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Euphorbia hirta L.

 Sp. pl. 1: 454 (1753).
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Chromosome number  
 2n = 18, 20, 22, 32
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 Euphorbia pilulifera L. (1753), Chamaesyce hirta (L.) Millsp. (1909).
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Vernacular names  
 Snakeweed, pill-bearing spurge, asthma herb (En). Jean Robert, malnommée, euphorbe pilulifère (Fr). Erva de Santa Luzia, luzia, burra leiteira, erva andorinha (Po). Mziwaziwa, kinywele, kitadali, kitapiaroho, kiziwa, mwache, wiza (Sw).
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Origin and geographic distribution  
 Euphorbia hirta is native to Central America and a very common weed of the tropics and subtropics; it occurs throughout tropical Africa and also in South Africa.
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 Euphorbia hirta is an important medicinal herb used throughout its distribution area, including tropical Africa. It is held in high esteem, as a decoction or infusion, to treat gastrointestinal disorders, including intestinal parasites, diarrhoea, peptic ulcers, heartburn, vomiting and amoebic dysentery. It is also regarded as an outstanding medication to treat respiratory system disorders, including asthma, bronchitis, hay fever, laryngeal spasms, emphysema, coughs and colds. The leaves are mixed with those of Datura metel L. in preparing ‘asthma cigarettes’. Other principal uses are as a diuretic to treat uro-genital diseases, such as kidney stones, menstrual problems, sterility and venereal diseases. The plant is also used to treat affections of the skin and mucous membranes, including warts, scabies, tinea, thrush, aphthae, fungal afflictions, measles, Guinea-worm and as an antiseptic to treat wounds, sores and conjunctivitis. The plant has a reputation as an analgesic to treat severe headache, toothache, rheumatism, colic and pains during pregnancy. It is used as an antidote and pain relief of scorpion stings and snakebites. It is antipyretic and anti-inflammatory. The use of the latex to facilitate removal of thorns from the skin is common. Its use in the treatment of jaundice, hypertension, oedema, anaemia and malaria, as an aphrodisiac, and to facilitate childbirth has also been reported. In West Africa the plants are widely used as a galactagogue, and in Nigeria they are marketed for this purpose. In Uganda whole plants are chewed to induce labour during childbirth.
Euphorbia hirta is included in the African pharmacopoeia of the Organization of African Unity as a dysentery medication.
In Java and India the tender shoots serve as famine food, raw or steamed, but they may cause intestinal complaints. In West Africa Euphorbia hirta is used as a livestock fodder.
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Production and international trade  
 Dried plants, seeds and tinctures made from Euphorbia hirta are sold in local markets and through the internet.
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 Important constituents of the aerial parts are terpenoids, including triterpenes: α-amyrin, β-amyrin, friedelin, taraxerol, and esters of it: taraxerone, 11α,12α-oxidotaraxerol, cycloartenol, 24-methylene-cycloartenol, and euphorbol hexacosoate. The aerial parts and roots also contain diterpene esters of the phorbol type and ingenol type, including 12-deoxyphorbol-13-dodecanoate-20-acetate, 12-deoxyphorbol-13-phenylacetate-20-acetate, ingenol triacetate, as well as the highly toxic tinyatoxin, a resiniferonol derivative. Other terpenoids isolated are sterols including β-sitosterol, campesterol, cholesterol and stigmasterol. Tannins isolated include the dimeric hydrolysable dehydroellagitannins euphorbins A, B, C, E and terchebin, the monomeric hydrolysable tannins geraniin, 2,4,6-tri-O-galloyl-β-D-glucose and 1,2,3,4,6-penta-O-galloyl-β-D-glucose and the esters 5-O-caffeoylquinic acid (neochlorogenic acid) and 3,4-di-O-galloylquinic acid, and benzyl gallate. Acids isolated include ellagic acid, gallic acid, tannic acid, maleic acid and tartaric acid. Flavonoids isolated include quercetin, quercitrin, quercitol and derivatives containing rhamnose, quercetin-rhamoside, a chlorophenolic acid, rutin, leucocyanidin, leucocyanidol, myricitrin, cyanidin 3,5-diglucoside, pelargonium 3,5-diglucoside and camphol. The flavonol glycoside xanthorhamnin was also isolated. The stems contain the hydrocarbon hentriacontane and myricyl alcohol. The latex contains inositol, taraxerol, friedelin, β-sitosterol, ellagic acid, kaempferol, quercitol and quercitrin. The mineral content of a sample of the dried leaves was: Ca 1.1%, P 0.3%, Fe 0.03%, Mg 0.5%, Mn 0.01%, Zn 0.01% and Cu 0.002%. Fresh leaves from Euphorbia hirta plants of Nigerian origin were found to contain high levels of Mn (189 ppm), Cu (30.5 ppm), Zn (152 ppm), and NO3 (4600 ppm). Varying proportions of Fe, Mg, K, Ca and Na were found. The levels of chemicals are high enough to constitute a source of toxicosis to animals consuming the plants and should also be a source of concern in medicinal use.
