Journal of Indian System of Medicine

: 2020  |  Volume : 8  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 155--161

Critical review on pharmacological uses of Gunja (Abrus precatorious)

Gunja K Dahikar1, Bharat Rathi2, Sandip B Kamble3,  
1 Department of Rasashastra, Smt Vimladevi Ayurvedic Medical College and Hospital, Maharashtra, India
2 Department of Rasashastra & Bhaishajya Kalpana, Mahatma Gandhi Ayurveda College Hospital & Research Centre, Salod (H), Wardha (MS), Datta Meghe Institute of Medical Sciences (Deemed to be University), Maharashtra, India
3 Department of Dravyaguna, Smt Vimladevi Ayurvedic Medical College and Hospital, Chandrapur, Maharashtra, India

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Bharat Rathi
Department of Rasashastra & Bhaishajya Kalpana, Mahatma Gandhi Ayurveda College Hospital & Research Centre, Salod (H), Wardha (MS) 442001, Maharashtra.


Abrus precatorious is a herb mentioned in Samhita and other Ayurveda texts commonly known as Indian liquorious. In Samhita, it is mentioned under Sthavara Visha (inanimate poisons) and in the texts of Rasashastra it is classified under Upavishas (semipoisonous drug). The word Upavisha (semi-poisonous drug) means nearer to Visha (poison), that is, drugs which possess the same qualities of poison, but not equally potent. Although a number of formulations are developed to treat various diseases, still further information concerning to A. precatorius needs to be reorganized. Hence, this work has been planned to study the pharmacological aspect of A. precatorius through literature review. Relevant references were searched, to collect information about A. precatorius through thirteen classical texts. All the references were reviewed, compiled, analyzed, and discussed thoroughly for in-depth understanding of pharmacological aspect of A. precatorious Abrus precatorious is recognized with various synonyms. In various Ayurveda texts, about 30 synonyms are found for Shweta (white) A. precatorious 32 synonyms for Rakta (red) A. precatorius and 8 synonyms for Krishna (black) A. precatorius. Three varieties of A. precatorius are described in Ayurveda texts. Abrus precatorious shows therapeutic effects such as anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antispasmodic, antiantifungal, antitumor, antidiabetic, and antimigraine. It is also effectively used in treating wounds, ulcers, throat scratches, hair problems, and sores. Abrus precatorious is used in the formulations after proper purification can show wonderful results in various disease conditions.

How to cite this article:
Dahikar GK, Rathi B, Kamble SB. Critical review on pharmacological uses of Gunja (Abrus precatorious).J Indian Sys Medicine 2020;8:155-161

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Dahikar GK, Rathi B, Kamble SB. Critical review on pharmacological uses of Gunja (Abrus precatorious). J Indian Sys Medicine [serial online] 2020 [cited 2021 Feb 27 ];8:155-161
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Herbal drugs are the major source of medication in Ayurveda. These sources of drugs can be classified between poisonous and nonpoisonous groups. It has been stated categorically that strong poisons could be the best medicine, if it is used after proper detoxification. Abrus precatorious (L.) is poisonous plant belonging to the family of Leguminoceae.[1] According to Ayurveda a poison converts into nectar after legitimate use.[2] Ayurveda physician successfully used A. precatorius in the treatment of diseases after proper purification.[3] Purification procedure not only represents a process of purificatory measures but also the process of detoxification of drug. The ultimate objective of purification is to enhance the biological efficacy of the drug.

In Ayurveda, A. precatorius is used extensively in various formulations with great therapeutic significance. It is used as an ingredient in a range of compound formulations considering its availability, palatability, longer shelf life, and efficacy.[4] The seeds are used in various diseases like alopecia, edema, worm infestations, skin diseases, itching and urinary disorder after proper purification.[5],[6] Although it is classified under a semipoisonous category, it is indicated in various diseases hence to get the information at a glance an attempt has been made to study the pharmacological aspect of A. precatorius through literature review.

 Materials and Methods

Thirteen classical texts including Charak Samhita, Sushrut Samhita, Ashtang Sangrah, Ashtang Hriday, Bhavprakash, Yogratnakar, Rasatarangini, Dhanvantari Nighantu, Madanpal Nighantu, Kaideo Nighantu, Shaligram Nighantu, Raj Nigntu, and Shodhal Nigantu. Relevant references were also searched through the Internet to know the various research works conducted on A. precatorius.

