Abrus precatorius L.

DeFilipps, Robert A. & Krupnick, Gary A., 2018, The medicinal plants of Myanmar, PhytoKeys 102, pp. 1-341: 73-74

publication ID


persistent identifier


treatment provided by

PhytoKeys by Pensoft

scientific name

Abrus precatorius L.


Abrus precatorius L. 


Myanmar: chek-awn, ywe, ywe-nge, ywe-nwe, ywenge. English: chicken eyes, crab eyes, jequirity, red bean vine, rosary pea.


Pantropical; widely naturalized. Widely distributed in Myanmar.


(Whole plant: poisonous). Leaf: Used to cure a sore throat. Seed: Emetic and purgative. Root: Employed as an expectorant. After being crushed with water and steamed, the distillate is taken with sugar to treat hemorrhoids. Soaked in water overnight, filtered through a cloth, and the filtered liquid taken once in the morning and once in the evening to treat white vaginal discharge. Leaf: Crushed together with mustard oil and used either by rubbing on, or tied around as a poultice, to cure swollen joints and stiff muscles. Crushed with oil and rubbed on to treat aches and pains. Juice from squeezing the leaves together with milk can treat excessive urination in diabetics. Seed: Made into a powder and inhaled to cure severe headaches. Making the seeds and root into a powder and taking the mixture with coconut water can treat hemorrhoids.


Medicinal uses of this species in India are discussed in Jain and DeFilipps (1991). Chemical constituents, pharmacological action, and medicinal use of this species in Indian Ayurveda are discussed in detail by Kapoor (1990). Indigenous medicinal uses of this species in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (India) are described by Dagar and Singh (1999). Medicinal uses of this species in China are discussed by Duke and Ayensu (1985).

Since the broken seed is conventionally known to be poisonous due to the necrotic action of its constituent chemical “abrin”, care must be taken in its use. Symptoms of the poisoning (which can happen, for example, from chewing or sucking on a necklace made of the beads) appear after a latent period which can vary from three hours to two days, whereupon severe gastroenteritis with diarrhea, cramps and vomiting occurs. Bleeding from the retina (of the eye) and serous (mucous) membranes is a characteristic symptom of the poisoning. In this connection it is notable that the seeds, under the name "semen jequirity", were formerly used in medicine, especially ophthalmology, to cause inflammation of mucosa ( Frohne and Pfander 1984). Frohne and Pfander (1984) further advise that: "On the other hand, intact seeds, because of their hard testa (seed coat), when swallowed whole are harmless."

"The seeds are poisonous, but it is said that, if boiled, their toxic principle (toxalbumin) is destroyed. After this precautionary measure the seeds have been (known to be) boiled again in milk (which is used) as a tonic [in Dominica]." ( Honychurch 1980). The chemical constituents, pharmacological activities, and traditional medicinal uses of this plant on a worldwide basis are discussed in detail by Ross (1999).

A pharmacognostical profile including medicinal uses of this plant in Africa is given in Iwu (1993). The toxic properties, symptoms, treatment and beneficial uses of the plant, parts of which are poisonous, are discussed by Nellis (1997). Worldwide medicinal usage, chemical composition and toxicity of this species are discussed by Duke (1986). In connection with this plant’s usage in ophthalmology, a seed infusion was formerly used in Brazil to treat trachoma and corneal opacity, but the use of it was abandoned since it was too dangerous, sometimes leading to loss of eyesight ( Mors et al. 2000). Details of the active chemical compounds, effects, herbal usage and pharmacological literature of this plant are given in Fleming (2000). Toxicity of this species is discussed by Bruneton (1999).


Nordal (1963), Agricultural Corporation (1980), Perry (1980).