Few toxic effects have been documented for Euphorbia hirta. An ether extract was found to be toxic in a brine shrimp lethality test, whereas ethyl acetate and aqueous extracts were within safe limits. In another test, however, an aqueous crude extract was found to cause testicular degeneration in sexually mature male rats as well as a reduction in the mean seminiferous tubular diameter. Several other extracts given orally to rats caused dullness and anorexia and induced a 20% mortality rate. Some fractions from the ethanolic extract showed potentially deleterious effects on the blood serum chemistry of rats. In feeding experiments with rats however, no difference in the blood serum was found after a prolonged period of adding Euphorbia hirta to the diet. It was also found that drying Euphorbia hirta prior to extraction considerably reduces the cytotoxic activity of certain of its extracts.
Several of the traditional medicinal uses of Euphorbia hirta have been supported by in-vitro studies. An aqueous extract of the whole plant acts as an antidiarrhoeic agent by anti-amoebic, antibacterial and antispasmodic activities. The antidiarrhoeal activity is attributed to quercitrin through the release of the aglycone quercetin in the intestine. Quercitrin showed antidiarrhoeic activity at doses of 50 mg/kg in mice.
A crude plant extract and an ethanolic extract had significant anti-amoebic activity against Entamoeba histolytica in vitro at 35 mg/ml. An aqueous lyophilysate of the whole plant showed higher activity against Entamoeba histolytica than either the ethyl acetate or methanol extracts, at 30 mg/ml. An aqueous plant extract showed concentration-related activity against non-pathogenic amoebae of the Amoeba proteus type. Different extracts from the aerial parts showed antibacterial activity against a wide spectrum of both gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria. Extracts of the aerial parts showed strong antibacterial activity against Shigella dysenteriae, a causal agent for dysentery in humans. The active compound was found to be ethyl gallate, which has broad spectrum antibiotic activity at non-toxic doses. A crude ethanol extract of the whole plant showed dose-dependent activity against Candida albicans, but not against several other pathogenic fungi. Some of the isolated antibacterial compounds were taraxerone and 11α,12α-oxidotaraxerol, which showed low cytotoxicity.
Ethanol, petroleum ether and dichloromethane extracts of whole plants showed significant in-vitro antiplasmodial activity (IC50 = 3 μg/ml) and decreased growth of Plasmodium falciparum by 89–100% at a test concentration of 6 μg/ml. In-vivo, the extracts reduced parasitaemia in mice infected with Plasmodium berghei berghei at oral doses of 100–400 mg/kg per day. From a methanolic extract of the aerial parts the flavonol glycosides afzelin, quercitrin and myricitrin were isolated, which showed proliferation inhibition of Plasmodium falciparum, with IC50 values of 1.1, 4.1, 5.4 μg/ml respectively, while they exhibited little cytotoxic effect against human epidermoid carcinoma KB 3–1 cells. An ethanolic extract was active in selectively inhibiting Herpes simplex virus type-1 (0.001–0.1 mg/ml).
