Carpobrotus edulis

Sour Fig - Carpobrotus edulis

Plant Uses & Benefits: bees, cosmetics, fire barrier, food, medicine, phyto-remediation, pot plant, small garden, water-wise, wind tolerant

Names

Common names: sour fig, Cape fig, Hottentots fig (English); igcukuma, unomatyumtyum (Xhosa); ikhambi-lamabulawo, umgongozi (Zulu); ghaukum, ghoenavy, Hottentotsvy, Kaapsevy, perdevy, rankvy, suurvy, vyerank (Afrikaans). 
Botanical name: Carpobrotus edulis
Previously known as: Mesembryanthemum edule
Family: Aizoaceae

• Khoi: Afrikaans common names ghaukum and ghoenavy come from old Khoi names (Carpobrotus edulis | PlantZAfrica, n.d.)

• Etymology – Greek karpos = fruit and brotos = edible, Latin edulis = edible)
• Confusers – Other species in the genus Carpobrotus:
o Carpobrotus acinaciformis
o Carpobrotus deliciosus
o Carpobrotus dimidiatus
o Carpobrotus mellei

• commonly known as vygies (‘small figs’), ice-plants, stone plants, or fig-marigolds.

• C. edulis – flowers yellow – pale yellow to pink, it is the only species that has yellow flowers. (Plantzafrica)
• C. acinaciformis – flowers are purple and leaves are sabre-shaped.


Nature

Type: ground cover, succulent
Vegetation type:  
Flower colour: pink, yellow
Flowering season: Spring
Plant-animal interactions: antelope, baboons, bees, birds, butterflies, porcupines, rodents, snakes
Red list status: Least Concern

• 143 genera and approximately 2300 species (El-Raouf, 2021).

• Most of the species are endemic to the arid or semi-arid parts of Southern Africa.

• Indigenous to Western Cape dune sands.
• Ground cover, water-wise, succulent.
• Flat-growing, trailing perennial, rooting at the nodes.
• Leaves – dull green, succulent, triangular in cross-section, opposite with the leaf pairs uniting at the base, glabrous, straight to slightly curved.
• Flowers – mostly Spring, from August – October. Flowers are solitary, daisy type flowers. They are yellow and change to pink as they mature. The stigmas are star shaped. (Plantzafrica)
• Fruit – fleshy, edible and changes from green to yellow as it ripens.
• Food and shelter for bees, beetles, baboons, tortoises, snakes, rodents, porcupines and antelope.93,94
• Plastic, clonal species leading to highly invasive nature.
• Capacity to undergo rapid adaptive evolution.
• Facultative halophytic – salt-tolerant plant that can grow in soil of high salinity, saline water via roots or by salt spray.
• Crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM), NaCl induced, accumulates malic acid at night, mostly in outer chlorenchyma.95,96
• Germination and early growth not constrained by low moisture; increased by scarification of seeds following passage through intestines (European rabbit).
• Litter remains on the soil surface for several years, releases allelopathic substances that suppress germination process and early root growth of other plants.97
• Flowers are pollinated by bees, honey bees, carpenter bees and some beetle species.
• Important plant for snakes especially Cape cobra and puff adder as they hide in its clusters and prey on small rodents that are attracted by the fruits. The fruit is eaten by baboons, rodents, porcupines, antelopes and people and they also disperse the seeds.

Conservation Ecology
• No conservation concerns. Common in gardens and town landscaping. Invasive around the world.
• Attracts bees and is a water-wise ground cover in gardens, encouraging biodiversity.
• Observed dying in large patches in areas close to Cape Town, due to fungus Cytospora carpobroti. The origin is unknown, level of threat unknown.98
• Invasive in many parts of the world in coastal areas, changing many soil properties which often inhibits native species.99
• Eradication attempts in areas of invasion have been largely unsuccessful. Recently, attention has turned to utilising as a resource.
• Developing as a resource could help mitigate the costs of management and eradication.100
• Use for skin care purposes could be an eco-friendly solution to reduce its invasiveness in the environment.101


