Medicinal Euphorbiaceae

The family Euphorbiaceae contains 300 genera and about 7500 species of trees, shrubs, herbs, and climbers, about 150 species of which are of medicinal value in the Asia-Pacific region. Most of these are used to relieve the bowels from cos-tiveness, promote urination, soothe inflammation, and promote expectoration. A cardinal feature of Euphorbiaceae, and especially Excoecaria, Aleurites, Croton, Euphorbia, Hippomane, Hura, and Jatropha species, is their ability to elaborate a series of complex diterpenoid esters of the tigliane, ingenane, or daphnane type, which impart drastic cathartics and ulcerating and and strongly allergizing properties. An example of such Euphorbiaceae is Excoecaria oppositifolia, the latex of which is a common cause of temporary blindness and anaphylactic shock in the lumberjacks of the Asia-Pacific region.

In regard to the antineoplastic potential, most of the evidence that has emerged from the last 30 years supports the fact that Euphorbiaceae represent a vast reservoir of cytotoxic agents, and one may reasonably expect the isolation of original anticancer agents from this family if enough work is done. A remarkable advance in the study of anticancer principles from Euphorbiaceae has been provided by Wada et al. (34).

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