Hydnocarpus wightiana seed oil


Hydnocarpus wightiana or Chaulmoogra is a tree in the Achariaceae family. The oil from its seeds has been widely used in Indian medicine and Chinese traditional medicine for the treatment of leprosy. It entered early Western medicine in the nineteenth century before the era of sulfones and antibiotics for the treatment of several skin diseases and leprosy.[1]

Physical characteristics and composition

The oil is semi-solid at room temperature and does not have a strong odor. Gas–liquid chromatography analysis has shown the oil to contain the following fatty acids - hydnocarpic acid, chaulmoogric acid, gorlic acid, lower cyclic homologues, myristic acid, palmitic acid, stearic acid, palmitoleic acid, oleic acid, linoleic acid and linolenic acid.[2]

Medical use

The Molokai island in Hawaii once the "Land of the Living Death," where lepers were treated with remarkable success by the then new chaulmoogra oil. Photo from 1922

The active ingredient that produces antimicrobial activity has been identified as hydnocarpic acid, a lipophilic compound. It acts by being an antagonist of biotin.[3] The oil was used intravenously or intramuscularly in the early part of the twentiety century against leprosy. An ethyl ester of the oil was developed by Alice Ball in 1916 [4] which led to the preparation and marketing of it by Burroughs Wellcome in the early 1920s. This was also used intravenously for leprosy patients often producing local reactions. The oil was also often obtained directly from India by several doctors in Africa, such as the East African Rift. The doctors would locally prepare ethyl esters to treat their patients. In June 1927, Burroughs Wellcome released the commercial preparation, sodium hydnocarpate marketed as Alepol, which produced lesser disagreeable symptoms of pain, swelling, irritating cough and blocking of the veins. In May 1928, doctors reported cure of leprosy in some patients after treatment with alepol [5]

The oil contains 5′-methoxyhydnocarpin, an amphipathic weak acid.[6] Although a minor component in the oil with no antimicrobial activitiy on its own, it plays a role in preventing multidrug resistance among some bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus. It potentiates the action of berberine by preventing its removal from within bacteria thus leading to accumulation of berberine in the cells. Several berberis medicinal plants producing berberine also synthesize an inhibitor of the multidrug resistance pump of a human pathogen Staphylococcus aureus. Berberine alkaloids, which are cationic antimicrobials produced by a variety of plants, are readily extruded by multidrug resistance pumps. They are constituents of several Native American herbal medicine preparations.[7] By extracting and using hydnocarpic acid only, western medicine could not utilise the action of the other ingredients of the oil which have been now shown to have synergistic antimicrobial activity.[7]

In view of its anti-mycobacterial activity, it has also been tried on other conditions caused by mycobacteria such as tuberculous laryngitis.[8]

Collection and preprocessing − processing − extraction

Fruits plucked by climbing up to the tree or using long sticks with sickle tied to it. Fruits are peeled by knife and seeds are washed in water, and dried in sun. Seeds are decorticated (dehusked) by mallet, hand hammers or by decoricator. The kernels yield 43% oil in ghani. Also crushed in expeller and rotary. Extracted oil is stored in Zinc barrels and exported[9]

Properties and fatty acid composition

The crude oil is of pale greenish-brown tinged. The oil can be easily into white, watery oil. The oil contains three cyclopentene fatty acids.

Table:fatty acid composition of oil[10]

Acidhy.kurzilH. wightiana H. odorata
Hydnocarpic acid23.೦22.9..
Chaulmoogri acid19.635.0..
Gloric acid25.112.8..
Lower cyclic homologues 0.34.6..
Myristic acid(C14:0)0.6 0.80.4
Palmitic acid(C16:0)8.45.611.8
Stearic acidC18:0)1.64.7..
Palmitoleic acid(C16:1)6.00.5
Oleic acid(C18:1)5.43.621.8
Linoleic acid(C18:2)1.61.829.3
Linolenic acid(C18:3).. .. 31.2

The oil is used up to 15% in medicated soap .The oil is used internally and externally in leprocy treatment and skin diseases also.

Table of physical properties of oil[11]

Refractive Index, at 400C1.472-1.476
Iodine Value98-103
Saponification value198-204
Acid valueMax. 25.0%
Melting Point
Specific Gravity25/250C,at0.950-.960

Uses of oil

See also


  1. Norton, SA (October 1994). "Useful plants of dermatology. I. Hydnocarpus and chaulmoogra.". Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 31 (4): 683–6. doi:10.1016/s0190-9622(08)81744-6. PMID 8089304.
  2. Sengupta, A.; Gupta, J. K.; Dutta, J.; Ghosh, A. (1 June 1973). "The component fatty acids of chaulmoogra oil". Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. 24 (6): 669–674. doi:10.1002/jsfa.2740240606. PMID 4737104.
  3. Jacobsen, PL; Levy, L (March 1973). "Mechanism by which hydnocarpic acid inhibits mycobacterial multiplication.". Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy. 3 (3): 373–9. doi:10.1128/aac.3.3.373. PMC 444418Freely accessible. PMID 4799554.
  4. Mendheim, Beverly (September 2007). "Lost and Found: Alice Augusta Ball, an Extraordinary Woman of Hawai`i Nei". Northwest Hawaii Times. Retrieved 20 May 2013.
  5. Simpkin, Alice (December 1928). "The Treatment of Leprosy". British Journal of Nursing: 313–4. Retrieved 22 October 2011.
  6. Ranganathan, KR; Seshadri T R (1974). Indian Journal of Chemistry. 12: 993. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  7. 1 2 Stermitz, F. R. (3 February 2000). "Synergy in a medicinal plant: Antimicrobial action of berberine potentiated by 5'-methoxyhydnocarpin, a multidrug pump inhibitor". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 97 (4): 1433–1437. doi:10.1073/pnas.030540597. PMC 26451Freely accessible. PMID 10677479.
  8. Lukens, RM (1922). "CHAULMOOGRA OIL IN THE TREATMENT OF TUBERCULOUS LARYNGITIS". JAMA. 78 (4): 274–275. doi:10.1001/jama.1922.02640570018009.
  9. 1 2 SEA HandBook, 2009 by the Solvent Extractors' Association Of India
  10. "The component fatty acids of chaulmoogra oil". J Sci Food Agric. 24: 669–74. Jun 1973. doi:10.1002/jsfa.2740240606. PMID 4737104. Retrieved 2013-11-21.
  11. Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Bio-Medecine - Rita Singh - Google Books. Books.google.co.in. Retrieved 2013-11-21.
  12. "A Modern Herbal | Chaulmoogra". Botanical.com. Retrieved 2013-11-21.
  13. "Butterfly Expressions". Butterfly Expressions. Retrieved 2013-11-21.
  14. "CHAULMOOGRA: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions and Warnings". WebMD. Retrieved 2013-11-21.
  15. "Chaulmoogra". Herbs2000.com. Retrieved 2013-11-21.
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