Abrus precatorius, known commonly as jequirity, Crab's eye, rosary pea, precatory pea or bean, John Crow Bead, Indian licorice, Akar Saga, gidee gidee or Jumbie bead in Trinidad & Tobago, is a slender, perennial climber that twines around trees, shrubs, and hedges. It is a legume with long, pinnate-leafleted leaves.
The plant is best known for its seeds, which are used as beads and in percussion instruments, and which are toxic due to the presence of Abrin. The plant is native to India and grows in tropical and subtropical areas of the world where it has been introduced. It has a tendency to become weedy and invasive where it has been introduced.
Ecology and invasiveness
Abrus precatorius is a severely invasive plant in warm temperate to tropical regions, so much so that it has become effectively pantropical in distribution. It had been widely introduced by humans, and the brightly coloured and hard-shelled seeds had been spread by birds. By the end of the twentieth century, it had been proclaimed as an invasive weed in many regions including some in Belize, Caribbean Islands, Hawaii, Polynesia and parts of the mainland United States. In Florida in particular, the plant has invaded undisturbed pinelands and hammocks, including the vulnerable pine rocklands.
Once Abrus precatorius plants have grown to maturity under favourable conditions, their deep roots are extremely difficult to remove, and the plants' aggressive growth, hard-shelled seeds, and ability to sucker, renders an infestation extremely difficult to eradicate and makes it very difficult to prevent re-infestation. Herbicides such as glyphosate are effective, but need skilled application if they are not to do more harm than good.
The toxin abrin is a dimer consisting of two protein subunits, termed A and B. The B chain facilitates abrin's entry into a cell by bonding to certain transport proteins on cell membranes, which then transport the toxin into the cell. Once inside the cell, the A chain prevents protein synthesis by inactivating the 26S subunit of the ribosome. One molecule of abrin will inactivate up to 1,500 ribosomes per second.
Symptoms are identical to those of ricin, except abrin is more toxic by almost two orders of magnitude; the fatal dose of abrin is approximately 1/75th that of the fatal dose of ricin. Abrin has an LD50 of only 0.56 μg/kg in mice, and Kingsbury lists a toxic dose in humans at 0.00015% body weight, or approximately 0.1 mg for a 150 lb human. Ingesting intact seeds may result in no clinical findings, as they can pass undigested through the gastrointestinal tract due to their hard shell.
Abrus precatorius, called kundu mani in Tamil and Guruvinda ginja in Telugu, has been used in Siddha medicine for centuries. The Tamil Siddhars knew about the toxic effects in plants and suggested various methods which is called "suththi seythal" or purification. This is done by boiling the seeds in milk and then drying them. The protein is denatured when subjected to high temperatures which removes its toxicity.
Symptoms of poisoning include nausea, vomiting, convulsions, liver failure, and death, usually after several days. The seeds have been used as beads in jewelry, which is dangerous; inhaled dust is toxic and pinpricks can be fatal. The seeds are unfortunately attractive to children.
The seeds of Abrus precatorius are much valued in native jewelry for their bright coloration. Most beans are black and red, suggesting a ladybug, though other colors are available. Jewelry-making with jequirity seeds is dangerous, and there have been cases of death by a finger-prick while boring the seeds for beadwork.
In Trinidad in the West Indies the brightly colored seeds are strung into bracelets and worn around the wrist or ankle to ward off jumbies or evil spirits and "mal-yeux" - the evil eye. The Tamils use Abrus seeds of different colors. The red variety with black eye is the most common, but there are black, white and green varieties as well.
The seeds of Abrus precatorius are very consistent in weight. Formerly Indians used these seeds to weigh gold using a measure called a Ratti, where 8 Ratti = 1 Masha; 12 Masha = 1 Tola (11.6 Grams).
In Siddha medicine, the white variety is used to prepare oil that is claimed to be an aphrodisiac. A tea is made from the leaves and used for fevers, coughs and colds. Seeds are poisonous and therefore are used after mitigation.
Laboratory study of extracts
A variety of pharmacological effects have been observed in rodents, but have not been demonstrated clinically in humans, including:
- An ethanolic extract of Abrus precatorius was found to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and analgesic potential in rodents.
- A methanolic extract of A. precatorius seeds causes reversible alterations in the estrous cycle pattern and completely blocked ovulation in Sprague-Dawley rats.
- The methanolic extract produces dose-dependent bronchodilator activity in a guinea pig model.
- Studies on aqueous, methanolic and chloroform extracts of Abrus precatorius showed greater inhibitory activity against a number of disease causing bacteria such as Bacillus subtilis, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella typhimurium, and Escherichia coli.
Abrus precatorius has different names in various Indian and other languages.
