Semecarpus anacardium, commonly known by different names such as Bibba, Bhilwa, Ballataka etc is a close relative of the cashew nut. A native to India, especially the sub-Himalayan region, central, and tropical parts of the country, this herb has been used since ancient times in traditional medicine for treating various ailments. The extract obtained from the fruits and nuts of this plant has been found to possess strong anti-inflammatory, anti-atherogenic, antimicrobial, antioxidant, anti-reproductive, and anti-carcinogenic properties. It is also helpful as a stimulant of the central nervous system and hair growth promoter. The nuts of Semecarpus anacardium show various medicinal properties as they are rich in various biologically active compounds such as phenolic compounds, biflavonoids, bhilawanols, vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.
Chemical constituents of Semecarpus anacardium
The most important constituents of Semecarpus anacardium include phenolic compounds, bhilwanols, biflavonoids, glycosides and sterols. The other elements isolated from the various parts of this plant include anacardol, catechol, cardol, anacardic acid, fixed oil, semecarpetin, semecarpol, anacardoside, linoleic acid, oleic acid, palmitic acid, stearic acid and arachidic acid.
Health Benefits of Semecarpus anacardium
As mentioned above, chemical analysis of the nut of bibba plant shows that it contains high levels of phenolic compounds, bhilawanols, biflavonoids, minerals, vitamins and amino acids. Different types of extracts obtained from the nut are considered to be effective against various diseases including cancer, arthritis, infections and many more. In fact, the fruits, seeds and oil of this plant are also found to have medicinal value, and hence are used for treating a wide range of diseases.
Semecarpus anacardium for Atherosclerosis
Atherosclerosis is a medical condition that is often caused by the imbalance between the antioxidants and pro-oxidants. Antioxidant therapy is recommended to prevent the development of such conditions. Semecarpus anacardium have been found to possess potent antioxidant property that helps in fighting off the hydroxyl and superoxide radicals. This plant is also known to have the ability to inhibit the process of atherogenesis caused by lipid peroxidation. Animal studies reveal that the bibba plant helps in preventing the accumulation of cholesterol by inhibiting the absorption of cholesterol in the intestine.
Bibba plant – an strong antioxidant
According to various studies, Semecarpus anacardium has been found to exhibit strong antioxidant activity. The aqueous extract of nuts of this plant was administered to lymphoma-transplanted mouse and the results of the test revealed that the extract helped in increasing the activities of antioxidant enzymes. It also helped in reducing lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) activity, thus reducing the chances of developing cancer. In fact this aqueous extract was found to be even more effective than doxorubicin, which is used as a standard anti-carcinogenic drug. The ethyl acetate extract of the bark of this plant has been found to have stronger antioxidant activity because of the presence of high phenolic content.
Anti-inflammatory effects of Semecarpus anacardium
Studies on the anti-inflammatory effects of the nut extract of Semecarpus anacardium on adjuvant arthritis showed that the anti-inflammatory and therapeutic properties of the extract against all the various stages of inflammation are equivalent to that of indomethacin. Kalpaamruthaa is a siddha formulation that is made up of Semecarpus anacardium nut milk extract, fresh dried powder of Emblica officinalis fruit and honey. According to studies, this formulation when administered to arthritis induces rats helped in normalizing the activities of lysosomal enzymes that are considered to be the mediators of inflammation.
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Anti-microbial activities of Semecarpus anacardium
Tests were carried out to find the phytochemical and antimicrobial properties of aqueous and organic solvent extracts of Semecarpus anacardium. It was found that the petroleum ether and aqueous extract showed inhibitory activity against certain bacterial strains such as Staphylococcus aureus and Shigella flexneri. The chloroform extract showed bactericidal activity against Vibrio cholerae, Bacillus licheniformis, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, while the ethanol extract showed inhibition to S. aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. In another study, it was found that the alcoholic extract of dry nuts of bibba plant showed anti-bacterial activity against Escherichia coli, Salmonella typhi, Proteus vulgaris, Staphylococcus aureus and Corynebacterium diphtheriae. It has also been found that that the alcoholic extracts of different parts of Semecarpus anacardium such as twigs leaves, and green fruit also exhibits anti-bacterial properties.
