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Ringworm Bush

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Name of the Ringworm Bush, past and present

Chinese: yi bing jue ming
Malayalam: gelenggang besar
Thai: chumhet thet
Filipino (various regional dialects): akapulko / kasitas / palo-tsina
English: ringworm bush / candlebush / candelabra plant / alcapulco (adopted from Filipino) / wild senna
Latin (scientific nomenclature): Cassia alata / Senna alata / Cassia herpetica

Background and History

The ringworm bush is a relatively obscure medicinal plant said to be a native of Mexico, although it grows profusely in other parts of the world, typically preferring warm, tropical, and partly humid climates. Despite its long-standing presence in the New World, the ringworm bush is not a relatively common or well-known medicinal plant, with the majority of its therapeutic applications having been derived from the folkloric use of the plant in the Philippine Isles, where it has been employed as a medicinal plant since prior to the Spanish Colonization. The use of the plant has also been quite common throughout the whole of Asia, particularly in Northern China, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Indonesia, and some parts of India.

Also referred to as the 'candlestick bush', the ringworm bush's flowers are unique in that, when they reach maturity, they resemble upright candlesticks. The ringworm bush is a relatively small plant bordering on being shrub-like, and growing to a maximum height of three meters. It is resplendent with pinnate leaves that are typically forty to sixty centimetres in length depending on the relative size of the bush, and arranged from the smallest to the largest beginning at the base of each branch. In some respects, the leaves of the ringworm bush partially resemble that of the morigna tree (Moringa oleifera) or the lead tree (Leucaena glauca, although the resemblance is only superficial. Nevertheless, it is commonly mistake for the latter by inexpert herbalists and phony shamans. The ringworm bush, like the lead tree bears pod-like fruits that house a number of tiny triangular seeds. These pods are known to be a favourite of many forest-dwelling animals, and it is through their consumption of the pods that the plant is chiefly propagated. Perhaps the most telling and extraordinary feature of the ringworm bush is its uniquely shaped flowers. Typically found growing in clusters while immature, they soon advance into a highly spectacular form upon maturity, standing erect at the apex of its growth so much so that it resembles a sizable yellow candlestick, with a relatively large central growth of tightly compacted petals found in the centre of the axis of its growth, surrounded by smaller roundels of petals. Its flowers are highly discernable not only for its unique appearance, but for its intense yellow colouration. The ringworm bush is also unique in that not only its flowers close during nightfall, but its leaves also fold up unto itself (in much the same way as a bashful mimosa [Mimosa pudica]) in the absence of light. [1] Like many medicinal plants common in the Asiatic parts, each of its distinct parts are typically prescribed unique therapeutic properties and applications, so much so that nearly every part of the plant may be employed medicinally in the treatment of various types of ailments.

Common / Popular Uses

The most common use of the ringworm bush, as its name suggests, is an antifungal remedy for the treatment of ringworms. The ringworm bush has also been traditionally prescribed as a remedy for all sorts of skin diseases, ranging from eczema, scabies, tinea infection, shingles, and even herpes. When employed for the treatment of topical disorders, the most common method of application involves bruising the leaves (with, or without the addition of the flowers) until a soft pulpy poultice-like material is made. This is then applied directly to the affected area and left for several minutes. Applied religiously for three days to a week, it provides sure-fire relief from even the most uncomfortable of skin disorders. Alternatively, one may extract the juice of the leaves and flowers via pounding and expressing, and apply it directly to the affected area twice daily, with or without the addition of coconut oil and / or lime juice, lemon juice, or vinegar. [2]

A decoction of the leaves may be applied to open wounds, ulcerations, and sores to help hasten healing and prevent infection. A topical application of the selfsame decoction unto the scalp twice daily may also help to cure dandruff and psoriasis, especially when combined with the pre-wash application of dried and agitated St Thomas bean bark (Entada phaseoloides). When made into a very potent decoction and combined with a jigger or two of freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice, this topical hair-rinse may also be helpful in ridding the hair of lice and other parasites. When drunk in small doses, it has also been used as a purgative, an emmenagogue, an emetic, and as an oxytocic (compound that helps to induce or hasten labour), although extremely high doses of in very concentrated forms can pose dangers of becoming abortifacients. If drunk in controlled dosages, it can be a potent paraciticide and diaphoretic. Milder decoctions can also be drunk as a remedy for fevers, asthma, and minor to mildly serious cases of poisoning. The ringworm bush contains antipyretic, anti-asthmatic and alterative properties, making it useful for the treatment of the previously stated diseases. Some herbalists even prescribe mild decoctions of the leaves to help manage hypertension. [3] It has even been employed as a mouthwash for the treatment of halitosis and stomatitis.

In India, Africa, and South America, natives have long employed potent decoctions of the leaves and flowers as a remedy for snakebites, and may still be employed today for such purposes in the absence of antivenin, although extreme caution must be undertaken when employing the plant for the purposes of detoxification. Chinese traditional medicine also prescribes a mild decoction of its leaves and flowers as a diuretic and detoxifying tonic, usually in the form of a tincture.

A very mild decoction of the roots may be used to remedy tympanites and colic, although stronger concentrations may prove to be lethal if prescribed and consumed in excess, especially in children. The seeds of the plant itself may be decocted and drunk as a paraciticide, usually combined with the leaves. [4]

Esoteric / Magickal Uses

Being relatively obscure, the ringworm bush lacks any magickal uses in the Western sphere of ceremonial or shamanic magick, although it does play an infrequent role in Filipino shamanism. The seeds of the ringworm bush are usually employed by shamans in the creation of rattles, rain-sticks, and other musical instruments, as it is believed that the seeds can attract and eventually imprison sprites that can be harnessed by the shaman. The seeds may also be employed in the creation of medicine pouches, where it believed that the integration of three seeds from the ringworm bush protects one from the malign influence of forest sprites and grants the bearer the ability to ask for boons from such entities. The dried pods and leaves of the ringworm bush may be burnt as an incense to purge specific areas of the presence of malignant earth-bound entities, while the flowers may be steeped in oil and used as a ceremonial ointment. Its use in Filipino shamanism has become relatively rare at present, with only a few dozen 'traditionalists' and witch doctors preferring to employ it for magickal purposes.

References:

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Senna_alata

[2] http://www.medicalhealthguide.com/articles/akapulko1.htm

[3] - [4] http://www.stuartxchange.com/Akapulko.html

Main article researched and created by Alexander Leonhardt. © herbs-info.com 2013

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