Use as Medicine

Herbal traditions: Cape Dutch, Cape Herbal Medicine, Khoi & San
Plant parts used: flowers, fruits, leaf juice, leaves, roots

• Leaves whole
• Leaf juice
• Roots
• Fruit

Safety & Toxicity

Safety: no safety concerns

• No known safety concerns.
• The aqueous extract is not cytotoxic.101
• Low levels of toxic metals (As, Cd, Pb).102
• Aqueous leaf extracts given orally for 28 days had no significant effect on the haematological parameters of rats.103
• Studies have shown that Carpobrotus edulis has no deleterious effects on haematological parameters. However, further studies are recommended to completely evaluate the safety profile of the plant.
Long history of use as a food and medicine, suggests that it is safe for human consumption. Care should be taken to avoid plants grown in soils polluted with heavy metals.

Qualities & Phytochemistry

Plant qualities: cleansing, cooling, drying, soothing
Phytochemical constituents: alkaloids, anthraquinone glycoside, catechin, citric acid, ferulic acid, flavonoids, glycosides, hyperoside, malic acid, mesembrine, neohesperidin, phenols, procyanidin, quinic acid, rutin, saponins, tannins, terpenoids

Leaves
• Astringent, cleansing, cooling
• Drying, salty taste
• Contain flavonoids, anthraquinones, alkaloids, terpenoids, saponins, tannins and glycosides.103
• Tannins – Juice is rich in hydrolysable tannins which causes the drying effect in the mouth, and the astringent action. Tannins bind proteins (bacteria, viral, toxins, fungi) on the surface of the wound, help to stop minor bleeds (vasoconstriction) and prevent excessive wound weeping. They assist with wound contraction, increase the formation of capillary vessels and enhance fibroblast proliferation.
• Flavonoids – leaves are rich in flavonoids including rutin, neohesperidin, hyperoside, catechin and ferulic acid.104 Flavonoids possess antioxidant properties that prevent free radical damage. These actions help with healing and toning of body tissues.
• Phenolics – procyanidin, quinic acid.105
• Citric and malic acids – Organic acids have been reported to possess antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antiplatelet aggregation properties.
• Saponins106 – Saponins are noted for their antimicrobial and antiviral actions, they also possess anti-inflammatory, anticancer and cytotoxic properties and are known to reduce high cholesterol levels.
• Alkaloid mesembrine106 – mesembrine is the considered to be the key active constituent in Sceletium tortuosum, its traditional use is as a mild analgesic and mood-altering medicine.
Root
No information found.
Fruit
• Soothing; sweet, sour, salty taste.
• C. acinaciformis and C. deliciosus sweeter tasting.
• Protein and ash levels lowest; polyunsaturated fatty acids and carbohydrate levels highest in fruits107
• Essential amino acids such as histidine, isoleucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, tryptophan, and valine were reported in all studied indigenous fruits in this study, including C. edulis.108
• Nutritional analyses of fruits of C. edulis, C. acinaciformis, C. deliciosus, C. dimidiatus and C. mellei:102
o Moisture (77.6% to 90.3%)
o Carbohydrates (58.8% to 70.3%)
o Energy (1240 to 1370 kJ 100 g-1),
o Protein moderate levels (8.1% to 26.0%)
o Lipids low levels (0.9% to 2.4%).
o Minerals – rich in Ca, Mg, Fe, Mn, Zn, Cu, Cr, Se, Ni, Co.
o Low levels of toxic metals (As, Cd and Pb) making them suitable for human consumption.
Flower
• Aqueous-ethanolic extract of flowers exhibited the highest phenolic content.107
• Flavonols – mainly derived from syringetin and laricitrin.107

Actions & Pharmacology

Plant actions: anti-HIV, anti-cancer, anti-pruritic, antibacterial, antioxidant, antiviral, astringent, haemostatic / anti-haemorrhagic / styptic, hypoglycaemic / anti-diabetic, vulnerary

