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Ficus Religiosa

ficus religiosa natural herbs

English: Sacred fig, bo-tree, peepul, peepal

Hindi: Pipal

Sanskrit: Pippala, ashwattha

The peepal is worshipped all over India and is sacred to Hindus and Buddhists. Siddhartha sat in meditation under the peepal tree and attained enlightenment to become the Buddha. For this reason it is sometimes known as the Bodha (awakening') tree. Brahmins offer prayers under it whilst facing East. It is long living: a peepul in Sri Lanka is reputed to be over 2000 years old. The bark forms an important ingredient in many Ayurvedic formulations.


Habitat

Peepul grows in northern and central India, in forests and alongside water. It is also widely cultivated throughout the subcontinent and south-east Asia, especially in the vicinity of the temples.


Botanical description

A large, glabrous tree, with a characteristic, milky latex and the trunk often covered with epiphytes. The bark is light grey and peels off in patches. The leaves are large, up to 16 em in length, alternate, with long petioles (up to 12 em) and a broadly ovate, subcoriacious lamina. The tip is long, lanceolate and cuspidate, the margin sinuate and the base truncate. The female fruit (figs) are small, axillary, paired, sessile, obovoid or globose, purplish when ripe. The male fruits are osteolar, sessile, ovate-Ianceolate.


Parts used

Fruits, bark, seeds, leaves and latex.


Traditional and modem use

The bark and leaves are taken for diarrhoea and dysentery and the leaves for constipation. The leaves are sometimes applied with clarified butter as a poultice to boils and to swollen salivary glands in mumps. The powdered fruit is taken for asthma and the latex is used to treat warts. The bark is astringent, cooling, haemostatic and laxative. It is used in diabetes, diarrhoea, leucorrhoea, menorrhagia, nervous disorders, for vaginal and other urinogenital disorders and to improve the complexion. It has also been used in earache, bone fractures, glandular diseases (especially suppurating glands in the neck). scabies and other skin diseases and for ulcers and soreness in the mouth. An infusion or decoction of bark with a little honey has been used in gonorrhoea. Water in which the freshly burnt ashes of the bark have been steeped is said to cure obstinate cases of hiccups and to alleviate vomiting, and milk boiled with dried bark is a reputed aphrodisiac. Medicated oil made from the root bark is applied externally to skin diseases such as eczema, leprosy and is also used in rheumatism. The seeds and fruits are cooling, laxative and refrigerant. Leaves and young shoots are purgative.


Ethnoveterinary usage

In folk veterinary medicine it is used for swelling of the lung, opacity of the cornea and epilepsy. It is also used to treat blisters, abscesses and wounds in the mouth, at the root of the tail and near the hoof. It is recommended for throat diseases, kidney stones, blindness, otitis, rheumatism, bone dislocations, sprains and fractures, mastitis, jaundice, bloody dysentery, diarrhoea, glossitis, haematuria, miscarriage, indigestion, hernia, holcs in the hard palate, broken horn and bee sting. In cows and buffaloes it is administered to treat repeat oestrus. The fruits are a nutritious food for cattle.


Major chemical constituents

Sterols

Lanosterol, ?-Sitosterol and its glucoside, stigmasterol, lupen-3-one are present in the bark2,3 and campestrol, stigmasterol, 28-isofucosterol, a-amyrin, ?-amyrin and lupeol in the leaf.


Coumarins

Bergapten and bergaptol have been isolated from the bark.


Tannins

The leaves contain significant amounts of tannic acid.


Aminoacids

Asparagine and tyrosine have been isolated from the fruit; alanine, threonine, tyrosine and valine from the seed6 and arginine, serine, aspartic acid, glycine, threonine, alanine, proline, tryptophan, tyrosine, methionine, valine, isoleucine, leucine and others from the leaf.


Vitamin

Vitamin Kl has been found in the stem bark.


Hydrocarbons and aliphatic alcohols

n-Nonacosane, n-hentriacontanen-hexacosanol, n-octacosanol in the leaf.


Minerals

Calcium, iron, copper, manganese and zinc are present in the leaf.