 Observation and Results

Abrus precatorious is known by various vernacular names such as Raktika, Kakantika in Sanskrit; Gunja in Marathi; Ratti, Ghunkchi in Hindi and Indian licorice, Rosary pea in English.[7]Abrus precatorious is recognized with various synonyms [Table 1]. In various Ayurveda texts about 30 synonyms are found for white A. precatorius [Table 2],[8],[9],[10],[11],[12],[13] 32 synonyms for red A. precatorius [Tables 3] and [8] synonyms for black A. precatorius [Table 4]. Three varieties of A. precatorius are described in Ayurveda texts [Table 5]. Taxonomical classification of A. precatorius mentioned in [Table 6] and classification of A. precatorius according to Samhita and Nighantu are mentioned in [Table 7] and [Table 8], respectively.[14],[15],[16],[17] The morphological characters are the same in all three varieties of A. precatorius except the color of seed. Red A. precatorius used for medicinal purposes.{Table 1} {Table 2} {Table 3} {Table 4} {Table 5} {Table 6} {Table 7} {Table 8}


Abrus precatorious has Katu, Tikta, and Kashay Rasa having Madhur, Katu Vipak Ushna Virya, and Ruksha Guna. It pacifies Kapha-Pitta and Vata-Pitta Doshas, and shows properties such as Keshya (hair tonic), Twachya (improves skin complexion), Vrishya (aphrodiasias), and Vatavyadhihar (disease due to Vata Dosha or neurological disease), as shown in [Table 9]. Some drugs may act with respect to their taste, others with respect to their potency and few others with respect to their qualities or postdigestive effect (Vipaka) or specific action. The action of a drug is completely based on the Raspanchaka of that drug. The different opinion of authors regarding the Raspanchaka has been presented in tabular form in [Table 9]. Various therapeutic indications are described in Nighantus and Samhita Granths as shown in [Table 10] and [Table 11].{Table 9} {Table 10} {Table 11}


Abrus precatorious (L.) is one of the poisonous drugs described in Ayurveda lexicons classified under semipoisonous drug. Abrus precatorious under semi-poisonous drug may be due to Abrin (poisonous protein) which is one of its key chemical components present in seeds. It belongs to the family Fabaceae. As far as Bhaishajya kalpana and Dravyaguna subjects are concerned, identification of plant is an essential requisite before use in the formulation. Synonyms render specific meaning suitable to the plant which gives an idea to the researchers about the morphological features, pharmacological properties, place of origin, color, shape, size of seeds and ethnobotanical uses. Synonyms help to identify the source of plants and its other related information.[18] On the basis of compiled synonyms, it is supposed that A. precatorius belongs to climber habitat, having two types of seeds (red and white) resembling red hot coal and its fruiting period is the winter season. It is used for ornamental purpose and seeds are used for unit measurements.

In Ayurveda, herbal drugs are classified according to their pharmacological properties, morphological characters, as well as therapeutics significance. Considering this A. precatorius has been classified vividly by Ayurveda seers. In texts of Ayurveda A. precatorius belong to various groups such as Vaman Dravya (emetic drugs), Shukrajanan Mahakashaya (drugs that enhance semen/sperm) Upavisha varga (group of semi-poisonous plants). According to Charaka, poison can be converted into nectar if used as judiciously.[19] Abrin, the active principle of A. precatorius is a highly toxic protein (toxalbumin) and it is found in seeds up to the limit of 0.15%.[20],[21],[22] Its human lethal dose is around 0.005–0.007mg/kg.[23] It put forth its toxic effect by attaching itself to the cell membrane and affecting the parenchymal cells and RBCs.[24] Agglutination of blood occurs if the unpurified extract is administered into the vein.[22] Severe adverse effects like vomiting, diarrhea, and vitiation of three Dosha develop on the consumption of powdered seeds in excessive quantities. These symptoms are similar to cholera. On external application also it produces rash, redness, itching, and burning sensation.[25] Hence to minimize such hazardous effects, Ayurveda seers have advised Shodhana (purification) of seeds before its internal administration.[26],[27] Purified Gunja decoction is also used as Bhavana or trituration process. Due to trituration Particle size reduced and the surface area of drug increased. This process also helps to reduce the dose of the formulation and makes it more bio-available.[28]

