Sunday, May 14, 2023 05:45 [IST]

Last Update: Sunday, May 14, 2023 00:08 [IST]

Salacia: The amazing medicinal plant from Asia


Salacia plants are a genus of flowering plants that are native to Sri Lanka, India, and several other countries in Southeast Asia. The genus contains approximately 20 species, many of which have been used for their potential health benefits in traditional medicine. One particular species, Salacia reticulata, has been the subject of numerous scientific studies due to its potential to improve health outcomes. Salacia plants are typically found in tropical and subtropical regions, where they grow as small shrubs or trees. In traditional medicine, the plants have been used to treat a range of health conditions, including diabetes, inflammation, and high cholesterol levels. Research has shown that compounds found in the plant, particularly mangiferin and salacinol, may help to lower blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity. 


Salacia reticulata has also been studied for its potential cholesterol-lowering effects and anti-inflammatory properties. Salacia species are typically found in tropical and subtropical regions and can grow as small shrubs or trees. The plants have a long history of use in traditional medicine in the regions where they grow, and are sometimes used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine. One of the most promising potential benefits of Salacia plants is their ability to help lower blood sugar levels. Salacia reticulata has been the focus of numerous scientific studies investigating its potential anti-diabetic effects. Research has shown that compounds found in the plant, particularly mangiferin and salacinol, may help to lower blood glucose levels and improve insulin sensitivity. This suggests that Salacia plants may have potential benefits for individuals with type 2 diabetes.

In addition to its potential anti-diabetic effects, Salacia plants have also been studied for their potential cholesterol-lowering effects. One study published in the International Journal of Vitamin and Nutrition Research found that consuming fenugreek seed extract helped to reduce levels of total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol. This suggests that Salacia plants may have potential benefits for individuals with high cholesterol levels. Recent scientific studies have supported some of these traditional uses, suggesting that Salacia plants may have potential benefits for human health.

Salacia species like Salacia oblonga, Salacia  prinoides and Salacia  retictulata, are collectively known as ‘Ponkoranti’ in Ayurvedic medicine. The species is widely distributed across South and South East Asian countries like India, China, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia. The specie, S. reticulata is known to be distributed in Sri Lanka and the Southern region of India. Though rare, this species could also be found in evergreen forests of Western Ghats and the Andaman Islands. It is a large woody climbing shrub belongs to family Hippocrateaceae. The greenish grey colour bark of the plant is smooth, with white inside. The average dimension of a leaf is 3-6 X 1-2 inches. They are opposite and elliptic-oblong, base acute, apex abruptly acuminate; margin toothed with minute rounded teeth, leathery, hairless, shiny, lateral nerves about seven pairs, prominent beneath. It produces greenish white to greenish yellow colour flowers as clusters (2-8) in the leaf axils. Flowers are bisexual, calyx lobes entire, anthers dehiscing transversely. Fruits are globose, tubercular, pinkish orange when ripe. They contain 1-4 seeds. The plant flowers in December under Indian conditions, whereas in Sri Lanka, flowering starts in late November and seeds are available from March- June. A mature plant produces thousands of seeds per a season. The species is generally believed to be regenerated only by means of seed propagation; but, could also be produced via vegetative propagation using stem and root cuttings. Sand media was found to be good for seed germination in which seeds complete germination within 21-30 days. Seedlings should be transplanted into poly bags and 2-3 months later they are ready for field establishment. 


Though a mature plant produces thousands of seeds per a season, the species is considered to be rare implying that the viability and/or germination ability of the seeds are poor. However, laboratory investigations have confirmed that high germination percentage can be obtained by sowing them in coir dust media after pre-soaking in cold water for 24 hrs. Therefore, poor regeneration capacity of the species might be attributed to the poor moisture availability of the soil at the time of seed maturity. Low survival ability of seedlings in a dry spell might be another possible reason for poor regeneration capacity. It thrives best in porous and well-drained soils with a pH ranging from 6.5-7.5 with favourable temperature between 26-32 ºC and has been known to tolerate even 35ºC and with annual precipitation of 100-160 cm. The nutritional requirement of this crop has shown that it responds well to the application of Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium and also cow dung, vermin compost. The first irrigation is given immediately after transplanting, weekly irrigation is enough to obtain good growth and yield. Due to the frequently irrigation during the initial stages, there is a lot of competition from weeds. In order to obtain economic yields, frequent weeding during the early growth period is desirable. No major insect has been reported to infect the plant.

The decoction of the roots has been used in the treatment of itching and swelling, asthma, thirst, amenorrhea and dysmenorrhoea. The roots are acrid, bitter, thermogenic, urinary, astringent, anodyne, anti-inflammatory.

The roots and stem have been widely used in treating diabetes and obesity, gonorrhoea and rheumatism, skin diseases and haemorrhoids.

In addition, the water extracts of leaves is known to be beneficial for the prevention of diabetes mellitus and obesity as its multiple effects such as the ability to increase the plasma insulin level and lower the lipid peroxide level of the Salacia inhibits ?-glucosidase and decreases postprandial glucose. Alpha-glucosidase inhibitors are well suited to treat postprandial hyperglycaemia, a common and serious problem faced by many people with Type 2 diabetes metabolism. Alpha-glucosidase inhibitors cause competitive, reversible inhibition of ?-glucosidase enzyme. This enzyme is present in the brush border of small intestine and hydrolysis complex sugars into monosaccharide’s. Alpha-glucosidase inhibitors also cause a concomitant decrease in gastric inhibitory polypeptide and a rise in late postprandial plasma glucagon-like peptide 1 levels.

In individuals with normal or impaired glucose tolerance with hyperinsulinemia, ?-glucosidase inhibitors decrease hyperinsulinemia and improve insulin sensitivity. In Type 1 diabetic patients, ?-glucosidase inhibitors can be used to reduce postprandial glycemic excursions and decrease postprandial hypoglycaemia. In a sucrose tolerance test on healthy human volunteers, pre-treatment with the aqueous extract of S. reticulata before sucrose loading significantly suppressed postprandial hyperglycaemia. S. oblonga root extract lowered acute glycaemia and insulinemia in patients with Type 2 diabetes after a high-carbohydrate meal.


Salacia inhibits aldose reductase in diabetics, the glucose flux through the polyol pathway (which converts glucose to sorbitol) due to chronic hyperglycaemia is significantly increased which is believed to be responsible for number of diabetic complications. There are some side effects of Salacia it can cause side effects such as gas, belching, pain in the abdomen, nausea, and diarrhoea in some people. The anti diabetic property of Salacia reticulata has been proved scientifically and it is basically attributed to the inhibitory activity of intestinal enzymes (?-glucosidase and ?-amylase). Inhibition of intestinal enzymes delays glucose absorption into the blood and suppresses postprandial hyperglycaemia, resulting in improved glycemic control. The findings have lead to increase the consumption of the species across the world and it has now become a subject of broad studies for diabetes management. Increasing demand, on the other hand, may create extra pressure on natural habitats. Thus systematic cultivation is needed in order to ensure the sustainable utilization and conservation of the species.




Sikkim at a Glance

  • Area: 7096 Sq Kms
  • Capital: Gangtok
  • Altitude: 5,840 ft
  • Population: 6.10 Lakhs
  • Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 to over 28,509 ft above sea level
  • Climate:
  • Summer: Min- 13°C - Max 21°C
  • Winter: Min- 0.48°C - Max 13°C
  • Rainfall: 325 cms per annum
  • Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi