Review on Ethnobotany and Phytopharmacology on Mesua ferrea Linn


Sruthikrishna P.K.

Department of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry Research Laboratory,

Nehru College of Pharmacy, Pampady, Thiruvilwamala, Thrissur, Kerala, India.

*Corresponding Author E-mail:



This work was performed to study the ethnobotany and phytopharmacological properties of M. ferrea L. It is widely distributed in the tropical areas of the world, especially in the Asian countries and is traditionally used by the local peoples for curing diseases ranging from head ache to cancer. Mesua ferrea is cultivated as an ornamental plant and young leaves are reddish yellow in color while mature leaves are blue grey to dark green in appearance with fragrant white flowers. This study reveals that almost all part of the plant have high medicinal property against different ailments. M. ferrea Linn being used for its anticancer, antineoplastic, disinfectant, anti oxidant, hepato-protective, anti arthritic, diuretic, analgesic etc. properties. The phytochemical screening confirms the presence of phenyl coumarins, xanthones, triterpenoids, tannin and saponin as main constituents responsible for its biological activity. It is also used in the cosmetics. This can be used as remedial agents for various health issues. This review reveals the phyto-pharmacological role of this medicinal plant. 


KEYWORDS: Mesua ferrea Linn, Calophyllaceae, Ethnobotany, Phytochemistry, Pharmacology.




The Calophyllaceae family members abundantly found in the tropical areas of the world, especially Asian countries and are used traditionally by the local peoples for curing of different diseased conditions ranging from headache to cancer1. Mesua ferrea Linn is an important species in the family of Calophyllaceae, which has been shown to possess multifactorial pharmacological activities1,2. Its flowers and leaves have high and rich medicinal value and property. One of its significant applications is found on its flowers, the paste of its flowers with mixture of butter and sugar is highly useful for treatment of bleeding piles and burning of feet3.


The flower buds of this plant have different uses in Ayurveda, Siddha and Unani system. It is traditionally used for the treatment of cough, venerial diseases, white discharge, diarrhea, over bleeding, vatha diseases and peripheral neuritis. Mesua ferrea L. known to contain glycosides, flavanoids, xanthones, triglycerides and resins. Important oils, fatty acids, steroids, reducing sugar, tannin, saponin and proteins are also found in this plant. The flowers of this plant frequently contain α-copaene and germacrene D2,3.



Taxonomical classification:

Kingdom - Plantae

Phylum   - Tracheophyta

Class       - Magnoliopsida

Order      - Malpighiales

Family    - Calophyllaceae/Guttiferae

Genus     - Mesua

Species   - Mesua ferrea Linn.1

Synonym (s):

Punnaga, Kesar, Deva vallabha, Naga pushpa, Naga kesara4


Regional names:

Assam          : Nagashwar

Bengali        : Nagesvara, Nagesar

English        : Cobra’s saffron

Gujarati       : Nagakesharaa, Sachu nagakesharaa

Hindi           : Nagakesharaa

Kannada      : Nagasampige, Nagakesharai

Malayalam  : Nangaa, Nauga, Peri, Veluthapala, Nagppu

Tamil           : Naugu, Nagachampakam

Telugu         : Nagachampakamu

Urudu          : Narmushk, Nagakeshara4



It is abundantly found in tropical countries like India, Burma, Thailand, Indochina and New Guinea. In India, it is found  in the mountains of Eastern Himalaya and East Bengal, Assam, Burma, Andaman, evergreen rain forests of North Canara and South Konkan, the Forests of Western Ghats from South Canara to Travancore5.


Plant description:

Mesua ferrea Linn is known to be evergreen and ornamental tree from medium to large sized that attain height of 20-30m, often fluted at base, creamy white or pinkish brown, heart wood dark red, very hard, bitter sometimes sweet scouted, bark surface is smooth, ash coloured, grey, turning dark-brown; white flakes branch lets slender, terete. The leaves are simple, lanceolate, acute, and leathery, covered in a waxy bloom below, oppositely arranged, 7 to 13cm long by 2 to 4cm wide. Young leaves are reddish yellow and the mature leaves are found to blue grey to dark green in colour. Flowers are large in size, have four white petals containing numerous yellow coloured stamens in the centre and are fragrant. Fruits are often beaked and have 1-4 seeds, lightly woody in appearance. Flower, fruit, seeds and leaves of are edible parts of these plants. Flowers are eaten in Thailand by the local people for various treatment purposes. Seeds have unpleasant taste but edible when cooked. Their leaves are edible and have a sour astringent taste.


Parts used:

Bark, flowers, fruits, leaves, root, stamens and seeds6,7.


Traditional uses:

Various parts of M. ferrea L. are used either alone or in combination with other medicinal herbs for the curing of various ailments. Traditionally, it is used for its antipyretic, antimicrobial, anticancer, carminative, cardio tonic, diuretic, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, antiasthmatic, antiallergic and expectorant properties8. It is also used for its antiseptic, purgative, blood purifier, worm control, tonic properties etc by the tribal people of Assam. The ashes of leaves are used to treat sore eyes. Kernels of this plant are used in skin eruptions and to poultice wounds. Leaf and flower are antidotes for snake bite and scorpion sting3. The cutaneous infection, sores, scabies, wounds and rheumatism can be treated by its fixed oil. The flower is stomachic, expectorant and astringent.  The bark as well as roots acts as bitter tonic and useful in curing gastritis, bronchitis and also to cure snake bite. This can be used as spasmolytic, diuretic, abortificient and as herbal supplement in fever, dyspepsia, renal disorders and in cosmetics. M. ferrea L. is used in Ayurvedic formulations like dasamoolarishta, mahakaleshwara rasa and in various churnas to cure many ailments. The M. ferrea containing Ayurvedic formulations possess haemostatic and astringent properties and are especially useful in uterine bleeding. In Unani system, the drug is an ingredient of “Jawarish Shehryaran” (stomach and liver tonic), “Hab Pachaluna” (an appetizer), “Halwa-isupari pack” (general tonic)5. M. ferrea L. have a key role in Indian Siddha medicine (Yelaathi Churanam) which is used internally to treat chancres, leprosy and ulcers. Powder of dried fruits as well as leaves along with ghee used to relief from burning sensation in hands and feet, joint pain and cold by the local communities of Bangladesh. The M. ferrea L. traditionally used for cancer and other associated disorders, for inflammation, anti-asthmatic in India1.



The M. ferrea L. is rich in secondary metabolites such as phenyl coumarins, xanthones and tri-terpenoids. Oil can be extracted from the seeds of the plant called nahor. From the seeds of M. ferrea L. 4-Phenylcoumarins like mesuol, mesuagin, mammeisin and mesuone were isolated. Stamens have α and β- sitosterol, biflavonoids mesuaferrone A and B euxanthone 7-methyl ether and other essential constituents. Xanthone derivative are also present in various parts of the plant. It is reported that mesuaxanthone A and mesuaxanthone B, which are two extremely new yellow pigments possessed by the heart wood extracts of plant M. ferrea L. Stamens composed of mesuaferrone A and B, mesuaferrol, mesuanic acid, α and β amyrin. It is also confirmed that the alcoholic extracts as well as aqueous extracts of M. ferrea were highly rich in reducing sugars, tannins and saponins9.


Figure 1: Phytoconstituents of Mesua ferrea Linn.



Disinfectant property:

M. ferrea L. seed kernel oil (NSKO) found that have water disinfectant properties and can also be used as natural disinfectant. The study concluded that kernel oil has remarkable disinfection potential and the kinetic studies proposed that NSKO fitted first-order model with a k value of -0.04010.


Antioxidant and hepato protective activity:

The methanolic extract of dried flowers of M. ferrea L. was studied for antioxidant activity by using experimental female Wistar mice. An artificial infection was produced by administration of S. aureus in drinking water, and then sampling was done once a day and after one week. The biochemical parameters Aspartate aminotransferase (AST), Super oxide dismutase (SOD), Catalase (CAT), Glutathione peroxidise (GPX), Glutathione reductase (GR) were measured. There was remarkable increase in liver SOD and AST in treated group of animals. There was significant reduction in catalase (CAT), GPX, GR, and activity. Ethanol extract of M. ferrea flowers have been shown to have better antioxidant activity in nitric oxide assay. Its leaf extract showed inhibition to lipid peroxidation3,11.


Analgesic activity:

M. ferrea L. leaves extract of n-Hexane, ethyl acetate and methanol reveal analgesic activity in acetic acid induced writhing response in mouse.  Lower dose response is 10.21% and higher dose response is 17.06% for respective extracts3,12


Antispasmodic activity:

The petroleum extract of M. ferrea L. seed oil was screened for antispasmodic activity on isolated rat ileum in vitro. Acetylcholine and Carbachol caused contraction on isolated ileum of 2.61 and 3.12 cm, respectively. In presence of atropine normal response of acetylcholine was reduced to 55%13.


Anticancer activity:

Different crude extracts and pure compounds of M. ferrae L. have showed significant anticancer activities in the preliminary in vitro anticancer screening assays. Methanol extract of M. ferrea L. flowers rich in volatile oils showed strong cytotoxic activities against T-lymphocyte leukaemia cells. Ethanolic flower extract was screened against three human cancer cell lines viz., CL-6 (cholangiocarcinoma), Hep-2 (human laryngeal cancer) and Hep G2 (human hepatocarcinoma) cell lines. The finding of the study showed that ethanol extract was selectively toxic towards Hep-2 cell line with an IC50 value of 19.22µg/mL. The anticancer activity of M. ferrea stem extracts and isolated compounds against three cancer cell lines i.e., KB (oral carcinoma), MCF-7 (breast adenocarcinoma) and NCI-H187 (metastatic lung carcinoma) reported by the recent studies. n-Hexane was found to be inactive in terms of induction of cytotoxicity against all the three cancer cell lines when compared to other extracts, while dichloromethane and methanol extract was more active against KB than rest of two cell lines. In case of M. ferrea stamen extracts anticancer property provided by multi-components1, 11.


