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Anisomeles malabarica (L.) R.Br. ex Sims 1819
pronounced: an-nee-SOM-ell-ees mal-uh-BAR-ih-kuh
(Lamiaceae – the lavender family)
common name: Malabar Catmint
Anisomeles is from two Greek words, ανισος (anisos), unequal, and μελος (melos), a limb – the upper two anthers are single-celled, while the lower two are two-celled. Malabarica is botanical Latin for ‘from Malabar’, the south-west coast of India. This genus is very similar to Nepeta, the catnip or catmint, so called because of its effect on cats. I shall never forget the sight, in an old-world cottage garden in Essex, England, of a grizzled old fighting tom-cat rolling in a patch of this plant, with a soppy, euphoric grin on his battle-scarred face. I have not seen cats frolicking in the Malabar Catmint, perhaps because the specimen photographed was on a rocky outcrop by the ‘steps’ walk at the back of Picnic Bay.
The members of the Anisomeles genus are perennial evergreen herbs, bearing essential oils. Anisomeles malabarica has a shrubby growth, up to 1.5 m tall, with densely villous stems of square cross-section. The leaves are ovate to oblong, 3 – 8 cm by 1.5 – 3 cm, densely woolly beneath, sparsely hirsute above. The petiole is up to 2.5 cm long, and softly woolly.
The inflorescence is a single terminal spike, the calyx 8.5 mm by 6 mm, the longest teeth 3 – 4 mm long, in fruit 8 – 10 mm long, the teeth hairy inside. The flower is up to 1.8 cm long, the lower lip about 12 mm by 4 mm, lilac or pale blue; the filaments are almost at the same level, about 8 mm long, with the style about 13 mm long. The nutlets are cylindrical, 1.3 mm by 0.9 mm.
This is a traditional medicinal plant, especially in India. The whole plant, but in particular the leaves and the roots, are used as an astringent, a carminative∗, a febrifuge and a tonic. It has long been used in folk medicine for the treatment of cancer and liver disorders. Experiments on mice, using a crude ethanolic leaf extract of Anisomeles malabarica, have suggested that there may well be scientific grounds for believing that it does possess significant anti-cancer properties. An Indian publication† waxes very enthusiastic, suggesting that:
The plant is acrid, bitter, aromatic, intellect promoting, stomachic, anthelmintic, febrifuge and sudorific. It is useful in halitosis, epilepsy, hysteria, amentia, anorexia, dyspepsia, colic, flatulence, intestinal worms, fever arising from teething in children, intermittent fevers, vitiated conditions of vata and kapha, gout, swellings and diarrhoea.
∗ a substance that stops the formation of intestinal gas and helps expel gas that has already formed
† Indian medicinal plants: a compendium of 500 species, by P. K. Warrier, Arya Vaidya Sala Kottakkal
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 2010
Page last updated 15th July 2018