A lyophilized aqueous extract of the aerial parts has been evaluated for analgesic, antipyretic and anti-inflammatory properties in mice and rats. The extract exerted central analgesic properties at doses of 20 and 25 mg/kg, and antipyretic activity at doses of 100 and 400 mg/kg, whereas anti-inflammatory effects against carrageenan-induced oedema in rats were observed at a dose of 100 mg/kg. The aqueous extract of the aerial parts has been found to strongly reduce the release of prostaglandins, and thus depress inflammation. An ethanolic extract of the aerial parts was found to possess a prominent anti-anaphylactic activity and also showed significant antihistaminic, anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive properties in various animal models.
Water and ethanolic leaf extracts produced a time-dependent increase in urine output in rats. A methanol extract of leaves and stems inhibited the activity of angiotensin-converting enzyme by 90% at 500 μg and 50% at 160 μg. The extract (10 mg/100 g, intraperitoneally) significantly decreased the amount of water consumed by rats. An ethanolic extract of the whole plant showed a dose-dependent ulcer protective effect in rats. The active compound was found to be quercetin, which had an anti-ulcer activity ranging from 48–64% comparable to 61–80% of the standard drug ranitidine. An ethanolic extract of the aerial parts showed significant hepatoprotective activity in rats. Extracts of whole plant material have oestrogenic activity in female guinea pigs, when given orally.
In organ bath tests with ileum preparations, shikimic acid and choline extracted from the aerial parts had relaxing and contracting properties, respectively. Shikimic acid also has acute toxicity, mutagenicity and carcinogenicity.
The aqueous crude extract significantly reduced the faecal egg count of helminths in dogs.
Several of the extracts of Euphorbia hirta showed potential for controlling plant diseases and pests. For example, a whole plant extract inhibited growth of vascular wilt (Fusarium oxysporum) and the causal agent of sheath rot of rice, Sarocladium oryzae; aqueous extracts of the aerial parts inhibited aflatoxin production by Aspergillus parasiticus on agricultural crops, including rice, wheat, maize and groundnuts. Leaf extracts completely inhibited soft rot infection caused by the bacteria Erwinia carotovora pv. carotovora. The infectivity of tobacco mosaic virus on Nicotiana glutinosa L. was strongly inhibited (>80%) by tannins extracted from the aerial parts. The latex inhibited sugarcane mosaic virus-A by 78.5% and sugarcane mosaic virus-F by 80%.
Root and leaf extracts showed nematicidal activity against Meloidogyne incognita; a whole plant extract effectively reduced hatching in the nematode Heterodera avenae. A 10% ethanol crude extract showed significant larvicidal action against the larvae of the tick Boophilus microplus.
Aqueous stem, latex and leaf extracts have potent molluscicidal activity against the freshwater snails Lymnaea acuminata and Indoplanorbis exustus, both intermediate hosts of Fasciola hepatica and Fasciola gigantica, which cause endemic fascioliasis in cattle and livestock. Toxicity of the extracts was time dependent and dose dependent against both snails. The doses that can be used for killing 90% of the Lymnaea acuminata populations are safe for the fish Channa punctatus.