Ayurveda seers successfully used the formulations of A. precatorius in a variety of disease conditions either external or internal administration such as Kushta (skin diseases), Vrana (wound), Krimi (worms), Kandu (itching), and Indralupt (alopecia). Externally mostly it is used in the form of Lepa. The powdered drugs are converted into a paste by adding a specified amount of liquid. This paste is to be applied externally on skin and is termed as Lepa.[29] Roots are used as Mutrala (diuretic).[30] The aqueous extract of seed powder of A. precatorius showed spermicidal activity in male albino rats and the pet. Ether extract of seed oil of A. precatorius possesses excellent anti-lice activity.[31],[32] Seeds are rubbed with a little water into a paste and applied to the contusion to reduced pain and swelling. It is also applied to the bare skin in alopecia, in sciatica, stiffness of shoulder joint, paralysis, and other nervous diseases.[33] Leaves are often used as vegetable. Decoction of the leaves is widely used for cough, cold, and colic and also used as a cure for hoarseness and mixed with oil applied to painful swelling.[34] Seeds of red variety of A. precatorious, when applied in patients of arthritis, proved to be efficacious.[35]

Two kinds, white and red, are beneficial to hair. They cure dryness of mouth, giddiness, asthma, thrust, intoxication, and eye diseases. They are nutritious, strengthening, and curer of boils growing out of itches, worms, baldness, and leprosy. Roots of both kinds of A. precatorius and seed of white A. precatorius cause vomiting. Leaves of white A. precatorius are especially efficacious in attracting affection of others. Leaves of both kinds of A. precatorius are efficacious in colic and root is chewed as a snake bite remedy.[36]

Wound due to poisonous instruments is healed up by their being washed with the juice of the leaves of white A. precatorius, and by a paste made of the same leaves used as a plaster.[37] Seeds of A. precatorius show good insecticidal and antimicrobial activity.[38]

Ethanol extracts of A. precatorius are effective in the treatment of asthma due to antiallergic and mast cell stabilizing potential.[39]Abrus precatorious is used both internally as well as externally in the form of Churna (powder), Taila (oil), Ghruta (butter), Dhumavarti (suppository), Lepa (ointment), and Raskalpa and Vati (tablets). There are many formulations of A. precatorius mentioned in Ayurveda Texts which are used in various diseases such as Urustambh (paraplegia), Udararog (abdominal diseases), Shotha (inflammation), Viryavikar (semen diseases), Vatavyadhi (disease due to Vata Dosha or neurological diseases), Kushta (disease of skin), Krimi (worm infestations), Arsha (hemorrhoids), Visrpa (erysipelas), Vicharchika (psoriasis), and Kaphaj Galgand (goiter). Gunjadya Taila is significantly effective to cure Darunak when applied locally.[40] The efficacy studies of the purified seeds show the significant result on hair growth.[41] There are various parts of A. precatorius, which shows different pharmacological activity. This plant is having antiestrogenic antimicrobial,[42] antidiabetic,[43] antioxidative,[44] neuroprotective, antiviral,[45] neuromuscular, anticonvulsant, antiepileptic, immune-modulating, abortifacient,[46] antiimplantation,[47] antihelmintic, antidepression, memory enhancing, antiserotonin, diuretic, antiyeast, anti-inflammatory, antiarthritic and analgesic, anticancer, antifertility, antispermatogenic, antiestrogenic, antimalarial, antiallergic, antiasthmatics, anticataract, anti-insecticide, antitoxicity activity.[48]


Abrus precatorius, a semi-poisonous herbal drug available throughout India is capable of treating diseases such as Kustha (skin diseases), Visrpa (erysipelas), Krimi (worm infestations), Kandu (itching), Indralupta (alopacia), and Arsha (hemorrhoids) etc. after adopting proper purification measures. It also shows spermicidal, anti-lice and neuroprotective activity. Thus, A. precatorius a multifacet drug may show a high medicinal potential if used judiciously. This plant is very important for a large number of medicinal properties hence extensive research should be done to exploit the therapeutic utility to fight against different diseases. This review concludes that A. precatorius is quite promising as a multipurpose medicinal agent as it shows high pharmacological and therapeutic potential.

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Conflicts of Interest

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