COMMON NAMES: Adilearicham, Bavangi, Black Ipecac, Black Oil Plant, Black Oil Tree, Celastrus Dependens, Celastrus Paniculata, Climbing Staff Plant, Climbing Staff Tree, Dhimarbel, Intellect Tree, Jothismadhu Seed Oil, Jyotismati, Kaluganne, Kanagiliballi, Kangodi, Karigonne, Maiya-kodi, Mal Kangni, Malaria Teega, Malkamni, Maner Tiga, Palleru, Peng, Pigavi, Polulavam, Oriental Bittersweet, Sphutabandhani, Svarnalota, Teegapalleru, Valuluvai, Velo
Celastrus paniculatus is a deciduous climbing shrub that can grow very large in size. The base stem of this shrub will grow up to 10 inches (25 cm) in diameter and produce many woody branches that cling to surrounding flora for support. The inner bark is light and cork like, with yellow sapwood. The leaves are oval shape and grow on singular stems, ranging in color from light to dark green. The flowers are tiny, whitish green to yellow green, and grow on the top of the main stalk. Celastrus is prized by native peoples throughout India for its seeds, which grow in round pods that gradually change from a light yellow to a deep red color as they mature. The seeds are small, oval shaped and grow six per seedpod. They are also may cause yellow-orange stains on anything the oils come into contact with.
Celastrus paniculatus grows in a wide variety of climates and environments. It is native to the Indian continent, but is known to grow wildly in Australia, China, Taiwan, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam, and many of the Pacific islands. The Celastrus family of shrubs has also been transplanted and grows on every continent except Antarctica. This hardy bush has been seen growing above an elevation of 5900 feet (1800 meters) along the Himalayan mountainside and in other high altitude environments (Zhixiang & Funston 2008).
TRADITIONAL USE: For thousands of years, Ayurvedic healers have used Celastrus seeds for their potent medicinal properties. The plant was used to treat many different ailments, but most notably it was administered as a powerful brain tonic, appetite stimulant, and emetic. According to Greco-Arabic Yunani medicine, the oil of the Celastrus seed was used to treat physical weakness, mental confusion, alleviate asthma symptoms, reduce headaches, and to cure joint pain and arthritis. Healers also used Celastrus to create a potent balm that they believed worked as a sexual stimulant, much like modern phosphodiesterase inhibitors (i.e. sindenafil (Viagra), tadalafil (Cialis), ect.) (Russo et. al. 2001).
Healers made a tonic of the seed oil, which they used to mitigate mental fatigue and memory loss, as well as to boost memory recall, retention, and other thought processes. Traditional healers from the Chhattisgarh, Bastar region of India are known to prescribe Celastrus seeds to their patients. They recommend that anyone suffering from forgetfulness begin adding one seed to their diet daily, and gradually increase their dosage up to 100 seeds per day. It is this ability to improve mental function, memory recall and retention that has made this one of the choice herbal supplements for those working to improve dream recall and to achieve lucid dreams (Zhixiang & Funston 2008).
TRADITIONAL PREPARATION: Although there are many different preparations for C. paniculatus, the most prevalent and common methods all extract the essential oils of the seeds. An older and more traditional extraction method involves taking the seeds and placing them in a pot of boiling water or goat’s milk. Over a period of several hours the essential oils would rise to the surface, the seeds were strained out and the remaining mixture was allowed to settle. Finally, the oil was carefully siphoned out into another container. A more modern method of extraction involves placing a large quantity of seeds into a screw press, and squeezing the oil out of the seeds under the pressure of the press. Modern research into the effects of Celastrus paniculatus has shown that the seeds can be just as effective when consumed with little to no prior preparation. In this case, simply chew 10-12 seeds at at time, or soak a teaspoon of seeds in four cups of boiling hot water for three hours, then sweeten and drink (Hanumanthachar & Milind 2006).
MEDICINAL USES: Recent medical research has proven the efficacy of the oil obtained from the seeds; in small mammal studies, the oil produced lower blood pressure, increased alertness, and improved problem-solving skills, possibly due to its powerful antioxidant action in the blood (Nalini et. al. 1995). The oil from the Celastrus seed has long been valued in India for its beneficial effects on memory and intellect. They have effectively used the oil to treat beri-beri as well as malaria. To this day, many Indian college students regularly consume half a teaspoon or less of the oil as part of their daily diet; at this dosage, the oil acts as a brain stimulant to improve memory and recall and to give them a slight edge during important exams.
There are currently several herbal supplements on the market that utilize Celastrus oil in their formula; herbal supplements like Cognihance have been clinically-proven “to enhance memory and increase retention.” Dietary supplements like these usually combine Celastrus seed oil with other effective herbal supplements like Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri), Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica) and Gingko biloba.
There is ongoing research into the possibility that anticancer drugs like pristimerin, which is derived from the seeds of the Celastrus plant, may be an effect means of treating certain types of cancers, or inhibiting the growth of specific types of cancer cells. Research conducted by H. Yang et.al. has shown pristimerin to be quite active against nine cancer cell lines. Although much more research still needs to be done, the potential health benefits of Celastrus seed oil looks very promising (Yang et. al. 2008).
TRADITIONAL EFFECTS: Modern research has shown that C. paniculatus seeds yield as much as 52% oil by weight. It is in the nutrient rich oil that the active compounds are found, such as celastrine, paniculatin, and other active alkaloids. These active compounds are used as an antimalarial agent, and are currently used in modern medicines like Pristimerin. Celastrus seeds and the oil they produce have been clinically proven to increase mental acuity, improve memory, retention and recall. Subjects using the oil are able to learn new information more quickly are able to accurately recall that information over longer periods of time. People have long used Celastrus seeds as a supplement to improve dream recall and to help induce lucid dreams, consuming small quantities of the oil as part of a healthy diet (Hanumanthachar & Milind 2006).
Hanumanthachar, J., and P. Milind. “Brahmi Rasayana Improves Learning and Memory in Mice.” Alternative Medicine 3, no. 1 (2006): 79–85.
Nalini, K., K.S. Karanth, A. Rao, and A.R. Aroor. “Effects of Celastrus Paniculatus on Passive Avoidance Performance and Biogenic Amine Turnover in Albino Rats.” Journal of Ethnopharmacology 47, no. 2 (1995): 101–108.
Russo, A., A.A. Izzo, V. Cardile, F. Borrelli, and A. Vanella. “Indian Medicinal Plants as Antiradicals and DNA Cleavage Protectors.” Phytomedicine 8, no. 2 (2001): 125–132.
Yang, H., K.R. Landis-Piwowar, D. Lu, P. Yuan, L. Li, G.P. Reddy, X. Yuan, and Q.P. Dou. “Pristimerin Induces Apoptosis by Targeting the Proteasome in Prostate Cancer Cells.” Journal of Cell Biochemistry 103, no. 1 (2008): 234–244.
Zhixiang, Z., and A. Funston. “CELASTRUS Linnaeus.” China 11 (2008): 466–474.