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What Is Jaborandi?

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  • Written By: J.M. Willhite
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 24 September 2014
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Jaborandi is a plant once used as a medicinal herb to induce diarrhea and perspiration as a means of cleansing the body. Harvested for its alkaloid properties, the oil found in the leaves of the jaborandi plant is used in the production of pilocarpine, a treatment for glaucoma. The plant is no longer employed as a medicinal herb, and caution should be exercised due to its potential toxicity.

The jaborandi plant is indigenous to the Brazilian tropical forests and matures to a height of nearly five feet. A perennial shrub, the plant is characterized by its large, grayish-green leaves covered with numerous, tiny oil-secreting glands. The flowers of this plant are a bright, reddish-purple. The bark of the shrub is smooth to the touch and, like its leaves, has a grayish hue. The only portion of the plant utilized medicinally are the leaves.

Brazilian folk medicine has long used the leaves of the jaborandi plant for treating various conditions. When consumed as an herbal tea, it works as an effective diuretic. Historically, jaborandi tea was once employed as a treatment for baldness, though its effectiveness was never substantiated. Made from dried leaves, the herbal infusion has been used to treat several common diseases, such as rheumatism.

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Found in its leaves, the alkaloid compounds of the jaborandi plant can influence the body's automatic functions and the nerve impulses which govern them. Muscles associated with the uterus, intestines, and heart can all be adversely affected by the concentration of alkaloids found in the cultivated leaves. Approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the alkaloid pilocarpine is a stimulant that has shown promise in the treatment of glaucoma.

Pilocarpine is used to stimulate the optical muscles responsible for the dilation and contraction of the pupils. For an individual with glaucoma, a buildup of pressure within the eyeball is what leads to the loss of nerve function causing blindness. Available by prescription, pilocarpine works to relieve pressure within the eyeball and alleviate symptoms. A single application of the pilocarpine-based ophthalmic solution lasts 24 hours.

Use of this herb can result in various adverse reactions, including hypotension, shortness of breath, hypersalivation, and seizures. Since the herb has the potential to interfere with fetus development and induce uterine muscle contractions, women who are pregnant should refrain from its use. Side effects of jaborandi can include vomiting, bronchospasm, and nausea. Symptoms associated with jaborandi-induced toxicity may manifest with the ingestion of more than 60 milligrams. This herb is not recommended for oral or topical application.

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