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Premna serratifolia L. 1771
pronounced: PREM-nuh sih-rat-ih-FOH-lee-uh
(Lamiaceae – the lavender family)
synonym: Premna obtusifolia R.Br. 1810
pronounced: PREM-nuh ob-tews-ih-FOH-lee-uh
Common names: Creek Premna, Kaar
Premna is from the Greek πρεμνον (premnon), the trunk or stump of a tree, referring to the dwarf stature of one species; serratifolia is from the Latin serratus, saw-toothed, and folium, a leaf. In the synonym, obtusifolia is from obtusus, blunt, and folium, a leaf.
This plant is native to various islands in the western Indian Ocean: Comoros, Mauritius, Réunion and the Seychelles. In temperate Asia it occurs in China, Taiwan, Japan and the Ryukyu Islands. In tropical Asia it is found in many parts of the Indian subcontinent, on the islands of the North Indian Ocean, and in most parts of Indo-China. It is native to almost everywhere in the East Indies and the Philippines. In Australia it occurs right across the top end, and down the east coast of Queensland, usually along watercourses or in seasonally wet areas, but it is also found in rainforests and vine thickets. It also occurs in parts of New Zealand. In the Pacific, it is native to the Marshall Islands, Palau, Fiji, New Caledonia, Samoa and the Solomon Islands. It has also become naturalized in various other parts of the world. The young tree photographed is in the Ergon yard at Picnic Bay.
Creek Premna is a spreading shrub or small tree growing 2–6 m high. The leaves are opposite, 5–18 cm long, broadly ovate with a smooth leathery texture. They are light green in colour with prominent veins and the midrib raised beneath. The numerous flowers are cream-green in colour, with rather an unpleasant odour, borne on spreading terminal panicles about 10–20 cm across. The fruits are drupes, smooth, and globular in shape, 3–6 mm in diameter, dark blue to black when mature. The plant is propagated from seed.
Aborigines used this plant to treat the stings of stonefish and stingray, as well as spear wounds. Its use is widespread in the Pacific region for both medicinal and magical purposes. In the Marshall Islands, for instance, where the plant is called Kaar, it is used to cure various baby ailments, to improve people’s luck and to protect them from illness, and to make love potions. The leaves are used to cure ‘weakness of limbs’ and to alleviate headaches. Extracts made from the plant are often mixed with other herbal extracts in medicines.
In the Chuuk Islands of Micronesia, young leaves are used to treat eye conditions such as styes. The leaves are chewed in the mouth of the person administering the treatment until they are a soft mush. This mush is then spat into the patients eye through a blowpipe made of a piece of pawpaw stem.
In other Micronesian Islands, especially in Pohnpei and Kosrae, the leaves are commonly used in steam baths, and a tea is also made by infusing the leaves, and used to treat coughs. Juice squeezed from the berries is used as nose drops to treat sinus headaches.
In fact, research is in progress on extracts from the bark and wood that contain alkaloids and iridoid glycoside, as these are believed to prevent cardiovascular disease.
In times of famine, the leaves and tender shoots can be cooked and eaten as greens.
The timber is generally considered valueless, except on some of the Dutch East Indies and Pacific Islands, especially atolls, where good timber is scarce. In such places it is used for posts and poles, boat- and raft-building, paddles, knife handles, fishing rods, specialized fish hooks, and for carving and turning. In Australia, it has been recorded as being used for spear shafts by some of the North Queensland indigenous peoples.
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 at Picnic Bay 2009-2015, Horseshoe Bay 2014
Page last updated 29th January 2017