Semecarpus anacardium and cancer cure
Studies suggest that the nut extract of Semecarpus anacardium showed inhibitory action on human breast cancer cells. Kalpaamruthaa, which consists of Bibba nut milk extract, dried powder of Phyllanthus emblica fruit and honey is considered to be an effective and promising chemotherapy agent. Research on rats suggests that Kalpaamruthaa exhibits anti-carcinogenic activity by regualting lipid peroxidation and by showing antioxidant defenses in mitochondrial enzymes. Another study showed that the administration of Semecarpus anacardium to leukemic animals helped in eliminating the leukemic cells from the internal organs and bone marrow.
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Diabetes and Semecarpus anacardium
According to studies, the ethanolic extract of dried nuts of Semecarpus anacardium was found to lower the blood glucose levels in normal rats. It also helped in lowering the blood glucose levels in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats by a significant amount. The seeds are potentially use in treatment of diabetes. More research would establish such further claims.
Semecarpus anacardium for digestive health
Semecarpus anacardium is known to be an appetizer, purgative, digestant, liver stimulant and anthelmintic and hence is used in treating various gastrointestinal disorders. It is an effective remedy for loss of appetite and many digestive disorders such as constipation, abdominal distension, piles and various types of intestinal worms, especially hookworm. The bibba plant is a useful medicine for piles as it helps in improving blood circulation, which reduces the pressure on veins and also reduces the accumulation of blood in the veins of the rectal area.
Semecarpus anacardium – an aphrodisiac
The bibba plant is found to have aphrodisiac properties and has been used to increase libido and sexual desire. It is often prescribed as a tonic to improve male fertility as it has the ability to increase the production of semen. It is also used to treat seminal leakage and premature ejaculation. For women, Semecarpus anacardium has been used as a remedy for uterine inflammation and also abnormal and painful menstruation
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Semecarpus anacardium for urinary incontinence
Urinary incontinence is a health problem which is characterized by the loss of bladder control leading to involuntary urine leakage. Bhallataka or Semecarpus anacardium is one among the various ayurvedic plants that are used effectively in the treatment of this condition. Consuming 5 grams of this remedy along with milk is found to be beneficial in curing urinary incontinence.
Bibba plant prevents premature graying of hair
Bibba is usually recommended in the form of linctus to prevent early graying of hair. One teaspoonful of this medication with a cup of warm milk should be taken two times a day to obtain the desired results.
Semecarpus anacardium for leucoderma
Leucoderma is a harmless skin disease characterized by white patches on the skin caused by the loss of pigmentation. In some cases these patches can become red in color and cause severe itching. Bhallataka or Semecarpus anacardium is considered to be an effective remedy for the treatment of this skin condition. Doctors recommend taking one teaspoonful of this medication twice a day to cure leucoderma.
Some remedies using Semecarpus anacardium
Semecarpus anacardium when mixed with coconut oil or sesame oil and applied topically is useful in treating skin infections and wounds. The bark and fruit of this herb have also been found to be useful in treating dermatitis, leprosy, and leucoderma. Ingesting a few drops of bibba oil is considered to be effective against piles, diarrhea, colitis, stomach disorders. It is also helpful in cleansing the bowels, getting rid of intestinal worms and even in reducing tumors. Because of its analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects, Bhallataka oil is used to treat arthritis, joint pain and in curing fresh wounds. A mixture of bibba seeds with milk and jaggery has been used to strengthen nerve tissues and also in the treatment of a variety of health conditions such as hemorrhoids, eczema, tumors, rheumatic disorders, intestinal worms, sciatica (painful condition, caused by irritation or compression of the sciatic nerve) and brain problems.
Caution for Bibba seeds
Some people are allergic to volatile oils of Bibba seeds. Hence caution should be administered while use of these seeds or oil. Bhallataka is described as a poisonous medicinal plant in Drugs and Cosmetics Act (India). While the fruit of the Bibba is used in various medicinal formulation, anacardic acid and bhilawanol as part of oil present in the outer skin of fruit may cause blisters on contact often referred as allergic contact dermatitis. Often neem leaves or corriander leaves are rubbed on the region to relive from any itching.
Semecarpus anacardium is well-known in the Ayurvedic and Siddha system of medicine for its medicinal and therapeutic value. It has long been considered as one of the most versatile and commonly used natural remedy to cure many ailments. After purchasing bibba seeds, store them in an air-tight container in a cool and dry place to prevent the oils from turning rancid. Keeping them in the refrigerator will ensure that they keep fresh for up to six months.