Euphorbia tirucalli


Arthrothamnus tirucalli

Vernacular Names:


Kayu Patah Tuilang, Mentulang, Tulang-tulang

English Finger Tree, Finger Euphorbia, Petroleum Plant, Pencil Tree, Rubber Hedge Euphorbia, Rubber Euphorbia, African Milkbrush

Kayu Urip, Paching Tawa, Tikel balung


Khia Chin, Phaya Rai Bai, Phaya Roi Bai (Chiang Mai); Khia Thian (Northern).


Saptalaa, Saatalaa, Tirukalli, Angulia-thuuhar


Euphorbe Effilee, Tirucalli


Almeidinha, Cassoneira, Aveloz, Euforbia


Mtupa Mwitu, Malanfili, Mwasi, Mchakaazi, Mtovua Macho [1]

General Information


Shrub to 2.5m tall, monoecious or staminate only, succulent and woody, without spines, usually leafless, with dichotomous or whorled branching; branches elongate, only 3-6mm in diam., slightly tomentose at apex. Indumentum present, pale. Stipules very small (c. 0.3mm), glandular. Leaves alternate, obovate-linear, 10 by 1-1.5mm, very soon caducous. Cyathia green, in subsessile, capitate glomerules, tomentose to glabrous, many-flowered glomerules often with staminate flowers only; cyathial glands 4, c. 0.5 by 1-1.5mm, without appendages. Pistillate flowers tomentose, with a distinct perianth. Fruits exserted, c. 7mm long, glabrescent. Seeds brown and often mottled, 4 by 3mm, smooth, carunculate.[1]

Plant Part Used

No documentation

Chemical Constituents

Euphol, tirucallol, tinyatoxin, euphorbinol. Cycloeuphorbinol, euphorone, cycloeuphordenol, tirucalicine, taraxasterol, phorbosterol, euphorbosterol, a-amyrine, cycloartenol, euphorbains t1 – t4, b-sitosterol, ellagic acid, kaempferol, glucose, hentriacontane, citric acid, malonic acid, succinic acid, cycloartenol, 24-methylene cycloartenol, a-taraxerol, euphorbol, euphorbol-hexacosonoate, taraxerone, ingeno triacetate, euphorginol, 12-deoxyphorbol, 12-deoxy-16-hydroxyphorbol, resiniferol, tinytoxin, candletoxin A. [1] [19]

Traditional Used:

Gastrointestinal Diseases

The latex of Euphorbia tirucalli eventhough poisonous has been used in traditional medicine of Africa to treat various gastrointestinal diseases. Amongst its uses include the treatment of stomach complaints, constipation and intestinal worms, being a potent purgative and emetic. However, the use comes with the high risk of reaching the lethal dose especially when used in children. In Malaysia the plant is used to treat haemorrhoids.[1]

Respiratory Diseases

Heat seems to deactivate some of the toxic elements in the latex rendering the plant useful in the treatment of respiratory diesaes. In Africa the heated branches are chewed and latex swallowed to relieve sorethroat and dry cough. In Mauritius Islands the decoction of the  root and bud is used to treat coughs and pectoral pain. In whooping cough the ashes of branches and stem are used instead. The latex is also used in cases of asthma.[1]

Other uses

Externally the latex is applied over skin lesions like warts and wounds; swollen glands, oedema, rheumatism, toothache, earache and tumours of the nose. The roots are taken alone or in combination for treatment of schistomiasis and sexually transmitted diseases. The latex is also recommended for those with sexual impotency and sterility. It could be used to promote breast enlargement. The latex boiled in milk acts as antidote to poisoning and snakebites.[1]

Pre-Clinical Data


Euphorbia Factor

In 1977  Fürstenberger and Hecker 5 studied Euphorbia factors from E. tirucalli Linn and they were characterized as 12-O-acetyl-12-O-acylphobol- and 12-O-acetyl-13-O-acylphorbol derivateves carrying homologous conjugated unstaturated fatty acids as acyl groups. Kinghorn isolated an irritant 4-deoxyphorbal diester from E. tirucalli Linn 12-O-2Z-4E-octadienoyl-4-deoxyphorbol-13-acetate with high irritant potency comparable to phorbol-12-tetradecanoate-13-acetate. Fürstenberger and Hecker further identified the irritant and tumour constituents of the latex of E. tirucalli Linn. as esters of 4-deoxyphorbol.[2] [3] [4] [5]

