Compilation by Armando Gonzalez Stuart, PhD.
Common names in Spanish:
Where is it found?
This shrub or liana is native to West Africa, especially Liberia, Ghana, Nigeria, and the Congo (Burkill, 1995; Quattrocchi, 2012; Mabberley, 2017).
Parts of the plant used:
Seeds and leaves
How is it used?
Griffonia is employed in various, and sometimes seemingly contradictory, ways depending on the West African country where it is used. For example, a decoction of the leaves is taken as a tea for gastrointestinal problems, the twigs and leaves are boiled in water and taken as a tea to prevent vomiting (anti-emetic), against diarrhea, and as an aphrodisiac. In contrast to the above, however, a leaf decoction is used to promote vomiting, as well as a laxative (perhaps a matter of dose). A decoction of the plant is applied topically to help skin sores heal and as an antiseptic. The sap obtained from the leaves is taken orally for kidney pain. The leaves are fed to goats and sheep in order to augment fertility and reproduction. The leaves are also places in poultry cages for their insecticidal activity, against lice (Burkill, 1995).
What is it used for?
Due to its content of 5-HTP, a precursor of the neurotransmitter serotonin, this plant has been touted as an alternative for the treatment of insomnia. Supplements containing this plant, alone or in combination with other herbs, are also touted as being useful for appetite suppression, weight loss, fibromyalgia, as well as to treat motion sickness (Rondanelli, et al., 2011). The roots and leaves are used for pelvic congestion in women, an aphrodisiac and externally for bone fractures (Odugbemi, 2008).
The seeds contain compounds known as lectins, which are proteins that bind to carbohydrates and play an important role in cell physiology. However, certain plant lectins are potentially toxic and Griffonia lectins may also have insecticidal activity (Zhu-Salzman et al., 1998).
A study evaluated the safety and efficacy of a Griffonia seed extract and magnesium combination in two groups (127 each) of prepubertal children with motion sickness. The combination was comprised of 50 mg of G. simplicifolia and 200 mg of magnesium, intended as prophylactic therapy. The product was given by mouth twice a day for 90 days to the treatment group. The other group did not receive treatment for motion sickness. At the end of the study, the group treated with Griffonia showed a significantly lower (36%) prevalence of motion sickness, compared to the non-treatment group (73%). The results of the study indicate that the Griffonia plus magnesium combination could be a possible option for treating motion sickness (Esposito, et al., 2015).
Certain compounds contained in Griffonia may act as an appetite suppressant, and therefore could be useful in the treatment of obesity. For this reason, a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 4-week duration was undertaken with 20 overweight women, 10 of whom were randomly assigned to supplement their diet with either an extract from G. simplicifolia, while the other 10 received a placebo. The study included a personalized reduced calorie diet for all participants. In conclusion, the results of the study showed that the 5-hydroxytryptophan contained in the Griffonia extract, given as an oral spray was well absorbed, and that supplementation with 5-hydroxytryptophan in overweight women increased the feeling of satiety and was related to a decrease in their BMI (Rondanelli et al., 2012).
Griffonia seeds contain 5-hydroxy-l-tryptophan (5-HTP), a compound that acts as a precursor for synthesis of the neurotransmitter serotonin (5-HT). Currently, a seed extract is taken as a supplement for various mood disorders, although the scientific evidence for efficacy and safety is not abundant. For this reason, a study was undertaken to assess the effect of a seed extract on anxiety in laboratory animals. The product was given orally to rats, at doses of 1, 5, 10 and 25 mg/kg. The authors of the study concluded that the seed extract showed an anxiolytic action in rats and suggested that this product could be useful as a potential treatment for human anxiety (Carnevale et al., 2011a).
