other variety.

During the political disturbances in Egypt between 1880 and 1890, this gum became nearly unavailable. Hence its substitutes were used. Among the many substitutes then offered, the best was Gum Senegal, which was adopted as the official equivalent of Gum Acacia. The term 'Gum Senegal' is not, strictly speaking, synonymous with Gum Acacia, though it is commonly so used. Because of its frequent use, it came about that the name was regarded as synonymous.


Acacia gum is the dried gummy exudate that collects on the surfaces of the branches and the stems of the Acacia trees. At the end of the rainy season, the stems begin to exude the gum. In about fifteen days it thickens in the furrow down which it runs. It then hardens  on exposure to the air, usually in the form of round or oval tears, about the size of a pigeon's egg, but sometimes in vermicular forms, white or red, according to whether the species is a white or red gum tree. It is then harvested and marketed as 'Gum Arabic'. 

There are many kinds of Acacia Gum in commerce.


The gum exported from Alexandria, is considered the best and is the kind generally used in pharmacy.

All the gum-yielding Acacias exhibit the same general appearance, differing only in technical characters.

The genus Acacia derives its name from akakia the name given by the Greek botanist-physician Pedanius Dioscorides. The other name Vachellia remains controversial.

The name of the species nilotica was given by Linnaeus from this tree’s best-known range along the Nile River. [1], [2]

Other Names

Botanical: Acacia arabica, A. nilotica (LINN.), A. senegal (Willd.), A. glaucophylla (Staud.),  A. abyssinica (Hochst.), A. gummifera (Willd), A. gummifera (Willd), Acacia auriculiformis and many more, Vachellia nilotica
Sanskrit: Babul,
English: Acacia tree
Bengali: Bawala, Babul, Keekar
Gujarati: Baval, Bavalia
Hindi: Babool, Babur, Keekar
Marathi: Baabhul, Baabhalee
Telugu: Baburram, Nakka, Dumma
AKA Gum Arabic, Cape Gum, Egyptian Thorn, Gum Mimosa, Gummi Arabicum [3]

Taxonomic Classification

According to recent discovery the genus Acacia is broken up into five new genera. Hnnce there are many Families: Leguminosae, Fabaceae etc.    

Kingdom: Plantae      
Unranked: Angiosperms
Unranked: Eudicots
Unranked: Rosids
Order: Fables
Family: Fabaceae
Division:  Magnoliphyta
Class:  Magnoliopsida  [4]

Geographical Distribution

The babul tree is ubiquitous. It is widely seen in Arabia and West Asia. In India, it grows wide in the forests of Punjab and parts of Rajasthan Gujarat and Western Ghats. 

Babul trees can flourish in dry and arid regions. They are medium-sized trees, reaching an average height of about 12 m. Babul trees find use in households as well as in farms and fields for shelter and foraging purposes.

The tree is planted for its bark, which yields the babul gum.[5]

Plant Morphology

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Babool (Acacia arabica) Tree

Depending upon the species, the plants are spiny shrubs or small to large sized trees, preferring sandy regions, with the dry climate during the greater part of the year, growing from 5 to 20 m in height with a dense spherical crown. Those species growing in arid regions bear spines representing branches which have become short and hard.

Image result for copyright free images of acacia gum

Acacia Gum

The Bark grey-pinkish to light brown, fissured, rough, exuding reddish low quality gum

The Stems and Branches glabrous, purplish to gray-black in color, with very small glands 

The Spines: The tree has thin, straight, light, gery spines in 3 to 12 pairs, 5 to 7.5 cm long in young trees. Mature trees are commonly without spines.

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Acacia leaves

The Leaves are compound, bipinnate, with 3-6 pairs of pinnulae and 10-30 pairs of leaflets with a small gland on petiole, however in some species the leaflets are suppressed, the leaf-stalks become vertically flattened, and serve the purpose of leaves. A few species lack leaves.

Image result for acacia flowers images     

The Fowers are small with five small petals, arranged in dense globular clusters, 1.2 to 1.5 cm in diameter of bright golden yellow or cream color in most species, in some species the flowers are whitish or purple or red in color.

The Pods are strongly constricted, hairy, white-grey, thick and tomentose.

The Seeds chestnut-brown, arranged in 2 rows, embedded in a dry spongy tissue, smooth, elliptic and thick. [6], [7]

Parts Used

Branches, tender twigs, bark, flower, pod, seed and gummy exudation from stem.


