It is widely cultivated in Southern and Southeastern Asia, where it has been traditionally used to treat infections and some diseases. Mostly the leaves and roots were used for medicinal purposes. The whole plant is also used in some cases.
Andrographis paniculata is an erect annual herb extremely bitter in taste in all parts of the plant body. The plant is known in north-eastern India as Maha-tikta, literally "king of bitters", and known by various vernacular names (see the table below). As an Ayurveda herb it is known as Kalmegh or Kalamegha, meaning "dark cloud". It is also known as Nila-Vembu in Tamil, meaning "neem of the ground", since the plant, though being a small annual herb, has a similar strong bitter taste as that of the large Neem tree (Azadirachta indica). In Malaysia, it is known as Hempedu Bumi, which literally means 'bile of earth' since it is one of the most bitter plants that are used in traditional medicine.
The plant grows erect to a height of 30–110 cm (12–43 in) in moist, shady places. The slender stem is dark green, squared in cross-section with longitudinal furrows and wings along the angles. The lance-shaped leaves have hairless blades measuring up to 8 cm (3.1 in) long by 2.5 cm (0.98 in). The small flowers are borne in spreading racemes. The fruit is a capsule around 2 cm (0.79 in) long and a few millimeters wide. It contains many yellow-brown seeds.
The species is distributed in tropical Asian countries, often in isolated patches. It can be found in a variety of habitats, such as plains, hillsides, coastlines, and disturbed and cultivated areas such as roadsides, farms, and wastelands. Native populations of A. paniculata are spread throughout south India and Sri Lanka which perhaps represent the center of origin and diversity of the species. The herb is an introduced species in northern parts of India, Java, Malaysia, Indonesia, the West Indies, and elsewhere in the Americas. The species also occurs in the Philippines, Hong Kong, Thailand, Brunei, Singapore, and other parts of Asia where it may or may not be native. The plant is cultivated in many areas, as well.
Unlike other species of the genus, A. paniculata is of common occurrence in most places in India, including the plains and hilly areas up to 500 m (1,600 ft), which accounts for its wide use.
In India the major source of plant is procured from wild habitat.The plant is in Low Risk or Least Concerned in the IUCN category. Under the trade name Kalmegh Annually on an average 2,000–5,000 tonnes (2,200–5,500 tons) of plant is traded in India.
The plant does best in a sunny location. The seeds are sown during May and June (northern hemisphere). The seedlings are transplanted at a distance of 60 cm (24 in) x 30 cm (12 in).
Andrographolide is the major constituent extracted from the leaves of the plant and is a bicyclic diterpenoid lactone. This bitter principle was isolated in pure form by Gorter (1911). Systematic studies on chemistry of A. paniculata have been carried out.
Some known constituents are:
- "14-Deoxy-11-dehydroandrographolide, Plant
- 14-Deoxy-11-oxoandrographolide, ahhiajajaiop.Plant
- 5-Hydroxy-7,8,2',3'-Tetramethoxyflavone, Plant
- 5-Hydroxy-7,8,2'-Trimethoxyflavone, Tissue Culture
- Andrographine, Root
- Andrographolide, Plant
- Neoandrographolide, Plant
- Panicoline, Root
- Paniculide-A, Plant
- Paniculide-B, Plant
- Paniculide-C, Plant"
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