A study with rats evaluated the effects of a Griffonia seed extract on male sexual behavior. The extract was given orally to Sprague-Dawley male rats daily, at doses of 25, 50 and 100 mg/kg, acutely as well as sub-chronically for a period of 9 days. The acute treatment significantly increased mount latency, regardless of dose, in contrast to the sub-chronic treatment, which failed to possess a significant influence on male copulatory activity. Daily administration of doses consisting of 50 and 100 mg/kg of the extract for a duration of 9 days, significantly reduced food intake and body weight, and increased the levels of serotonin (Carnevale et al., 2011b).
A new β-carboline alkaloid, known as “griffonine” was isolated from Griffonia, along with 7 previously known alkaloids, two of which demonstrated inhibitory actions on the HepG2 cell line, while others showed cytotoxic activities (Wang, 2013).
Safety / Precautions
- More good quality clinical research is needed to adequately ascertain if herbal supplements containing Griffonia are safe and efficient for the treatment of insomnia and overweight
- The safety of products made from Griffonia have not been adequately evaluated during pregnancy
- Avoid taking products made from this plant during pregnancy and lactation (Dubray, 2018)
- Not recommended for people with epilepsy (Dubray, 2018)
- Avoid combining supplements made from this plant with antidepressant medications (Dubray, 2018)
- Supplements containing 5-HTP should not be combined medications known as MAO inhibitors, nor with cold medications containing ephedrine or pseudo-ephedrine
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!
Burkill HM. The Useful Plants of Tropical West Africa. Vol. 3.
London: Royal Botanic Gardens Kew; 1995; pp. 126-127.
Carnevale G, Di Viesti V, Zavatti M, Benelli A, Zanoli P. Griffonia simplicifolia negatively affects sexual behavior in female rats. Phytomedicine. 2010; 17(12):987-91. doi: 10.1016/j.phymed.2010.02.010.
aCarnevale G, Di Viesti V, Zavatti M, Zanoli P. Anxiolytic-like effect of Griffonia simplicifolia Baill. seed extract in rats. Phytomedicine. 2011;18(10):848-51. doi: 10.1016/j.phymed.2011.01.016.
bCarnevale G, Di Viesti V, Zavatti M, Benelli A, Zanoli P. Influence of Griffonia simplicifolia on male sexual behavior in rats: behavioral and neurochemical study. Phytomedicine. 2011 15;18(11):947-52. doi: 10.1016/j.phymed.2011.02.009.
Dubray M. Guide des Contre-indications des Principales Plantes Medicinales. Rev. Ed.
Paris: Editions Lucien Souny; 2018; pp. 168-169.
Esposito M, Precenzano F, Sorrentino M, Avolio D, Carotenuto M. A Medical Food Formulation of Griffonia simplicifolia/Magnesium for Childhood Periodic Syndrome Therapy: An Open-Label Study on Motion Sickness. J Med Food. 2015;18(8):916-20. doi: 10.1089/jmf.2014.0113.
Lemaire PA, Adosraku RK. An HPLC method for the direct assay of the serotonin precursor, 5-hydroxytrophan, in seeds of Griffonia simplicifolia. Phytochem Anal. 2002;13(6):333-7.
Odugbemi, TA. Textbook of Medicinal Plants from Nigeria.
University of Lagos Press: Lagos, Nigeria; 2008; p. 575.
Rondanelli M, Opizzi A, Faliva M, Bucci M, Perna S. Relationship between the absorption of 5-hydroxytryptophan from an integrated diet, by means of Griffonia simplicifolia extract, and the effect on satiety in overweight females after oral spray administration. Eat Weight Disord. 2012 ;17(1):e22-8. doi: 10.3275/8165.
Wang XZ, Wu FH, Qu W, Liang JY. A new β-carboline alkaloid from the seeds of Griffonia simplicifolia. Chin J Nat Med. 2013;11(4):401-5. doi: 10.1016/S1875-5364(13)60059-X.
Zhu-Salzman K, Shade RE, Koiwa H, Salzman RA, Narasimhan M, Bressan RA, Hasegawa PM, Murdock LL. Carbohydrate binding and resistance to proteolysis control insecticidal activity of Griffonia simplicifolia lectin II. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1998;95(25):15123-8.