Synonyms

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 and

Kokwaro 1993, 173*).
Literature (selection)

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.

Mannheim: Boehringer.

Stoll, Arthur, Albert Hofmann, and R. Brunner. 1955.

Alkaloide aus den Blattern von Rauvolfia

canescens 1. Helvetica Chimica Acta 38:270ff.

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