Burkitt’s Lymphoma activity

E. tirucalli has been implicated as a cause of Burkitt’s Lymphoma in children. Ito et al found that exrtracts of E. tirucalli exerted a marked effect on the induction of Epstein-Barr virus-associated early and viral capsid antigens in EBV genome-carrying human lymphoblastoid cell lines. Mizuno et al found that not only the plant but also observed that the soil and drinking water from around the plant were also capable to activating the latent EBV genome and the EBV-induced transformation enhancement. It was further observed that exposure to E-BV and purified 4-deoxyphorbol ester from Euphorbia tiruicalli induced high frequency of chromsomal rearrangement in human B lymphocytes in vitro. The rearrangement commonly affected chromosome 8, the chromosome associated with Burkitt’s Lymphoma. Imai et al further observed that 4-deoxyphorbol ester reduced EBV-specific cytotoxic T-cell function and that the B lymphcytes exposed to EBV and 4-deoxyphorbol ester were resistant to EBV-specific T cell cytotoxicity, through down-regulation of latent membrane protein 1 (LMP1), the major target to EBV-specific cytotxic T-cells.

While evidences continue to mount of the effects of 4-deoxyphorbol esters on promoting Burkitt’s Lymphoma, Valadares et al. found that tumour bearing mice treated with E. tirucalli Linn., extract had their marrow myelopoiesis stimulated and splenic colony formation reduced. Furthermore, they found that changes produced by the tumour in total and the differential marrow cell counts were also restored and the Prostaglandin E2 levels, typically increased in tumour bearers, was abrogated by the treatment. The extract enhanced the survival and concurrently reduced the tumour growth in the peritoneal cacvity. [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12]

Antiarthritic activity

The biopolymeric fraction from E. tirucalli showed a dose dependent anti-arthritic activity with in vivo immunomodulatory capacity as the major component in this action. It was found to have caused suppression of CD4+ and CD8+ T cells, inhibition of intracellular interleukin-2 (IL-2) and interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma) by flow cytometry. It also inhibited vascular permeability and the migration of leucocytes at the site of insult.[16]

Immunomodulatory activity

Bani et al. [16] reported the immunomodulatory activity of E. tirucalli in their study mentioned above. Llanes-Coronel et al. [17] did further studies on this activity and found that amongst the 14 extracts they tested, the latex of E. tirucalli strongly induced both proliferation and apoptosis in peripheral blood mononuclear cells. They also found that the subfraction from E. tirucalli induced lymphocyte proliferation without the need of accessory cells and this ability is not inhibited by the carbohydrate d-galactoes and alpha-methyl-d-mannopyranoside. These results reveal the presence of novel candidate compounds within E. tirucalli to induce proliferation and apoptosis in human lymphocytes, mainly in CD3+ T-cells.

Anticancer activity

Khaleghian et al. [18] studied the effects of inganen types compound on the microtubule configuration. They found that there was significant tubulin conformational change in the presence of inganen which decrease the polymerization of tubulin.


Developmental toxicity studies was done to determine the effects of E. tirucalli’s latex aqueous solution on Wistar rats. Silva et al. [15] found that this solution only caused morphological alternation in the placenta but did not interfere with tuberic embryo development nor with implantation.

Bani et al. [16] found that the LD50 in rats and mice was more than 2000mg/kg.

The latex is irritant to the skin and mucosa resulting in painful blistering and inflammation, and may cause blindness if it comes in contact with the eyes.[1]

Clinical Data

Clinical Trials

No documentation

Adverse Effects in Human:

It has been reported by Hsueh et al. [13] and more recently by Shlamovitz et al. [14] of the effects of latex of E. tirucalli on the conjunctiva of individuals who accidently got it into their eyes. The initial symptoms were burning pain and subsequent blurring of vision up to 6/30 and 6/20. The macro-pathological changes include punctuate erosion, microbullae and Descemet’s folds. The ocular symptoms developed in 5 to 18 hours despite immediate copious irrigation. However, this is only temporary, and full recovery was seen with treatment, without any sequalae within a week.