Vulnerary
• Increased wound closure and collagen production101, reduced fluid loss, antiseptic, anti-toxin and antioxidant effects all support healing and tissue regeneration.
• Positive effect on the wound healing process of both incisional and excisional wounds in rats.109
• Strongly inhibited collagenase and hyaluronidase in vivo.101

Astringent & Styptic
• Tannins cause vasoconstriction, reducing secretions, reducing fluid loss from burns and wounds. Mild styptic effect.110

Antimicrobial & Antiviral
• Antimicrobial activity highest in the leaves.107
• Tannins bind proteins (including fungal and viral toxins).
• Antimicrobial action associated with flavonoids (rutin, neohesperidin, hyperoside, catechin and ferulic acid) 104 and tannins. (https://dx.doi.org/10.2147%2FIJN.S154797)
• Antiviral and antibacterial action associated with alkaloids.111
• Methanol extract inhibits growth of phagocytosed multidrug-resistant Mycobacterium tuberculosis and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.112
• Antibacterial action against the Gram-positive Staphylococcus aureus and Bacillus cereus strains.113
• Methanol and water extracts are effective Proteus inhibitors, and have shown potential for blocking the onset of rheumatoid arthritis.114
• Methanol and water extracts are also effective Klebsiela pneumoniae inhibitors, with potential for both preventing the onset of ankylosing spondylitis and minimising its symptoms once the disease is established.114
Antioxidant
• Potent antioxidant capacities.113,115
• Antioxidant activity highest in leaves.107
• Strong hydrogen peroxide scavenging activity.106
• Aqueous and ethanol extracts are good solvents to retain antioxidant activity,116 with ethanol-water extract showing better antioxidant activity than aqueous extract.117,117
• Strong, dose-dependent antioxidant activities in vitro,101 significantly inhibiting lipid peroxidation.118
• Prevents oxidation-induced protein damage. 117

Antipruritic
Anti-cancer
• Anti-cancer effects associated with alkaloids.111
• Potential against protein glycation and colon cancer.117
Other
• Hypoglycaemic effects of C. edulis extracts attributed to phenolic constituents.105
• Anticholinesterase activity against acetylcholinesterase and butyrylcholinesterase.116
• Dose-dependent inhibition of HIV-1 protease (which plays an important role during HIV replication and maturation to its infectious form.106

Preparations

Plant preparations: decoction, dried, fresh, gargle, glycerite, infusion - aqueous, leaf juice, poultice, powder, spray, tincture, wash

• Whole – fresh leaves chewed or sucked for local effect in the mouth or crushed/cut up and used topically; fresh leaves eaten; fruits eaten when ripe; flowers eaten.
• Juice – fresh juice from the leaves is used topically and orally; added to topical base preparations.
• Poultice – leaves are crushed or cut up and applied topically.
• Infusion – leaves are crushed or cut up, steeped, and infusion is used topically or taken orally, gargle.
• Decoction – leaves, roots are crushed or cut up, boiled, and the decoction is used topically or taken orally; fruits are cut up, boiled, and taken orally; flowers are boiled and taken orally.
• Glycerite – leaves are crushed or cut up and extracted in vegetable glycerine.
• Tincture – leaves and/or roots are crushed or cut up, extracted, and the tincture is ingested orally.

First-Aid Indications

First-aid use: blue-bottle stings, bruising, burns, cold sores, cracked lips, cuts, diarrhoea, earache, eczema, fatigue, grazes, insect bites, mouth ulcer, rashes, ringworm, sore throat, stomach ache, sunburn, thrush, toothache, wounds 

• Skin
o Wounds
o Burns
o Insect bites
o Eczema
o Thrush
o Minor bleeding
o Blue-bottle stings
o Ringworm
o Sunburn
o Cracked lips
o Bacterial and fungal infections
o Cold sores
o Bruises
o Nappy rash
• Digestion
o Sore mouth
o Toothache
o Sore throat
o Diarrhoea
o Constipation
o Stomach-ache
• Earache
• Fatigue
Major Disorders
• Tuberculosis and other respiratory infections
• Common infections in HIV/AIDS patients – fungal skin infections, gastrointestinal complaints, sores, shingles
• Oral infections, toothache
• Ear infections
• Eczema
• Wounds
• Burns
• Hypertension
• Constipation
• Diabetes mellitus
• Heart conditions
• During pregnancy for healthy babies, to support pregnancy and easy birth
• Spiritual purposes
In vitro studies suggest potential use in treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, ankylosing spondylitis, rheumatoid arthritis.