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 Annual, branched herb, prostrate to ascending, with branches up to 50 cm long, with latex; all parts short-hairy and with sparse yellow hairs c. 1.5 mm long. Leaves opposite, distichous, simple; stipules linear, up to 2.5 mm long; petiole up to 3.5 mm long; blade ovate, 1–4 cm × 0.5–2 cm, base very unequal, one side cuneate, the other side rounded, apex almost acute, margin finely toothed, often with a purple blotch near the midvein. Inflorescence a terminal or axillary cluster of flowers, called a ‘cyathium’, with several cyathia densely clustered into a cyme c. 15 mm in diameter; peduncle up to 15(–20) mm long; cyathia with a cup-shaped involucre c. 1 mm in diameter, tinged purple, lobes triangular, fringed, glands 4, tiny, elliptical, green or purplish, with minute white to pink appendages, each involucre containing 1 female flower surrounded by many male flowers. Flowers unisexual; male flowers sessile, bracteoles linear, fringed, perianth absent, stamen 1, c. 1 mm long; female flowers with short pedicel, perianth a rim, ovary superior, short-hairy, 3-celled, styles 3, minute, apex 2-fid. Fruit a just exserted, acutely 3-lobed capsule c. 1 mm in diameter, base truncate, short-hairy, 3-seeded. Seeds oblong-conical, c. 1 mm long, slightly wrinkled, pinkish brown, without caruncle.
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Other botanical information  
 Euphorbia comprises about 2000 species and has a worldwide distribution, with at least 750 species occurring in continental Africa and about 150 species in Madagascar and the Indian Ocean islands. Euphorbia hirta belongs to subgenus C hamaesyce section Hypericifoliae, a group of annual herbs with obvious stipules, which is further characterized by the main stem aborting at the seedling stage and the plant thus consisting of an expanded, dichotomously branching inflorescence, with the floral bracts appearing as normal leaves, cyathia clustered into 10 or more stalked, head-like cymes, 4 involucral glands with petal-like appendages or entire and conical seeds without a caruncle.
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Growth and development  
 Ants may be dispersal agents of Euphorbia hirta seeds.
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 Euphorbia hirta grows in cultivated fields, gardens, roadsides and waste places, from sea-level up to 2000 m altitude.
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Propagation and planting  
 Euphorbia hirta produces up to 3000 seeds per plant, which show a germination rate of up to 92%. Seeds can be dried without damage to low moisture contents, usually much lower levels than normally reached in nature. Over a wide range of storage environments, their longevity increases with reduction in both moisture content and temperature. Regeneration can also be achieved from leaf explants or stem segments.
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 Euphorbia hirta is considered a weed, and can be a nuisance in crops due to the large number of seedlings.
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Diseases and pests  
 Euphorbia hirta is a host to many fungal pathogens and may as such act as a reservoir of pathogenic fungi, which can infect nearby susceptible crops. Trypanosomatid flagellates (Phytomonas spp.) were detected in Euphorbia hirta plants in coconut plantations. Euphorbia hirta also acts as a host to several insect vectors, including the aphid Aphis craccivora, a vector of the rosette virus disease of groundnut, and Aphis gossypii.
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Handling after harvest  
 All parts of Euphorbia hirta are usually used fresh, but sometimes they are dried for future use.
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Genetic resources and breeding  
 Euphorbia hirta is a very common weed and has a very large area of distribution. Therefore there is no risk of genetic erosion.
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 Considering that the pharmacological action of Euphorbia hirta for the treatment of many ailments has been validated, and that the plant is reasonably safe to use, this plant has not received sufficient promotion for use as herbal medicine. Its development will be important in the improved delivery of primary health care in developing countries. Euphorbia hirta may find potential use in integrated pest management as a simple, cheap and safe natural product insecticide.
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Major references  
 • Anuradha, H., Srikumar, B.N., Rao, B.S.S. & Lakshmana, M., 2008. Euphorbia hirta reverses chronic stress-induced anxiety and mediates its action through the GABA(A) receptor benzodiazepine receptor-Cl-channel complex. Journal of Neural Transmission 115(1): 35–42.
• Burkill, H.M., 1994. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 2, Families E–I. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 636 pp.
• Carter, S. & Radcliffe-Smith, A., 1988. Euphorbiaceae (part 2). In: Polhill, R.M. (Editor). Flora of Tropical East Africa. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, Netherlands. pp. 409–597.
