Family: Fabaceae
Genus: Mucuna
Botanical name: Mucuna pruriens (Linn.) DC.
Sanskrit: Atmagupta, Kapikacchu, Ajada, Markati, Kulakshaya
English: Common cowitch, Cowhage
Hindi: Gonacha, Kaunch
Malayalam: Naikuruna, Naikkorana, Chorivalli
Naikuruna is an annual, climbing shrub with long vines that can reach over 15 m in length. When the plant is young, it is almost completely covered with fuzzy hairs, but when older, it is almost completely free of hairs. The leaves are tripinnate, ovate, reverse ovate, rhombus-shaped or widely ovate. The sides of the leaves are often heavily grooved and the tips are pointy. In young M.pruriens plants, both sides of the leaves have hairs. The stems of the leaflets are two to three millimeters long. Additional adjacent leaves are present and are about 5 mm long.
The flower heads take the form of axially arrayed panicles. They are 15 to 32 cm long and have two or three, or many flowers. The accompanying leaves are about 12.5 mm long, the flower stand axes are from 2.5 to 5 mm. The bell is 7.5 to 9 mm long and silky. The sepals are longer or of the same length as the shuttles. The crown is purplish or white. The flag is 1.5 mm long. The wings are 2.5 to 3.8 cm long.
In the fruit ripening stage, a 4 to 13 cm-long, 1 to 2 cm-wide, unwinged, leguminous fruit develops. There is a ridge along the length of the fruit. The husk is very hairy and carries up to seven seeds. The seeds are flattened uniform ellipsoids, 1 to 1.9 cm long, 0.8 to 1.3 cm wide and 4 to 6.5 cm thick. The hilum, the base of the funiculus (connection between placenta and plant seeds) is a surrounded by a significant arillus (fleshy seeds shell).
M.pruriens bears white, lavender, or purple flowers. Its seed pods are about 10 cm long[1] and are covered in loose, orange hairs that cause a severe itch if they come in contact with skin. The chemical compounds responsible for the itch are a protein, mucunain,[1] and serotonin. The seeds are shiny black or brown drift seeds. It is found in tropical Africa, India and the Caribbean.
The plant and its extracts have been long used in tribal communities as a toxin antagonist for various snakebites. Research on its effects against Naja spp. (cobra), Echis (Saw scaled viper), Calloselasma (Malayan Pit viper) and Bangarus (Krait) have shown it has potential use in the prophylactic treatment of snakebites.
M. pruriens seeds have also been found to have antidepressant properties in cases of depressive neurosis when consumed and formulations of the seed powder have shown promise in the management and treatment of Parkinson's disease.
Dried leaves of M. pruriens are sometimes smoked. The herb contains L-DOPA, a precursor to the neurotransmitter dopamine. The L-DOPA content increases when extracts are prepared. L-DOPA converts into dopamine, an important brain chemical involved in mood, sexuality, and movement.
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