Medical Indications

Medical use:  

• The mixture of leaf juice, honey and olive oil in hot water is a traditional remedy for TB.

  • Has potential in treatment of antibiotic resistance and in individualised treatment of dysbiosis.

Veterinary Indications

Medical use:  

• Used as livestock fodder in Bushbuckridge, South Africa.119
• Liposomal formulations of C. edulis has positive healing effects on excisional and incisional wounds in rats.109

Dosage

Research

Review Articles
• Traditional uses, phytochemistry and pharmacological activity of Carpobrotus edulis: A global perspective.116
• Ethnopharmacology, Therapeutic Properties and Nutritional Potentials of Carpobrotus edulis: A Comprehensive Review120
• Physicochemical and nutritional profile of leaves, flowers, and fruits of the edible halophyte chorão-da-praia (Carpobrotus edulis) on Portuguese west shores107

Clinical research
• Clinical Trials – none
• Randomised Controlled Trials – none
• Meta-Analyses – none
• Systematic Reviews – none


Other Uses

Uses & Benefits: bees, cosmetics, fire barrier, food, medicine, phyto-remediation, pot plant, small garden, water-wise, wind tolerant

Used as food by indigenous peoples. The fruit is a traditional Cape food.

• Fruit is a local super food.
Plant Parts Used
• Fruit
Preparations
• Fresh
• Jams
• Chutneys
• Sauces
• Syrups

Fruit
• Soothing; sweet, sour, salty taste.
• C. acinaciformis and C. deliciosus sweeter tasting.
• Protein and ash levels lowest; polyunsaturated fatty acids and carbohydrate levels highest in fruits107
• Essential amino acids such as histidine, isoleucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, tryptophan, and valine were reported in all studied indigenous fruits in this study, including C. edulis.108
• Nutritional analyses of fruits of C. edulis, C. acinaciformis, C. deliciosus, C. dimidiatus and C. mellei:102
o Moisture (77.6% to 90.3%)
o Carbohydrates (58.8% to 70.3%)
o Energy (1240 to 1370 kJ 100 g-1),
o Protein moderate levels (8.1% to 26.0%)
o Lipids low levels (0.9% to 2.4%).
o Minerals – rich in Ca, Mg, Fe, Mn, Zn, Cu, Cr, Se, Ni, Co.
o Low levels of toxic metals (As, Cd and Pb) making them suitable for human consumption.
Flower
• Aqueous-ethanolic extract of flowers exhibited the highest phenolic content.107
• Flavonols – mainly derived from syringetin and laricitrin.107

 

• Rehabilitate disturbed fields and bind sand in order to prevent erosion
• Fire barrier


Cultivation & Harvest

Light-level: full sun
Soil type: sandy, well-drained
Soil pH: Acidic, Alkaline, Neutral
Propagation: cuttings, division, seed

• Easy to grow
• Waterwise pioneer, soil stabiliser
• Soil – well-drained sandy soil, alkaline, neutral, acid
• Light – full sun, semi-shade
• Water – responds poorly to overwatering or overfeeding
Propagation
• Easy to propagate
• Cuttings – in summer, use tip cuttings 20-30 cm long, no rooting hormone required.
• Seeds – sowed from spring to autumn and must be planted in pure sand.
Harvest
• Leaves typically harvested and used fresh.
• Fruits harvested when ripe, turn yellow. Fruits can be dried.
Diseases & Pests
• Plants in shaded areas, poorly drained areas or well-nourished soils will be attacked by fungal diseases.


Resources

Websites