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Cyanthillium cinereum (L.) H. Rob. 1990
pronounced: ky-an-THILL-ih-um kin-er-RAY-um
(Asteraceae — the daisy family)
synonym: Vernonia cinerea (L.) Less. 1829
pronounced: ver-NOH-nee-uh kin-er-RAY-um
common name: Purple Fleabane
Cyanthillium comes from the Greek κυανος (kyanos), dark blue, but the derivation of the “-thillium” part of the genus name has defeated me. Vernonia commemorates an English botanist, William Vernon (c.1680–c.1711), who collected plants when travelling in North America (particularly Maryland) in 1698. Cinereum and cinerea are both from cinereus, Latin for ash-coloured.
This is a small herb that grows no more than 60 cm in height, with tubular purple flowers, a thick taproot about 3 mm in diameter and a branched network of smaller roots.
The plant is thought to be indigenous to south-east Asia, but is now naturalized in most southern Pacific archipelagoes and elsewhere in the tropics, including Australia and New Zealand, Africa and America. It was collected by Banks and Solander at the Endeavour River in 1770.
The stems are slender, grooved, and ribbed. The leaves are ovate-acute, or variably shaped, mostly up to 5 cm long (rarely 8 cm) and up to 2 cm wide (rarely 3 cm), the upper ones narrower and smaller. The tiny flowers are pinkish purple. The achenes are very efficiently wind-dispersed.
In India, where it is a very common weed, it has a variety of medicinal uses. The juice of the plant is given to children to cure bed-wetting. A decoction made from the plant is given for diarrhoea, stomach ache, coughs and colic, asthma and bronchitis. The leaves are eaten as a pot-herb. The root is bitter, and is used as a diuretic. The seeds are used to treat round-worms and thread-worms, and are also given for coughs, flatulence, intestinal colic, and chronic skin diseases. The flowers are used to treat conjunctivitis, fever and rheumatism.
An interesting development in recent years has been the experimental use of the plant as an aid to giving up cigarette smoking. Tea-bags are made containing the whole crushed dried plant, and tea made with them is given to the patients three times a day. Results so far have been promising. Successfully treated reformed smokers report various reasons for the success of the tea: the tongue becomes numb; the appetite decreases; the craving for cigarettes decreases; it makes the taste and smell of cigarette smoke distasteful; it decreases smokers’ cough. So far, it seems to have fewer side-effects than the usual medications, and has the advantage of costing practically nothing, important in countries where disposable income is tiny. I must stress the fact that there is still much work to be done, and that local would-be givers-up would probably be better advised to stay with patches!
After searching for the plant for some years, as I knew it grew on Magnetic Island, I have at last found a specimen growing by the track to the pumping station, at the end of Mandalay Avenue in Nelly Bay.
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 Nelly Bay, 2017, and at Mt Goolman, near Ipswich, 2010, 2012
Page last updated 20th May 2017