• Gurib-Fakim, A., Guého, J. & Bissoondoyal, M.D., 1996. Plantes médicinales de Maurice, tome 2. Editions de l’Océan Indien, Rose-Hill, Mauritius. 532 pp.
• Lanhers, M.C., Fleurentin, J., Dorfman, P., Mortier, F. & Pelt, J.-M., 1991. Analgesic, antipyretic and anti-inflammatory properties of Euphorbia hirta. Planta Medica 57(3): 225–231.
• Liu, Y., Murakami, N., Ji, H., Abreu, P. & Zhang, S., 2007. Antimalarial flavonol glycosides from Euphorbia hirta. Pharmaceutical Biology 45(4): 278–281.
• Neuwinger, H.D., 1996. African ethnobotany: poisons and drugs. Chapman & Hall, London, United Kingdom. 941 pp.
• Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
• Nguyen Nghia Thin & Sosef, M.S.M., 1999. Euphorbia L. In: de Padua, L.S., Bunyapraphatsara, N. & Lemmens, R.H.M.J. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 12(1). Medicinal and poisonous plants 1. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 263–272.
• Youssouf, M.S., Kaiser, P., Tahir, M., Singh, G.D., Singh, S., Shanna, V.K., Satti, N.K., Haque, S.E. & Johri, R.K., 2007. Anti-anaphylactic effect of Euphorbia hirta. Fitoterapia 78(7–8): 535–539.
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Other references  
 • Abu Sayeed, M., Ali, M.A., Bhattacharjee, P.K., Islam, A., Astaq, G.R.M., Khan, M. & Yeasmin, S., 2005. Biological evaluation of extracts and triterpenoids of Euphorbia hirta. Pakistan Journal of Scientific and Industrial Research 48(2): 122–125.
• Adedapo, A.A., Abatan, M.O., Idowu, S.O. & Olorunsogo, O.O., 2005. Effects of chromatographic fractions of Euphorbia hirta on the rat serum biochemistry. African Journal of Biomedical Research 8(3): 185–189.
• Adjanohoun, E.J., 1986. Fiche espèce sur Euphorbia hirta L. (Euphorbiacées). Médecine Traditionnelle et Pharmacopée 0(0): 18–28.
• Edwin, J.E., Dubey, S., Gupta, S. & Gupta, V.B., 2007. Hepatoprotective activity of Euphorbia hirta Linn. Geobios 34(1): 81–83.
• Hiermann, A. & Bucar, F., 1994. Influence of some traditional medicinal plants of Senegal on prostaglandin biosynthesis. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 42(2): 111–116.
• Johnson, P.B., Abdurahman, E.M., Tiam, E.A., Abdu Aguye, I. & Hussaini, I.M., 1999. Euphorbia hirta leaf extracts increase urine output and electrolytes in rats. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 65(1): 63–69.
• Lanhers, M.C., Fleurentin, J., Cabalion, P., Rolland, A., Dorfman, P., Misslin, R. & Pelt, J.M., 1990. Behavioral effects of Euphorbia hirta L.: sedative and anxiolytic properties. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 29(2): 189–198.
• Masood, A. & Ranjan, K.S., 1991. The effect of aqueous plant extracts on growth and aflatoxin production by Aspergillus flavus. Letters in Applied Microbiology 13(1): 32–34.
• Ogbulie, J.N., Ogueke, C.C., Okoli, I.C. & Anyanwu, B.N., 2007. Antibacterial activities and toxicological potentials of crude ethanolic extracts of Euphorbia hirta. African Journal of Biotechnology 6(13): 1544–1548.
• Oyewale, A.O., Mika, A. & Peters, F.A., 2002. Phytochemical, cytotoxicity and microbial screening of Euphorbia hirta Linn. Global Journal of Pure and Applied Sciences 8(1): 49–55.
