Scoparia dulcis

licorice weed


Scoparia dulcis

L. 1753

pronounced: sko-PAIR-ee-uh DUL-kiss

(Plantaginaceae — the plantain family)


common names: licorice weed, broomweed,  vassourinha

Scoparia is derived from the Latin scoparius, a sweeper, or ‘like a broom’. The Romans also used the word for the name of a plant, a species of the goosefoot. Dulcis is Lain for ‘sweet’. The plant has recently been transferred here from Scropulariaceae.

This is a native of tropical America, introduced into India, and now growing over most of the tropics as a wasteland weed. There are several plants growing in the cracks between the paving stones at the rear of the Chinese Restaurant in Picnic Bay, which is handy for the proprietors, who swear by the plant as a preventative and a cure for cancer. Vassourinha is the Brazilian name for the plant. In India it is called Mithi Patti.

It is a small, much-branched, glabrous, leafy annual herb or undershrub. In favourable conditions it can grow up to about 6o cm in height. The leaves are opposite or in whorls of three, oblanceolate, 2 – 3 cm long, with serrate margins. The many flowers are axillary on long pedicels, with 4 white to pale pink or pale mauve petals, and 4 stamens, The fruit is a globose capsule with many minute seeds.

The plant has long held a place in herbal medicine in almost every tropical country where it grows, and it is much used by indigenous peoples. In Ecuador the indigenous tribes brew a tea of the entire plant to reduce swelling, aches and pains. The Tikuna Indians of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest make a decoction for washing wounds, and women drink the same concoction for 3 days each month during menstruation as a contraceptive, or to induce abortions. In the rainforests of Guyana, the tribes use a leaf decoction as an antiseptic wash for wounds, as an anti-nausea aid for infants, as a soothing bath to cool fever, and in poultices for migraines. Other tribes in Brazil use the leaf juice to wash infected wounds, and place it in the eye for eye problems; and they make an infusion of the entire plant to use as an expectorant and to soothe and soften the skin. Indigenous tribes in Nicaragua use a hot water infusion of the leaves (or the whole plant) for stomach pain, for menstrual disorders, as an aid in childbirth, as a blood purifier, for insect bites, fevers, heart problems, liver and stomach disorders, malaria, venereal disease, and as a general tonic.

In many cultures the plant is believed to have anti-cancerous properties. There is a good deal of research currently in progress on the chemical composition of the plant, and some phytochemicals have turned up that have not been seen elsewhere. Some of these, in particular one that has been named scopadulcic acid B, appear to inhibit cancerous growth in laboratory animals and in test tubes, and research is still being carried out both on this aspect and the other curative properties traditionally associated with the plant.


Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.


Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2009-2015
Page last updated 1st April 2019