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Main article: Alkaloids

Rauwolfia (also spelled Rauvolfia) is a genus of evergreen trees and shrubs in the Apocynaceae family. The approximately 85 species in the genus can mainly be found in tropical regions.

Rauvolfia caffra is the South African quinine tree. Rauvolfia serpentina, or Indian Snakeroot or Sarpagandha, contains a number of bioactive chemicals, including ajmaline, deserpidine, rescinnamine, serpentinine, and yohimbine.

Reserpine is an alkaloid first isolated from R. serpentina which was widely used as an antihypertensive drug. It had drastic psychological side effects and has been now replaced by blood-pressure-lowering drugs that lack such adverse effects. But in herbal form rather than the form of isolated active ingredients, it is a safe and effective resource for hypertensive patients. The pharmaceutical companies have stopped producing this drug as reserpine or deserpedine, or any other form. It is only available currently in the U.S. via herbal medicine ordering, over the Internet.

Other plants of this genus are also used medicinally, both in conventional western medicine and in Ayurveda, Unani, and folk medicine. Alkaloids in the plants reduce blood pressure, depress activity of central nervous system and act as hypnotics.


  • Women who are pregnant, may be pregnant, or plan pregnancy in the near future should not ingest Rauwolfia plants or preparations made from them.
  • They may also be harmful for people with any chronic disease of the gastrointestinal tract, such as stomach or duodenal ulcers, esophageal reflux (reflux esophagitis), ulcerative colitis, spastic colitis, and diverticulosis. No "safe" dosage has been established.


  • Lewis, W.H. and M.P.F. Elvin-Lewis. (2003). Medical Botany. Hoboken: Wiley. pg 286
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