Scientific Name(S): Anamirta cocculus Wight & Arn. Also described as A. paniculata, Menispermum cocculus, M. lacunosum, Cocculus suberosus and C.lacunosus. Family: Menispermaceae.
Common Name(S): The levant berry goes by a large number of synonyms including fish killer, fishberry, hockle elderberry, Indian berry, louseberry and poisonberry. The dried fruit is called "cocculus fructus" or "cocculus indicus" in commercial trade.
Botany: The levant berry is a climbing woody shrub that is native to India, Burma and other parts of Malaysia. It has wide thick leaves and rootlets that ooze a white milky latex. The fragrant flowers produce U-shaped seeds. The fruit dries to a bitter, nearly black wrinkled shape.
History: The fruits are gathered from the wild and sun-dried for export. In India, the leaves are inhaled as a snuff to relieve malaria, and the leaf juice is used in combination with other natural products as a vermifuge. Extracts of the plant are applied topically for lice, but the toxic nature of the components (in particular picrotoxin) make this a dangerous use, especially when the skin is abraded or irritated. Although picrotoxin had been considered an official remedy for epilepsy at the turn of the century in the US, it is no longer used for this treatment because of severe toxicity. It had found use as a stimulant for the management of morphine poisoning.
Uses of Levant Berry
Levant berry is used to relieve malaria, treat lice, stun or kill fish and game, and manage epilepsy.
Side Effects of Levant Berry
Levant berry should not be used on abraded skins or ingested. It is potentially lethal.
Toxicology: Picrotoxin stimulates the central nervous system and is a gastrointestinal irritant. High doses can cause salivation, vomiting, purging, rapid shallow respiration, palpitations or heart slowing, stupor, loss of consciousness and death. the lethal dose is approximately 30 mg/kg body weight.
In some societies, ground whole dried fruits have been used to kill birds or dogs and to stupefy fish and game. A seed paste is applied to arrow tips by some jungle tribes.
Summary: The levant berry is not widely used in the US and Europe, but remains a popular folk remedy in Asia and adjacent regions. The berry contains the toxic principle picrotoxin and should not be ingested or applied topically to abraded skin.
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