Gum Acacia consists principally of Arabin, a compound of Arabic acid with calcium. Varying amounts of the magnesium and potassium salts of Arabic acid may also be present. The gum also contains 12 to 17 per cent of moisture and a trace of sugar, and yields 2.7 to 4 per cent of ash, consisting almost entirely of calcium, magnesium and potassium carbonates.

Acacias contain a number of organic compounds, e.g.  amines and alkaloids, cyanogenic glycosides, cyclitols, fatty acids and seed oils, fluoroacetate non-protein amino acids, terpenes (including essential oils, phytosterol and saponins), tannins, flavonoids. Flavonoid, coumarin, steroid and terpene, are collectively known as the aglycone.

Acacias contain Psychoactive Alkaloids like dimethyltryptamine (DMT), 5-methoxydimethyltryptamine (5-MeO-DMT) and beta-methyl-phenethylamime.

Other psychoactive agents are: amphetamines, mescaline, and nicotine. In flowers of some species are found phenethylamine, hordenine and histamine.

Additional information of phytochemistry

Dried seeds of one Acacia sp. are reported to contain per 100 g: 377 calories, 7.0% moisture, 12.6 g protein, 4.6 g fat, 72.4 g carbohydrate, 9.5 g fiber and 3.4 g ash.

Raw leaves of Acacia contain per 100 g: 57 calories, 81.4% moisture, 8.0 g protein, (55% protein on a dry-weight basis.), 0.6 g fat, 9.0 g carbohydrate, 5.7 g fiber, 1.0 g ash, 93 mg Ca, 84 mg P, 3.7 mg Fe, 12,255 g

Vitamins: Carotene equivalent, 0.20 mg thiamine, 0.17 mg riboflavin, 8.5 mg niacin, and 49 mg ascorbic acid. Amino acids: lysine, 4.7 (g/16 g N); methionine, 0.9; arginine, 9.2; glycine, 3.4;. histidine, 2.3; isoleucine, 3.5; leucine, 7.5; phenylalanine, 3.5; tyrosine, 2.8; threonine, 2.5; valine, 3.9; alanine, 4.3; aspartic acid, 8.8; glutamic acid, 12.6; hydroxyproline, 0.0; proline, 5.1; serine, 4.1; with 76% of the total nitrogen as amino acids. [8], [9]

Properties and Pharmacology
Ayurvedic Guna-karma

Rasa (taste):  Kashaaya – Astringent
Veerya:  Sheeta – Coolant
Vipaka: Katu (Acrid)- Undergoes pungent taste conversion after digestion

Guna :(Qualities) : Guru – Heavy to digest,
Rooksha : Dry in nature, having drying effect

Niryaasa (gum resin): Pitta-Waata-hara – allays pitta and waata doshas

Karma:  Kapha Hara – Balances Kapha dosha. [10]

After the rainy season, the Gum exudes spontaneously from the trunk and principal branches. Since the flow is small in quantity it is stimulated by incisions in the bark. To facilitate the flow a thin strip, 2 to 3 feet in length and 1 to 3 inches wide is torn off. In about a fortnight it thickens and hardens on exposure to the air, in the form of round or oval tears. They are white or red, according to whether the species is a white or red gum tree.

Gum Acacia for medicinal purposes should be in roundish 'tears', colorless or pale yellow in color, or broken into angular fragments with a glass-like, sometimes iridescent fracture. It should be almost entirely soluble in two parts of water, forming a viscid neutral solution (mucilage), which, when evaporated, yields the gum unchanged. It should not yield more than 4 per cent of ash. 

There are many kinds of Acacia Gum. That collected in Upper Egypt, Arabia and Sudan is considered the best and is the kind generally used in pharmacy.

Indian Gum is sweeter in taste than that of the other varieties, contains portions of a different kind of gum. It is odorless, soluble in water forming a viscid solution; acid to litmus, insipid or bland in taste. It is insoluble in alcohol and ether. It is demulcent and astringent.

Rajbir Singh aet al exhibited free radical-scavenging activity of acetone extract of Acacia auriculiformis, A. cunn. The bark powder was demonstrated to possess antioxidant, antiseptic and antibacterial power.

The gum is aromatic, stimulant and nervine tonic.


Aglycone is the non-sugar compound remaining after replacement of the glycosyl group from a glycoside by a hydrogen atom. The spelling aglycon is sometimes encountered. Some aglycones are cardiac glycosides and some phytosteroids.  [11]

Cyanogenic glycosides

They contain a cyanide group and protect plants from pests.[12], [13]


Cyclitols are cycloalkanes containing one hydroxyl group on three or more ring atoms. They are cyclic polyols. Cyclitols are one of the compatible solutes which are formed in a plant as a response to salt or water stress. Some cyclitol (e.g quinic or shikimic acid) are parts of hydrolysable tannins

Cyclitols have insulin-like effect.