Immuno modulatory activity:

Effect on the immune system was studied using both humoral and cellular immune models by mesuol from M. ferrea L. seed oil. In humoral immune response assay, antibody titer values increased by the mesuol, which were previously antibody challenged and immunized by the introduction of sheep red blood cells (SRBCs) followed by immunosuppression by cyclophosphamide. Similarly, mesuol in cellular immune model the significantly increase response in cyclophosphamide-induced immunosuppressant rats. So after discussing all this, the report indicates clearly the modulatory activity of mesuol8.


Anti-neoplastic activity:

In vitro cell lines crude ethanolic extract M. ferrae L. effectively used against human cholangio carcinoma (CL-6) human laryngeal (HEP-2) and human hepatocarcinoma (HepG2). The extract possesses better activity against CL-6 than others14.


Anti-diabetic activity:

In streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats the methanolic extracts of M. ferrae L. leaves shows antidiabetic activity. Insulin secretion from pancreatic β-cells increased by the extract of plant. In addition to this effect, blood glucose levels reduced by the leaf extract and normalized the body weight in the diabetic rats compared to the untreated rats15.


Antiulcer activity:

Xanthones extracted from M. ferrea L. show antiulceration in the rats as compared with control groups which possess extensive ulceration, perforations and haemorrhagic spots. While in xanthones treated rats only hyperaemia and occasional haemorrhage spots were noticed3.

Antimicrobial activity:

The different parts of M. ferrea L. shows antimicrobial activity which is reported by the various scientific studies. The selective antibacterial activities showed by Coumarins (4alkyl and 4-phenyl 5, 7-dihydroxycoumarins) isolated from the blossoms towards resistant strains of gram positive bacteria. Methanol extract of the leaves has been shown to possess broad spectrum antibacterial activities against Bacillus species, Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, Shigella, Salmonella and Lactobacillus arabinosus bacterial strains respectively. Methanol and dichloromethane extracts of plant M. ferrea L. flowers have an ability of inhibition against all the tested bacteria by using dilution-streak method against micrococcus luteus, E. coil, Candida albicans and Aspergillus Niger etc1,3,16.


Anti-inflammatory activity:

Mesuaxanthone A and Mesuaxanthone B (MXA and MXB) extracted from M. ferrea L. were observed by carrageenan induced hind Paw oedema and granuloma pouch tests by using albino rats. MXA and MXB shows reduction of 37% and 49% respectively when compound with normal group. So that in M. ferrea L. xanthones responsible for its anti-inflammatory activity3.


Anti-arthritic activity:

Petroleum ether, ethyl acetate and alcohol extracts of M. ferrea L. seed were studied in the formaldehyde and Complete Freund’s Adjuvant (CFA)-induced arthritis in rats. The result shows that the extracts protect rats against formaldehyde and CFA induced arthritis. The body weight changes and the CFA-induced haematological perturbations, such as an increase in the WBC count, a decreased RBC count, a decreased haemoglobin (Hb) count and an increased erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) which was altered by M. ferrea L. treatment. The study results that M. ferrea extracts have a potent protective effect against formaldehyde and adjuvant-induced arthritis in rats5, 17.



M. ferrea L. is being used in India and several parts of world due to its rich medicinal value and properties. The recent scientific studies indicated that it is rich source of secondary metabolites and these are responsible for their respective medicinal properties. The whole plant and its various extracts provides activities like anticancer, anti arthritic, anti diabetic, anti inflammatory etc. there for it can be used for curing multiple diseased condition. This play key role in the formulations of Ayurveda, Siddha as well as Unani system as important ingredient. The phytochemical screening reveals the presence of phenyl coumarins, xanthones, triterpenoids, saponin and tannins as the important phytoconstituents. M. ferrea L. also used for the cosmetic purpose. Overall M. ferrea L. is such a gift having different uses and important application in various disorders. Further studies on this plant will leads to the determination of other significant and unknown benefits of M. ferrea L.



The authors are acknowledging The Chairman and Managing Trustee, Adv. Dr. P. Krishnadas, Nehru College of Pharmacy, Pampady, Thiruvilwamala, Thrissur, Kerala, for providing all the support.



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Received on 01.06.2021         Modified on 22.06.2021

Accepted on 03.07.2021       ©A&V Publications All right reserved

Res. J. Pharmacognosy and Phytochem. 2021; 13(4):195-199.

DOI: 10.52711/0975-4385.2021.00034