Herb Library

Back to Herb Menu     Back to Index

DISCLAIMER: These pages are presented solely as a source of INFORMATION and ENTERTAINMENT and to provide stern warnings against use where appropriate. No claims are made for the efficacy of any herb nor for any historical herbal treatment. In no way can the information provided here take the place of the standard, legal, medical practice of any country. Additionally, some of these plants are extremely toxic and should be used only by licensed professionals who have the means to process them properly into appropriate pharmaceuticals. One final note: many plants were used for a wide range of illnesses in the past, but be aware that many of the historical uses have proven to be ineffective for the problems to which they were applied.

a.k.a. Esere Bean, Ordeal Bean
(Physostigma venenosum)

!Causes muscle weakness, respiratory failure, and cardiac arrest!

CONTAINS: Physostigmine (eserine), calabrine.

A perennial, climbing evergreen to 50 feet which is native to West Africa. Leaves are trifoliate, 6 inches long and 4 inches wide. Flowers are pinkish-purple appearing in drooping clusters in spring. Fruit is a pod to 6 inches long, containing 2 to 3 dark brown to black seeds.

NEEDS: Grown as a crop in rich well-drained soil in sun. Hardy to 60ºF.
PART USED: Seeds minus the outer coat.
HARVEST: SEEDS when mature, which occurs mainly in the rainy season; seeds are dried, then the alkaloids extracted from them for pharmaceutical use.


It is the alkaloid extracts which are used by physicians and differ in effects from the whole seeds.
Narcotic, depresses central nervous system, mimics parasympathetic nervous system, contracts pupil of eye, raises blood pressure, stimulates peristalsis. The extracts are also used to counteract antidepressants and sedatives and to treat arthritis and bursitis.
Used in eyedrop form to relieve pressure in eyeball.
Used as an antidote to atropine (from Atropa belladonna).
Physostigmine is used for neuromuscular diseases such as myasthenia gravis and for post-operative constipation; also externally as eyedrops for eye conditions such as glaucoma.
Was once used in African Folk Medicine for tetanus, epilepsy, rheumatism.

DOSE = THERE IS NO SAFE DOSE except as a pharmaceutical in professional hands!!!!

Used for the same conditions as the pharmaceuticals.

Was used in the Calabar province of Nigeria in a ritual called 'ordeal by poison'. Accused persons drank a brew of the poisonous beans: if guilty they died, and the supposed innocent survived. Rather like dunking witches to see if they float.

©2005 by Ernestina Parziale, CH