Recently two novel cyclitols have been shown to exert anti-herpes simplex virus activity. [14], [15]

Culinary uses

Gums are polysaccharidic compounds. Gum Acacia is highly nutritive. For want of good food, during the time of the gum harvest, the Moors are said to thrive almost entirely on Gum Arabic. It has been proved that about 150 to 200 Grams of the gum is all sufficient to support an adult for twenty-four hours.

In the Indian subcontinent it furnishes the prime important ingredient of the nourishing food used for lactating mothers especially during the first three months of postnatal period. It is used as a binding agent in the preparation of lozenges, pastilles and compressed tablets.

Nectar from acacia flowers converted into honey by bees is used in confectionaries. It has antibacterial properties.

The ripe seeds have been pressed for cooking oil.

Oil distilled from the flowers has been used for flavoring.

Medicinal Action and Uses

In India, use of the tender twig of Acacia as a form of crude tooth brush to scrub teeth is as old as Ayurvedic science. Powder of bark was used as dentifrice (Marathi: Dantamanjan) and is a vogue today. Were Ayurvedic scientists aware of astringent, antiseptic, antibacterial and free-radical scavenging properties of Acacia Gum? May be may be not, but today, the chemical analysis of the plant however vindicates the ancient wisdom.

Tannins, complex compounds based on Tannic and Gallic acid are extracted from bark. Glycerin-tannate was used as mouth paint for stomatitis, gingivitis, aphthous ulcers and pharyngitis. In India some older physicians and dentists use it even today! The gummy roots are also chewed for sore throat.

It is powerfully astringent in action and has been used in chronic diarrhea, dysentery, chronic catarrh to stop excessive mucous discharge and hemorrhages.

Administered in the form of mucilage, Gum Acacia is a demulcent and serves by the viscidity of its solution to sheathe inflamed surfaces. It is employed as a soothing agent in inflammatory conditions of the respiratory and digestive tract. Hence it is used in bronchitis, diarrhea and dysentery. The flower infusion is also used for dyspepsia, intestinal colic and neuroses.

Little used today as there are other herbal choices without the propensity toward constipation that this one has.

Glycosides have a strong action on the body, including the heart, digestive and peripheral nervous system. When reduced cyanogenetic glycosides produce free HCN Like the cardio-active glycosides. Cyanogenetic glycosides can produce toxic, even fatal results in small doses. The glycoside kaempferol is used as diuretic and natriuretic.

Not much is known about the use of psychoactive alkaloids and other psychoactive agents in clinical practice.

The seeds, containing an unnamed alkaloid, are said to be used to kill rabid dogs in Brazil. Various ingredients of the tree were used for arrow poison.

In some ancient systems of medicines bark extract and decoction of the plant were used as vaginal douche to treat vaginitis and leucorrhea. Gum was used as aphrodisiac and to treat spermatorrhea.

The bark has been used both internally and externally for skin problems.

The flowers have been used in the bath for dry skin.

Drug interactions

They can interfere with the rate of absorption of oral drugs.

Preparations and dosages

A tannin-rich extract has been prepared from the leaves and young shoots and used in decoction and applied to inflamed tissue and burns to promote rapid healing.

Tincture is prepared in a 1:5 ratio using 80%-100% vodka or its equivalent. Dose is 2.5 to 5 milliliters twice daily.

To prepare mucilage, dissolve gum in water. A single dose is 5 to 20 ml.
To prepare syrup, mix 1 part mucilage with 3 parts of a plain sugar syrup. Dose is 5 to 20 ml.
Dried gum can be sucked on to relieve irritation of the bronchial passages and of sore throats.
The mucilage makes a good vehicle of delivery for other herbs in combination.

Ancient Egyptians applied it fresh to support the loose teeth while the astringent properties reduced the swelling and helped to tighten the gum tissue.

It was also applied to open wounds as an antiseptic balm.

Sucking on the gum is useful for aphthous ulcers and pharyngitis. It helps check growth of oral bacteria and soothes oral tissue.

In mucilage form it acts as a demulcent. Its main effect is to form a soothing protective coating over inflamed surfaces in the respiratory, alimentary and urinary tracts.

It combines well with other herbs in a poultice. In this form it is relaxing and absorbs discharges.


15. Sarah H Bates et al, Insulin-like effect of pinitol, British Journal of Pharmacology, August 200o, 130(8): 1944-1948


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