formerly spelled Rauwolfia
Rauvolfia, or snakeroot, is occasionally regarded as
a psychoactive plant. This is due primarily to theoretical
considerations concerning the yohimbanetype
alkaloids, here represented by corynanthine,
isorauhimbine, and yohimbine (Kahler 1970). The
principal active agent, however, is the alkaloid
reserpine; its primary effect is hypotensive,
although it also has sedative properties. Rauvolfia
thus induces sleep (Hansel and Henkler 1994,
369). Reserpine appears to work in a manner
similar to the neuroleptica and played a significant
role in the study of the function of the monoamine
transmitter in the nervous system (D.
McKenna 1995, 103*). It is conceivable that certain
as yet unknown methods of preparation
could yield psychoactive effects. In addition, the
some sixty species in the genus may very well
include some that contain much higher concentrations
of yohimbine and induce very different
effects. Apart from Rauvolfia serpentina, the
pharmacologically most important species are the
African Rauvolfia vomitoria Afzel and the
American Rauvolfia tetraphylla 1. [syn. Rauvolfia
canescens 1., R. hirsuta Jacq., R. heterophylla Roem.
and Schult.], which is also sometimes referred to
as borrachero ('(inebriator"; cf. Brugmansia)
(Morton 1977, 243-57*). Most of the species are
tropical and are found in both the Old and the
New Worlds. Many species have ethnomedicinal
significance. I)-yohimbine has been detected in
Rauvolfia vomitoria (Hofmann 1955; Stoll et al.
1955). In India, Rauvolfia serpentina has a long
history as an antidote for snakebite (Jain 1991,
153*). Circumcised boys in Kenya use Rauvolfia
caffra Sond. [syn. R. natalensis Sond.], known
locally as mwerere, rerendet, omomure, or mutu, as
a tea for inducing sleep. The stalks are used as a
fermentation agent for making beer (amino andKokwaro 1993, 173*).
Hansel, Rudolf, and Gunter Henkler. 1994. Rauvolfia.
In Hagers Handbuch der pharmazeutischen Praxis,
5th ed., 6:361-84. Berlin: Springer.
Hofmann, Albert. 1955.I3-Yohimbin aus den
Wurzeln von Rauvolfia canescens 1. Helvetica
Chimica Acta 38:536 ff.
Kahler, Hans Joachim, and coworkers. 1970.
Rauwolfia Alkaloide: Eine historische,
pharmakologische und klinische Studie.
Stoll, Arthur, Albert Hofmann, and R. Brunner. 1955.
Alkaloide aus den Blattern von Rauvolfiacanescens 1. Helvetica Chimica Acta 38:270ff.