Lithospermum erythrorhizon

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Lithospermum erythrorhizon
Lithospermum erythrorhizon.jpg
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Asterids
Order: Boraginales
Family: Boraginaceae
Genus: Lithospermum
L. erythrorhizon
Binomial name
Lithospermum erythrorhizon
Siebold & Zucc. 1846
Lithospermum erythrorhizon, with flowers

Lithospermum erythrorhizon, commonly called purple gromwell, red gromwell, red-root gromwell and redroot lithospermum, is a plant species in the genus Lithospermum.[1] It is called zǐcǎo (紫草) in Chinese, jichi (지치) in Korean, and murasaki (ムラサキ; ) in Japanese.[1]

The dried root of Lithospermum erythrorhizon (lithospermum root or Lithospermi Radix) is a Chinese herbal medicine with various antiviral and biological activities, including inhibition of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1).[2][3]

The genome sequence of Lithospermum erythrorhizon is sequenced and has facilitated the discovery of a putative retrotransposition-derived duplication event that produced a 4-hydroxybenzoate geranyltransferase gene involved in alkannin biosynthesis.[4]


The enzyme 4-hydroxybenzoate geranyltransferase utilizes geranyl diphosphate and 4-hydroxybenzoate to produce 3-geranyl-4-hydroxybenzoate and diphosphate. Biosynthetically, alkannin is produced in plants from the intermediates 4-hydroxybenzoic acid and geranyl pyrophosphate. This enzyme is involved in shikonin biosynthesis.

The enzyme geranylhydroquinone 3''-hydroxylase uses geranylhydroquinone, NADPH, H+ and O2 to produce 3-hydroxygeranylhydroquinone, NADP+ and H2O.


It has been cultivated in Japan since the Nara period for its root, which can be used for herbal medicine and to make dyes.

One Japanese word for the plant, murasaki (紫), inspired the pen name "Lady Murasaki" for the author of The Tale of Genji and is also the source of the general Japanese term for the color purple, murasaki iro (紫色).

The dyes made from its root also had other names, such as shikon (紫根), but all of them were difficult to work with because of their requirement for an alum-rich mordant and the resulting colors' extreme vulnerability to photobleaching. During the Heian Period, sumptuary laws restricted murasaki-dyed clothing to the Empress and her ladies in waiting.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Lithospermum erythrorhizon". Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Agricultural Research Service (ARS), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
  2. ^ Chen, X., et al. (2003). Shikonin, a component of Chinese herbal medicine, inhibits chemokine receptor function and suppresses human immunodeficiency virus type 1. Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy 47(9), 2810-16.
  3. ^ Gao, H., et al. (2011). Anti-adenovirus activities of shikonin, a component of Chinese herbal medicine in vitro. Biol Pharm Bull. 34(2) 197-202.
  4. ^ Auber, Robert P.; Suttiyut, Thiti; McCoy, Rachel M.; Ghaste, Manoj; Crook, Joseph W.; Pendleton, Amanda L.; Widhalm, Joshua R.; Wisecaver, Jennifer H. (2020-06-01). "Hybrid de novo genome assembly of red gromwell ( Lithospermum erythrorhizon ) reveals evolutionary insight into shikonin biosynthesis". Horticulture Research. 7 (1): 1–15. doi:10.1038/s41438-020-0301-9. ISSN 2052-7276. PMC 7261806.

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