Presented by: UT El Paso / Austin Cooperative Pharmacy Program & Paso del Norte Health Foundation


Compilation by Armando Gonzalez Stuart, PhD.

Scientific Name:


Other Common Name:

Pokok bunga kertas, bougenville (Quattrocchi, 2012).

Common names in Spanish:

Buganvilla, Bugambilea, Napoleón , Veranera, Trinitaria , Santa Rita, and Papelillo (Quattrocchi, 2012; White, 2003).

Where is it found?

This thorny shrubby vine or tree is native to Brazil and Peru, and is cultivated as an ornamental plant in various subtropical and tropical regions of the world (Quattrocchi, 2012; Mabberley, 2008).

Parts of the plant used:

Principally the flowers, although the stem bark is sometimes used.

How is it used?

The flowers of the plant are steeped in hot water to make tea.

What is it used for?

The flowers have long been used in Mexican traditional medicine for the treatment of coughs and respiratory problems (Mendoza-Castelán and Lugo-Pérez, 2012; Argueta, 1994). No clinical trials are currently known that validate the use of this plant for the treatment of coughs or other respiratory diseases.

Eight new phytochemical compounds (peltogynoids), known as bougainvinones A-H (or compounds 1 through 8), were obtained from the stem bark of B. spectabilis. These were tested for their cytotoxic effects upon five cancer cell lines which included KB, Hela S-3, HT-29, MCF-7, and HepG2.The results of this study revealed that of the eight compounds tested, compound 7 demonstrated cytotoxicity against five cancer cell lines (Do et al., 2016).

A related species, B. glabra, has been found to have important properties as a botanical insecticide, especially against one of the dipteran vectors that transmits the protozoan parasite causative of a neglected tropical disease known as leishmaniasis (Dinesh et al., 2014). This insect is commonly known as the sand fly (Phlebotomus papatasi), one of various species that transmits Leishmania major, the causative agent of cutaneous leishmaniasis, in many areas of the Old World. This species of sand fly not only feeds on the blood of humans and other animals, but also on certain species of plants, including bougainvillea. A study found that one night of feeding on branches of B. glabra drastically shortened the life span of the sand flies. The results showed that this species of bougainvillea may afford protection against sand fly bites, thus diminishing the risk of leishmaniasis transmission (Schlein et al., 2001).

Experimental studies in Egypt regarding the effect of feeding on B. glabra on the development of the sand fly showed that planting high densities of bougainvillea in sand fly endemic regions may reduce population sizes for the insect vector and thus reduce the risk of Leishmania infections. (Kaldas et al., 2014).

Safety / Precautions

  • The safety of taking products made from this plant during pregnancy and lactation has not been established.
  • Bougainvillea sap may cause serious skin rashes.
  • The thorns may injure the skin.

Before you decide to take any medicinal herb or herbal supplement, be sure to consult with a health care professional first. Avoid self-medication and self-diagnosis: Always be on the safe side!


Argueta A. Atlas de la Medicina Tradicional Mexicana (Vol. 1).
México, D.F.: Instituto Nacional Indigenista; 1994.

Dinesh DS, Kumari S, Kumar V, Das P. The potentiality of botanicals and their products as an alternative to chemical insecticides to sandflies (Diptera: Psychodidae): a review.
J Vector Borne Dis. 2014;51(1):1-7.

Do LT, Aree T, Siripong P, Pham TN, Nguyen PK, Tip-Pyang S. Bougainvinones A-H, Peltogynoids from the Stem Bark of Purple Bougainvillea spectabilis and Their Cytotoxic Activity. J Nat Prod. 2016 ;79(4):939-45. doi: 10.1021/acs.jnatprod.5b00996.

Kaldas RM, El Shafey AS, Shehata MG, Samy AM, Villinski JT. Experimental effect of feeding on Ricinus communis and Bougainvillea glabra on the development of the sand fly Phlebotomus papatasi (Diptera: Psychodidae) from Egypt. J Egypt Soc Parasitol. 2014;44(1):1-12.

Mabberley’s Plant Book 3rd ed.
London: Cambridge University Press; 2008.

Mendoza-Castelán G, Lugo-Pérez R. Plantas Medicinales en los Mercados de México.
Chapingo, Estado de México; Universidad Autónoma Chapingo; 2011.

Quattrocchi, U. World Dictionary of Medicinal and Poisonous Plants (Vol.1).
Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2012.

Schlein Y, Jacobson RL, Müller GC. Sand fly feeding on noxious plants: a potential method for the control of leishmaniasis. Am J Trop Med Hyg. 2001; 65(4):300-3.

White R. Elsevier’s Dictionary of Plant Names of North America Including Mexico.
Amsterdam: Elsevier; 2003.