Sutherlandia frutescens (Cancer bush, Balloon pea, Sutherlandia; syn. Colutea frutescens L., Lessertia frutescens (L.) Goldblatt & J.C.Manning) is a southern African legume which has traditionally been used as an indigenous medicine for a variety of ailments.
It is a shrub with bitter, aromatic leaves. Red-orange flowers appear in spring to mid-summer.
S. frutescens is a small bush growing up to about 1m high. It is native to dry parts of southern Africa, preferring full sun but tolerant of a wide variety of soil types. It is a tough plant, hardy, fast growing and drought tolerant but short lived. Seeds germinate readily in around 2 to 3 weeks and established plants self-seed readily. Seedlings may be vulnerable to damping off, but provided it is in well drained soil, it grows readily and is not very vulnerable to pests.
An infusion made from the leaves is a traditional remedy for fever, chicken pox, flu, rheumatism, hemorrhoids, diarrhea, and stomach and liver problems.
In modern times, S. frutescens has a reputation as a cure for cancer and for treating the symptoms of HIV/AIDS. However, there is no scientific support for the claims that this plant can cure cancer or AIDS, though some preliminary evidence exists suggesting a potential benefit in aiding immune disorders.
There is very little evidence relating to the safety and none to the efficacy of S. frutescens. One small pilot clinical study examined the safety of S. frutescens in healthy adults and found that up to 800 mg/day of leaf powder capsules for three months was well tolerated.
A variety of animals studies have been also been used to examine some of the putative pharmacology of S. frutescens. One study found that S. frutescens shoot aqueous extract possesses analgesic, antiinflammatory, and hypoglycemic properties in mice and this "lends pharmacological credence to the suggested folkloric uses of the herb in the management and/or control of painful, arthritic and other inflammatory conditions, as well as for adult-onset, type-2 diabetes mellitus".
There has been no clinical study of the effectiveness of S. frutescens for treating diabetes. One study that noted some in vitro evidence of effectiveness concluded that "the true benefit of the preparation deserves to be tested in a clinical setting".
The consumption of S. frutescens by HIV/AIDS patients is controversial because it has adverse interactions with pharmaceutical drugs typically used to treat the disease, such as antiretroviral drugs.
- "Sutherlandia frutescens information from NPGS/GRIN". www.ars-grin.gov. Retrieved 2008-03-03.
- Ojewole, JA (2004). "Analgesic, antiinflammatory and hypoglycemic effects of Sutherlandia frutescens R. BR. (variety Incana E. MEY.) Fabaceae shoot aqueous extract". Methods and findings in experimental and clinical pharmacology 26 (6): 409–16. PMID 15349136.
- Phakamani M' Afrika Xaba & Alice Notten (April 2003). "Sutherlandia frutescens". Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden.
- Johnson, Q; Syce, J; Nell, H; Rudeen, K; Folk, WR (2007). "A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of Lessertia frutescens in healthy adults". PLoS clinical trials 2 (4): e16. doi:10.1371/journal.pctr.0020016. PMC 1863514. PMID 17476314.
- Sia, Charles (2004). "Spotlight on Ethnomedicine: Usability of Sutherlandia Frutescens in the Treatment of Diabetes". The Review of Diabetic Studies 1 (3): 145–9. doi:10.1900/RDS.2004.1.145. PMC 1783542. PMID 17491678.
- Mills, Edward; Cooper, Curtis; Seely, Dugald; Kanfer, Izzy (2005). "African herbal medicines in the treatment of HIV: Hypoxis and Sutherlandia. An overview of evidence and pharmacology". Nutrition Journal 4: 19. doi:10.1186/1475-2891-4-19. PMC 1156943. PMID 15927053.
- Müller, AC; Kanfer, I (2011). "Potential pharmacokinetic interactions between antiretrovirals and medicinal plants used as complementary and African traditional medicines". Biopharmaceutics & drug disposition 32 (8): 458–70. doi:10.1002/bdd.775. PMID 22024968.
- Mills, E; Foster, BC; Van Heeswijk, R; Phillips, E; Wilson, K; Leonard, B; Kosuge, K; Kanfer, I (2005). "Impact of African herbal medicines on antiretroviral metabolism". AIDS (London, England) 19 (1): 95–7. doi:10.1097/00002030-200501030-00013. PMID 15627040.