Used in Certain Conditions

Pregnancy / Breastfeeding

No documentation

Age Limitations

Neonates / Adolescents

No documentation


No documentation

Chronic Disease Conditions

No documentation


Interactions with drugs

No documentation

Interactions with Other Herbs / Herbal Constituents

No documentation



No documentation

Case Reports

No documentation

Read More

  1)  Botanical Info


  1. Gibriella Harriet Schmelzer, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim PROTA 11 (1)Medicinal Plants PROTA Foundations Wageningen 2008 pg. 296 – 301
  2. Kinghorn AD. Characterization of an irritant 4-deoxyphorbol diester from Euphorbia tirucalli. J Nat Prod. 1979 Jan-Feb;42(1):112-5.
  3. Fürstenberger G, Hecker E. New highly irritant euphorbia factors from latex of Euphorbia tirucalli L. Experientia. 1977 Aug 15;33(8):986-8.
  4. Fürstenberger G, Hecker E. On the active principles of the spurge family (Euphorbiaceae). XI. [1] The skin irritant and tumor promoting diterpene esters of Euphorbia tirucalli L. originating from South Africa. Z Naturforsch C. 1985 Sep-Oct;40(9-10):631-46.
  5. Fürstenberger G, Hecker E. On the active principles of the Euphorbiaceae, XII. Highly unsaturated irritant diterpene esters from Euphorbia tirucalli originating from Madagascar. J Nat Prod. 1986 May-Jun;49(3):386-97.
  6. Ito Y, Kawanishi M, Harayama T, Takabayashi S. Combined effect of the extracts from Croton tiglium, Euphorbia lathyris or Euphorbia tirucalli and n-butyrate on Epstein-Barr virus expression in human lymphoblastoid P3HR-1 and Raji cells. Cancer Lett. 1981 Apr;12(3):175-80.
  7. Mizuno F, Osato T, Imai S, Koizumi S, Aya T, Kinoshita T, Hirai N, Hirota M, Ohigashi H, Koshimizu K, et al. Epstein-Barr virus-enhancing plant promoters in east Africa. AIDS Res. 1986 Dec;2 Suppl 1:S151-5.
  8. Aya T, Kinoshita T, Imai S, Koizumi S, Mizuno F, Osato T, Satoh C, Oikawa T, Kuzumaki N, Ohigashi H, et al. Chromosome translocation and c-MYC activation by Epstein-Barr virus and Euphorbia tirucalli in B lymphocytes. Lancet. 1991 May 18;337(8751):1190.
  9. van den Bosch C, Griffin BE, Kazembe P, Dziweni C, Kadzamira L. Are plant factors a missing link in the evolution of endemic Burkitt's lymphoma? Br J Cancer. 1993 Dec;68(6):1232-5.
  10. Imai S, Sugiura M, Mizuno F, Ohigashi H, Koshimizu K, Chiba S, Osato T. African Burkitt's lymphoma: a plant, Euphorbia tirucalli, reduces Epstein-Barr virus-specific cellular immunity. Anticancer Res. 1994 May-Jun;14(3A):933-6.
  11. MacNeil A, Sumba OP, Lutzke ML, Moormann A, Rochford R. Activation of the Epstein-Barr virus lytic cycle by the latex of the plant Euphorbia tirucalli. Br J Cancer. 2003 May 19;88(10):1566-9.
  12. Valadares MC, Carrucha SG, Accorsi W, Queiroz ML. Euphorbia tirucalli L. modulates myelopoiesis and enhances the resistance of tumour-bearing mice. Int Immunopharmacol. 2006 Feb;6(2):294-9. Epub 2005 Aug 19.
  13. Hsueh KF, Lin PY, Lee SM, Hsieh CF. Ocular injuries from plant sap of genera Euphorbia and Dieffenbachia. J Chin Med Assoc. 2004 Feb;67(2):93-8.
  14. Shlamovitz GZ, Gupta M, Diaz JA. A case of acute keratoconjunctivitis from exposure to latex of Euphorbia tirucalli (pencil cactus). J Emerg Med. 2009 Apr;36(3):239-41. Epub 2007 Aug 29.
  15. Silva AC, de Faria DE, Borges NB, de Souza IA, Peters VM, Guerra Mde O. Toxicological screening of Euphorbia tirucalli L.: developmental toxicity studies in rats. J Ethnopharmacol. 2007 Mar 1;110(1):154-9. Epub 2006 Sep 23.
  16. Bani S, Kaul A, Khan B, Gupta VK, Satti NK, Suri KA, Qazi GN. Anti-arthritic activity of a biopolymeric fraction from Euphorbia tirucalli. J Ethnopharmacol. 2007 Mar 1;110(1):92-8. Epub 2006 Sep 26.
  17. Llanes-Coronel DS, Gámez-Díaz LY, Suarez-Quintero LP, Páez LJ, Torres F, Echeverri F, Ponte-Sucre A, Patiño PJ, Trujillo-Vargas CM. New promising Euphorbiaceae extracts with activity in human lymphocytes from primary cell cultures. Immunopharmacol Immunotoxicol. 2010 Jul 29. [Epub ahead of print]
  18. Khaleghian A, Riazi GH, Ghafari M, Rezaie M, Takahashi A, Nakaya Y, Nazari H. Effect of inganen anticancer properties on microtobule organization. Pak J Pharm Sci. 2010 Jul;23(3):273-8.
  19. Khan AQ, Kazmi SN, Ahmed Z, Malik A. Euphorcinol: A New Pentacyclic Triterpene from Euphorbia tirucalli. Planta Med. 1989 Jun;55(3):290-1