• Rao, C.V., Rao, G.M.M., Kartik, R., Sudhakar, M., Mehrotra, S. & Goel, R.K., 2003. Ulcer protective effect of Euphorbia hirta extract in rats. Journal of Tropical Medicinal Plants 4(2): 199–205.
• Sawadogo, L., Houdebine, L.-M., Thibault, J.-F. & Rouau, X., 1988. Mise en évidence d’une activité lactogène dans des extraits végétaux. Médecine Traditionelle et Pharmacopée 2(1): 19–30.
• Singh, G.D., Kaiser, P., Youssouf, M.S., Singh, S., Khajuria, A., Koul, A., Bani, S., Kapahi, B.K., Satti, N.K., Suri, K.A. & Johri, R.K., 2006. Inhibition of early and late phase allergic reactions by Euphorbia hirta L. Phytotherapy Research 20(4): 316–321.
• Singh, S.K., Yadav, R.P., Tiwari, S. & Singh, A., 2005. Toxic effect of stem bark and leaf of Euphorbia hirta plant against freshwater vector snail Lymnaea acuminata. Chemosphere 59(2): 263–270.
• Somchit, M.N., Mutalib, A.R., Hasmawie, M.R. & Murni, A., 2001. In vitro antifungal and antibacterial properties of Euphorbia hirta. Journal of Tropical Medicinal Plants 2(2): 179–182.
• Tabuti, J.R.S., Lye, K.A. & Dhillion, S.S., 2003. Traditional herbal drugs of Bulamogi, Uganda: plants, use and administration. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 88: 19–44.
• Tona, L., Cimanga, R.K., Mesia, K., Musuamba, C.T., De Bruyne, T., Apers, S., Hernans, N., Van Miert, S., Pieters, L., Totté, J. & Vlietink, A.J., 2004. In vitro antiplasmodial activity of extracts and fractions from seven medicinal plants used in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 93: 27–32.
• Wallace, A.P., Marko, K.E., Wisdom, A.P. & Dennis, E., 1990. Comparative clinical studies of three plant leaves as sources of protein using albino rats. Journal of the Ghana Science Association 2(3): 81–87.
• Wome, B., 1984. Plants used for the treatment of venereal diseases in traditional medicine from Kisangani, upper Zaire. Bulletin de la Société Royale de Botanique de Belgique 117(1): 171–180.
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Afriref references  
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Sources of illustration  
 • Nguyen Nghia Thin & Sosef, M.S.M., 1999. Euphorbia L. In: de Padua, L.S., Bunyapraphatsara, N. & Lemmens, R.H.M.J. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 12(1). Medicinal and poisonous plants 1. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 263–272.
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J.R.S. Tabuti
Department of Botany, Makerere University, P.O. Box 7062, Kampala, Uganda

G.H. Schmelzer
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
A. Gurib-Fakim
Faculty of Science, University of Mauritius, Réduit, Mauritius
Associate editors  
C.H. Bosch
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
M.S.J. Simmonds
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 3AB, United Kingdom
R. Arroo
Leicester School of Pharmacy, Natural Products Research, De Montfort University, The Gateway, Leicester LE1 9BH, United Kingdom
A. de Ruijter
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
General editors  
R.H.M.J. Lemmens
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
L.P.A. Oyen
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
Photo editor  
A. de Ruijter
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
Correct citation of this article  
 Tabuti, J.R.S., 2008. Euphorbia hirta L. [Internet] Record from PROTA4U. Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. <>. Accessed .

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General importance
Geographic coverage Africa
Geographic coverage World
Forage/feed use
Medicinal use

Euphorbia hirta

Euphorbia hirta
1, plant habit; 2, young cyathium; 3, mature cyathium; 4, seed. Source: PROSEA

Euphorbia hirta
flowering plants CopyLeft EcoPort

Euphorbia hirta
flowering plant CopyLeft EcoPort

Euphorbia hirta
flowering stems

Euphorbia hirta
part of flowering stem CopyLeft EcoPort

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