Physic Nut

A genus of about 170 species of succulent perennials, evergreen shrubs, and occasionally trees, found in S Africa, Madagascar, tropical areas of the Americas, and the West Indies. They are closely related to the manioc or tapioca, Manihot esculenta, which was once classified as J. manihot and similarly contains a very acrid juice, and is toxic unless washed and dried before eating. Jatropha curcas (physic nut) was introduced by the Portuguese to the Old World tropics, where it soon became widely naturalized and used as a purgative. The seed oil contains a toxic, irritant diterpenoid and an acid similar to the acids found in castor oil (Ricinus communis, See, castor bean) and croton oil (from Croton tiglium, See, croton). In spite of their toxicity, physic nuts taste pleasant and are often eaten by children, causing acute poisoning. The toxic effects are moderated by lime juice. Jatropha multifida, and J. podagrica, which are popular ornamentals, are also used medicinally; the former as a purgative, the latter as a remedy for snakebite. Jatropha is from the Greek iatros, "physician", and trophe, "food", indicating that the seeds are tasty and also have medicinal value.

Deciduous shrub or small treee with hairless, heart-shaped, deeply 3- to 7-lobed leaves, to 15cm (6in) across. Green-yellow, hairy male and female flowers are borne in clusters in spring and summer, followed by egg-shaped, dark brown to black fruits, which split into three when ripe, releasing 3 black seeds ("nuts"), to 2cm (¾in) long.

Common Name:
Physic Nut
Other Names:
Purging Nut, Barbados Nut
Botanical Name:
Jatropha curcas
Native Location:
Tropical America
Sharply drained, rich soil in sun.
By seed sown when ripe at 24°C (75°F); by stem-tip cuttings in spring and summer.
Seeds are collected when ripe and used whole or pressed for oil. Leaves, roots, and bark are collected as required and used fresh in decoctions and poultices. Juice (latex) from stems is used fresh or dried into a brittle brown substance.
6m (20ft)
Parts Used:
Seeds, oil, latex, leaves, roots.
A strongly purgative, irritant, antiseptic herb taht controls bleeding.
Medicinal Uses:
Internally in carefully measured doses, and externally in the form of an enema or rubbing oil, as a purgative (seeds, leaves, bark). Internally for paralysis and intestinal worms. Externally for wounds, skin diseases, rheumatism, gum boils, ant to control bleeding and produce an airtight film over broken or festering skin (latex); also as a poultice to increase lactation (leaves).
Economic Uses:
Oil is used in the manufacture of soaps and candles, and in oil lamps.
All parts contain a milky latex that may irritate the skin and mucous membranes.
Encylopedia of Herbs by Deni Brown Copyright ©: 1995, 2001 Dorling Kindersley Limited pp 246-247