- Arabic: عين العفريت
- Assamese: Latumoni :(লাটুমণি)
- Bengali: Kunch: Koonch
- Gujarati: Gumchi: Chanothi
- Hebrew: Avrus (אברוס)
- Hindi : Ratti, Gaungchi, Gunchi, Gunja (गुंजा)
- Kannada: Gulaganji (ಗುಲಗಂಜಿ)
- Kashmiri: Shangir
- Kreyòl ayisyen : Grenn Legliz, Lyann Legliz
- Indonesian: Saga rambat
- Malayalam: Kunni; Kunnikkuru (കുന്നിക്കുരു)
- Marathi: Gunj (गुंज)
- Nepali: Ratigedi (रातिगेडी)
- Odia: Kaincha
- Persian: Gunchi; Chashami-Khurosa
- Punjabi : Mulati,Ratak,Labrigunchi
- Rajasthani : Chirmi
- Sanskrit: Gunja (गुंजा)
- Sinhala: Olinda
- Tamil: Gundumani, Kundumani (குந்து மணி)
- Tagalog: Saga, Saga-saga, Saganamin 
- Telugu: Gurivinda (గురివింద)
- Yoruba: Ewe Omisinmisin or Ewe Ewerejeje
- Wagstaff, D. Jesse (2008). International Poisonous Plants Checklist: An Evidence-Based Reference. CRC Press. p. 1. ISBN 1420062522. Retrieved October 7, 2012.
- Bisby, Frank (1994). Phytochemical Dictionary of the Leguminosae, Volume 1. CRC Press. p. 1. ISBN 0412397706. Retrieved October 7, 2012.
- Mendes (1986), p. 79.
- Langeland, K.A.; et al. (2008). "Identification and Biology of Nonnative Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas - Second Edition" (PDF). University of Florida-IFAS Pub SP 257.
- http://www.cbif.gc.ca/eng/species-bank/canadian-poisonous-plants-information-system/all-plants-scientific-name/abrus-precatorius/?id=1370403266739%7C Canadian Biodiversity Information Facility website, Home → Species Bank → Canadian Poisonous Plants Information System → All Plants (Scientific Name)→ Abrus precatorius --- math was used to determine 0.1mg/150lb datapoint based on 0.00015% body weight datapoint
- Jang D.H., Hoffman R.S., Lewis L.S. "Attempted suicide, by mail order: Abrus precatorius".Clinical Toxicology. Conference: 2010 International Congress of the European Association of Poisons Centres and Clinical Toxicologists Bordeaux France. Conference Start: 20100511 Conference End: 20100514. Conference Publication: (var.pagings). 48 (3) (pp 308),
- "Abrus precatorius L._IPCS INCHEM".
- "Eden Project Recall Of Bracelets Made From Jequirity Bean".
- Knight, Anthony; Walter, Richard (2001). A Guide to Plant Poisoning of Animals in North America. Teton NewMedia. p. 121. ISBN 1893441113. Retrieved October 7, 2012.
- Raamachandran, J. "Herbs of Siddha medicines: The First 3D Book on Herbs", page 2.
- Verma, D.; Tiwari, S. S.; Srivastava, S.; Rawat, A. (2011). "Pharmacognostical evaluation and phytochemical standardization of Abrus precatorius L. seeds". Natural Product Sciences 17 (1): 51–57.
- Major Herbs of Ayurveda.
- Arora, R.; Gill, N. S.; Kaur, S.; Jain, A. D. (2011). "Phytopharmacological evaluation of ethanolic extract of the seeds of Abrus precatorius linn". Journal of Pharmacology and Toxicology 6 (6): 580–588. doi:10.3923/jpt.2011.580.588.
- Okoko, I. I.; Osinubi, A. A.; Olabiyi, O. O.; Kusemiju, T. O.; Noronha, C. C.; nlawon, A. O. (2010). "Antiovulatory and anti-implantation potential of the methanolic extract of seeds of Abrus precatorius in the rat". Endocrine practice 16 (4): 554–560. doi:10.4158/ep09011.or.
- Mensah, A. Y.; Bonsu, A. S.; Fleischer, T. C. (2011). "Investigation of the bronchodilator activity of abrus precatorius". Int J Pharm Sci Rev Res 6 (2): [pp. 9–13].
- Kekuda TR, Vinayaka KS, Soumya KV, Ashwini SK, Kiran R. Antibacterial and antifungal activity of methanolic extract of Abrus pulchellus Wall and Abrus precatorius Linn: A comparative study. Int J Toxicol Pharmacol Res. 2010;2:26–9.
- Sudipta Roy, Rabinarayan Acharya, Narayan C. Mandal,1 Soma Barman, Ranjan Ghosh, and Rajiv Roy. A comparative antibacterial evaluation of raw and processed Guñjā (Abrus precatorius Linn.) seeds. Anc Sci Life. 2012 Jul-Sep; 32(1): 20–23.
- Dr. K. M. Nadkarni's Indian Materia Medica, Volume 1, Edited by A. K. Nadkarni, Popular Prakashan, Bombay, 1976, pp. 5.
- "Saga, Abrus precatorius Linn.". StuartXchange.
- Mendes, John (1986). Cote ce Cote la: Trinidad & Tobago Dictionary. Arima, Trinidad.
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- INCHEM - Chemical Safety Information from Intergovernmental Organizations: Abrus precatorius L.
- Abrus precatorius Linn. Medicinal Plant Images Database (School of Chinese Medicine, Hong Kong Baptist University) (traditional Chinese) (English)
- Abrus precatorius in West African plants – A Photo Guide.