Calotropis procera , known as swallow wort, is a flowering plant from the family of apocynaceae, native to Africa, Asia and Indochina. It is also known as apple of Sodom in the western world and as vella erukku in South India. The plant is a shrub that grows spontaneously in dry and barren lands uncultivated. The plant has the ability to survive drought conditions even up to twelve long years and still blossom during seasons.
There is a misconception that vella erukku is poisonous and unfit for human consumption. While it is true that consumption of large quantities of the plant or its products is dangerous, consuming appropriate quantity under proper supervision gives many health benefits. The biblical reference to Sodom apple by historians may be attributed to its poisonous character. John Milton has also referred to Sodom in his Paradise Lost.
The plant produces hollow green globes. The flesh in the globes contain an extremely bitter and toxic milky sap. The sap becomes a gluey coat which cannot be washed away by soap too. A number of chemicals are found in the sap. One of the chemical is a steroidal heart poison called cardiac aglycones. It is also known as botanical mercury in some regions.
Siddha medicine practitioners have identified nine types of the plant. However the plant with white flowers is considered to be more beneficial for preparation of medicines.
Notwithstanding its poisonous character, swallow wort is found to be useful in addressing various bodily ailments. Ayurveda system of medicine uses swallow wort to cure many diseases.
The flowers, milk (latex), bark and the root are used in various home remedies. Remedies to cure various ailments using swallow wort have been in vogue for a long time. Some such remedies are:
- Swelling and inflammation: The leaves with castor oil applied inside is warmed up in direct flame and placed on all types of boils and swellings to cure them. Even elephantiasis is cured by this treatment.
- Tooth pain: The latex or milk is very useful in treating tooth ache. A small piece if cotton is dipped in the milk and placed on the teeth to relieve pain. The root roasted in fire is powdered and used to brush teeth which not only relieves the pain but also strengthens it.
- Scars and blemishes: The milk is added to rose water and used as a face pack to remove any scar on the face. Care must be taken to ensure that the pack do not get into contact with eyes which will be highly detrimental.
- Leprosy: The milk is also said to cure leprosy and some other ailments on consumption of very small quantities. However internal consumption of the milk is bound to cause danger due to its poisonous chemical composition.
- Epilepsy: Flowers of swallow wort is powdered and mixed with jaggery, sugar or black pepper and made into small tablets. Consuming these tablets regularly cures epilepsy. The same preparation is also very helpful in removing phlegm and curing bronchitis. In addition it removes breathing problems and discomforts due to asthma besides curing asthma.
- Urinary infection: The flower powder is applied on the stomach to cure urinary problems.
- Head ache and migraine: Well ripen leaves (yellowish) is made into a paste adding little cardamom, pepper and peppermint and applied on the forehead to cure migraine.
- Cholera and digestion issues: The root bark is used in preparation of medicine to prevent cholera. The root bark powder is mixed with pepper powder in the ratio of two to one and made into small tablets using onion or ginger juice and consumed regularly to prevent cholera. The root bark is also used to cure digestive problems, constipation, intestinal gas and worms.
- Liver health: The powder of the stem bark is used to cure spleen and liver disorders.
- Hair and scalp: Application of the wort milk on the head cures dandruff, lice and headache.
- Cardiovascular health: Cardiac glycosides present in the milk of the plant is a good cardiac stimulant.
- Inflammation: With the anti-inflammatory analgesic antioxidant present in it, the plant parts are used in curing pains, inflammations and common ailments.
The herb is also used as a home remedy for digestive disorders, cough and bronchitis, asthma, tape worms, joint pains, inflammation, fever, contraction of muscles, arthritis, gouts, snake bites, infections, boils and wounds, leprosy etc.
While the plant and its parts or derivatives are used in rural areas for curing the said ailments, the acceptance of the same by modern medicine is far away as there is no research based evidence to support the claims.