Medicinal and pharmacological activities

Hypoglycaemic activity: ?-sitosteryl-D- glucoside, isolated from the dried powdered bark and given by N injection, produced a dose-dependent decrease in blood sugar, This compound, when given orally at 25 mg/kg body weight, caused a gradual reduction in blood sugar with a maximum at 4 hours. Tolbutamide, at the same dose, caused a maximal hypoglycaemic response in 3 hours.' An extract of Ficus religiosa has also shown hypoglycaemic activity, which was less than tolbutamide.


Hypolipidaemic activity: Fibre from Ficus religiosa, fed at 10% dietary levels to rats, produced a greater resistance to hyperlipidaemia than did cellulose. It influenced total lipid, cholesterol, triglyceride and phospholipid levels in the liver to varying extents.


Antiulcer activity: An aqueous extract of the bark, at 500 mg/kg, was studied for its effect on various models of gastroduodenal ulcers in rats, when given orally for 3 days. It was found to protect the animals against 2 hour cold-restraint stress and pylorus ligation-induced gastric ulcers and cystamine-induced duodenal ulcers. However, it was not effective against acute aspirin-induced gastric ulcers. The antiulcerogenic effect was thought to be due to an inhibitory effect on acid-pepsin secretion and augmentation of mucosal defensive factors, leading to enhanced mucin secretion and decreased cell shedding.


Parasympatholytic and antiasthmatic activity: A 95 % ethanolic extract of the bark relaxed the intestines of the rat, guinea pig, rabbit and dog and the uterus of the rat. It antagonised the spasmolytic effects of acetylcholine (Ach), histamine, barium chloride and serotonin, blocked the cardiovascular effects of Ach and protected guinea pigs against Ach and histamine-induced asthma. When tested on the blood pressure of anaesthetised dog, it had vagolytic activity and antagonised Ach, but not histamine. The extract also relaxed the bronchial musculature and antagonised Ach-induced spasm in tracheal chain of the dog. The dried, powdered interior bark of Ficus religiosa has been suggested as a treatment for the symptoms of bronchial asthma in humans.


Antitumour activity: The fruit extract demonstrated antitumour activity in the potato disc bioassay.


Antibacterial activity: The fruit extract possesses significant antibacterial activity. Bergapten and bergaptol, isolated from the bark, also showed antimicrobial activity.


Antiprotozoal activity: The 50% alcoholic extract of stem bark showed in vitro antiamoebic activity against Entamoeba histolytica strain STA.


Antiviral activity: The 50% alcoholic extract of the stem bark, at a dose of 0.05 mg/ml, also demonstrated antiviral activity against Ranikhet disease virus. It produced a 75% reduction in viral progeny in chorio-allantoic membrane cultures or chick embryo fibroblasts mono layers incubated at 3rc. The viral progeny was measured by noting the HA titre of the culture fluid after 48-hour incubation. Anthelmintic activity: The same extract was effective against Ascaridia galli when tested in vitro. The pH ofthe medium was adjusted to 7.2 and the period of incubation was 48 hours.


Oestrogenic activity: The leaves of Ficus religiosa have shown oestrogenic activity.


Dietary supplementation: The effects of incorporating the whole plant parts on feed intake, weight gain, feed efficiency ratio (FER), dry matter digestibility (DMD) and true protein digestibility (TPD) were studied in weanling rats. Their inclusion did not affect weight gain significantly, although all other parameters were influenced to a varying extent.!! Leaves containing around 0.7% tannic acid were fed ad libitum to goats and found to be a useful fodder. All the goats showed positive balances of nitrogen, calcium and phosphorus.


Safety profile

An alcoholic extract of the bark gave an oral LDso in albino rats of 2.24 g/kg and an intravenous LDso of 0.80 g/kg.14 The LDso of p-sitosterol D-glucoside was found to be 62 mg/kg in mice when given intraperitoneally.3 The maximum tolerated dose (MTD) of a 50% alcoholic extract of stem bark was found to be 500 mg/kg when administered intraperitoneally to albino mice.


Dosage

Powdered bark: 1-3 g Decoction: 60-120 ml Latex: applied topically


Ayurvedic properties

  • Rasa: Kashaya (astringent) Guna: Guru (heavy), ruksha (dry) Veerya: Shita (cold)
  • Vipaka: Katu (pungent) Dosha: Pacifies kapha and pitta