Synonyms/other Latin names: Chailletia cymosa Hook
Common name(s): poison leaf, gifblaar, umKauzaan, ncusane, gifblaar
A very common, small shrub of about 30cm height, mainly occurring on deep sand and loamy sands. It grows in colonies from branched underground stems. It is amongst the first fresh green leaves to appear after the dry season. It flowers from September onwards in small white cymes, one single flower being about 6mm long. The fruits are strikingly large for the small plant, bright yellow and egg-sized and are ripe from November onwards.
The whole plant except the fruit is very poisonous, and only the fruit flesh is eaten. The poisonous skin is peeled thickly (1cm), then the flesh is eaten without touching the large kernel inside. The kernel is also regarded as being poisonous. Stored fruits start to shrivel after two days. A cold extract of leaves is sometimes used to kill animals but is also said to be mortal for human beings. Young leaves may irritate the skin on contact and cause burning or itching, an effect not found with the old leaf. Whether this is related to the reported presence of monofluoroacetate in this and other Dichapetalum species is not clear. Inadvertent contact with sodium monofluoroacetate (MFA) dust has been reported to produce a tingling sensation around the corners of the mouth and in the nasal passages.
Gifblaar poisoning often results in acute death of ruminants, particularly cattle, in southern Africa. Mortalities in ruminants have been reported from Gauteng, Mpumalanga, North West, and Northern Provinces in South Africa. There are also reports of mortalities from Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia. Gifblaar poisoning is considered the fourth most important plant poisoning syndrome in South Africa. Mortality as a result of ingestion of the leaves of this plant occurs mainly during the months of August to November, as well as in March.
The duration of the clinical signs of gifblaar poisoning in cattle is extremely short. Veterinary practitioners usually do not observe the animal alive. In dogs, the clinical signs of MFA are of somewhat longer duration and resemble those manifested in strychnine or convulsive pesticide poisoning. Unless fragments of the gifblaar plant are found in the rumen, the diagnosis can only be based on clinical signs and circumstantial evidence.
The roots are used for treating diarrhea and for liver problems. In both cases, fresh roots are cut into pieces and cooked together with water. The cooled down infusion is then drunk. In cases of an enlarged liver, drinking the infusion causes severe vomiting which is said to heal the liver. Taken in cases of diarrhea, it will not cause vomiting.
According to this more technical document
published by the American Chemical Society, it may even help in the HIV protease anti-infective therapy.
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