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Rauvolfia serpentina - (L.) Benth. ex Kurz

Common Name Rauwolfia, Ajmaline, Java devil-pepper
Family Apocynaceae
USDA hardiness 10-12
Known Hazards Although we have seen no specific information for this species, most if not all members of this genus contain poisonous alkaloids[K ].
Habitats Montane forests at elevations of 800 - 1,500 metres in China[266 ]. Shady places in moist forests[646 ]. Sunny or shaded places in well-drained rain forest and secondary thickets up to 2,100 metres, sometimes as a weed in sugar cane fields[310 ].
Range E. Asia - China, Indian subcontinent, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Indonesia.
Edibility Rating    (0 of 5)
Other Uses    (0 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (4 of 5)
Care (info)
Tender Moist Soil Semi-shade Full sun
Rauvolfia serpentina Rauwolfia, Ajmaline, Java devil-pepper

Rauvolfia serpentina Rauwolfia, Ajmaline, Java devil-pepper


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A tropical and subtropical plant that can be found in parts of East Asia and Indian subcontinent, Rauvolfia serpentina or commonly known as Rauwolfia, Indian Snakeroot, Devil Pepper, or Snakeroot is an evergreen shrub reaching a height of up to 1 m. One of the 50 fundamental herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine, the roots of this plant are used in the treatment of hypertension, schizophrenia, painful affections of the bowels, and to increase uterine contractions when giving birth. Leaf juice are used for wounds while bark, leaves, and roots are used against snake and scorpion poisoning. The wood known as serpent wood is used for woodcarving.

Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of shrub
Rauvolfia serpentina is an evergreen Shrub growing to 1.5 m (5ft) by 1.5 m (5ft) at a medium rate.
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 10.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: mildly acid, neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Ophioxylon album Gaertn. Ophioxylon obversum Miq. Ophioxylon salutiferum Salisb. Ophioxylon serpenti

Plant Habitats

Edible Uses

None known

References   More on Edible Uses

Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.
Antidote  Hypnotic  Hypotensive  Ophthalmic  Sedative  Skin

The roots are hypnotic, hypotensive and sedative[240 ]. They are used particularly in the treatment of hypertension, where they are said to cause a lowering of the blood pressure without dangerous side effects[46 ], and are considered a specific in the treatment of insanity[240 , 266 ]. They are also used in decoction to treat painful affections of the bowels and to increase uterine contractions when giving birth[240 , 310 ]. The juice of the leaves is used to remove opacities of the cornea of the eyes and also to treat wounds and itches[240 , 310 ]. The bark, leaves, and roots are used against snake and scorpion poisoning[266 ]. The roots yield up to 1.3% medically active alkaloids, as well as oleoresin and the sterol serposterol[240 ]. The alkaloid rauwolfine has been shown to decrease the heart rate[240 ]. Several alkaloids, including serpentine, neoajmaline and isoajmaline, produce a fall in blood pressure[240 ]. Serpentine also causes an increase in the tone of the small intestine and decrease in the peristaltic contractions of the intestine[240 ]. The alkaloid-free oleoresin extract from the roots produces sedative and hypnotic effects[240 ]. Reserpine, a highly active alkaloid, shows a very marked hypnotic effect and lowers blood pressure[240 ]. It is used in allopathic medicine[746 ].

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses

None known

Special Uses

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

A plant of the moist to wet, lowland tropics, where it is found at elevations up to 1,000 metres. It grows best in areas where annual daytime temperatures are within the range 22 - 30°c, but can tolerate 4 - 35°c[418 ]. It prefers a mean annual rainfall in the range 1,500 - 3,500mm, but tolerates 1,100 - 4,500mm[418 ]. Succeeds in full sun and in light shade[418 ]. Prefers a fertile, well-drained loamy soil[418 ]. Prefers a pH in the range 5.5 - 7, tolerating 5 - 7.5[418 ]. The roots can be harvested from plants that are 2 - 3 years old[418 ]. Average yield is 2 - 4 tonnes per hectare of air-dried roots per year after the third year[418 ]. It is best adapted to a well-distributed rainfall. Mentioned as a useful agroforestry species.

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

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Plant Propagation

Seed -

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Ajmaline, Java devil-pepper, rauwolfia, serpentine-wood, snakewood, Java-Teufelspfeffer - German, she gen mu - Transcribed Chinese, acawerya, adkai, aika-wairey, ajmaline, akar-tikos, amalpori, amelpodee, arbre aux serpents, arsol, asrol, bhudra, boboro, bongmaiza, candrika, chaandar, chandamaruwa, chandmaruwa, chandra, chandramara?, chandrika, chhotaa chaand, chotachand, chotachard, chundrika, chundrooshoora, churmuhuntree, chuvannayilpuri, chyarangro, covanamilpori, covannamipori, devilpepper, dhaldhaliya, dhanbarua, dhannerna, dhavalbaruaa, dogrikme, eiya-kunda, ekaweriya, garudpathal, hadki, harkai, harkaya, ichneumon plant, indian snake, indian snakeroot, indojaboku, java devil pepper, java devil-pepper, java-teufelspfeffer, karai, karavi, karuvee, makeshwar chadrika, makeshwarchurna, matavi-aloos, nogliever, nundunee, nakuli, pagal booti, pagal buti, pagla-ka-dawa, palalganni. patalaagandhi, phulchiso, poeleh pandak, poelé pandak, pushoomehnunkarika, qauvolfia, ra-yom, radix mustelae, radix rauwolfiae, radixmungo, raiz de mongo alba, rametul, ratekaweriya, rauvolfia, rauvolfia root, rauvolfiae radix, rauwalfia, rauwolfia, rauwolfia radix, rauwolfia serpentina, rauwolfiae radix, rauwolfiawurzel, rayom noi, reserpina, sanochado, sapasan, sarap gandha, sarpagandha, sarpagandha|ekaveriya, sarpagandhi, sarpagandha (root), sarpgandha, sarppaganti, schlangenholz, serpentina, serpentina indiana, serpentina root, serpentine, serpentine wood, serpentine-wood, serpentwood, she gen mu, shegen mu, sjouanna-amelpodi, snake, snake-root devil-pepper, snakeroot, snakewood, sung, sutranaabhu, suvapaval-amepodi, talona, vasoopooshpa, vasura, yindu she mu, yindu shemu.

China ; India; Indonesia; Malaysia; Myanmar; Sri Lanka; Thailand, Asia, Northeastern India, Laos, SE Asia,

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status : This taxon has not yet been assessed

Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameHabitHeightHardinessGrowthSoilShadeMoistureEdibleMedicinalOther

Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


Expert comment


(L.) Benth. ex Kurz

Botanical References

Links / References

For a list of references used on this page please go here
A special thanks to Ken Fern for some of the information used on this page.

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