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The alchemy of Hamelia patents Jack. “Chichipince”: Exploring the science behind traditional uses

Hamelia patens Jack., also known as "chichipince" in my home country El Salvador, is a widespread shrub in Mexico, Central and South America and is typically found in the tropical regions of the world. Besides being well known for its beautiful bright red or orange flowers, it is commonly used in traditional medicine to treat a variety of disorders. Stay with me to discover the science behind this ancient medicine.


Image 1 Hamelia patens Jack.


Hamelia patens is a medicinal plant, whose leaves can be used to prepare infusion or decoction, which can be used topically to treat rashes, eczema, bruises and in baths to relieve rheumatism and swollen legs. Moreover, the powder obtained from the roasted leaves favors the healing of chronic wounds, whereas the sap, the inner fluid of the leaves, soothes insect bite irritation. It has also been reported that infusions prepared with either water- or alcohol-based leaf extracts can be topically used to reduce edema associated with injuries and possess anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Recently, at my alma mater, Castillo et al. developed a medicinal soap endowed with wound healing abilities, which is currently being implemented in certain communities to treat wounds. [1] [2] [3]



Kingdom:

Plantae:

Sub-Kingdom:

Viridae plantae

Division:

Tracheophyta

Class:

Mangnoliosida

Order:

Gentianales

Family:

Rubiaceae

Genus:

Hamelia

Species:

Hamelia patens Jacq

Table 1 Taxonomy of Hamelia Patens [1]


Overall, Hamelia patens comes up as a medicinal plant with analgesic, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory and diuretic properties. Additionally, thanks to its astringent, healing, anti-inflammatory and emollient activities, it can be applied on human skin to mitigate inflammation and accelerate wound closure.

The most important bioactive compounds of H. patens belong to the family of flavonoids, alkaloids, and tannins [1]. Given that all together these chemical constituents may exert a wide range of beneficial biological activities, but also side effects, in addition to their potential therapeutic effects, medicinal plants must be studied for their toxicities. In the case of H. patens, studies carried out in animals indicate a good safety profile, thus fostering its potential use for new therapeutic avenues [4] [5].


Verterinary Use

Besides humans, Hamelia patens can also have important application in veterinary area. I would like to share with you the story of my dog Lucas, which died last December at the age of 14 from a prostate cancer. Over the last years, it was difficult to manage its disease comorbidities. However, I will always be grateful to our vet Dr Gabriela Quintanilla, who is always updated about new treatment options, for recommending the application of a piece of fabric soaked with the H. patens water extract on Lucas’ skin rashes.

Other evidence indicates that H. patens can be used to treat scabies in pets [1]. Additionally, in comparison with conventional treatments, the extract from the leaves applied as a topical ointment accelerates wound closure in dogs by improving blood flow, capillary resistance and oxygen tension, as well as by preventing bacterial infections. These beneficial effects of Hamelia patens are likely due to its tannins and flavonoids [3].

Image 2 Lucas RIP


To wrap up, it is well recognized that Hamelia patens is a plant endowed of a wide range of biological activities. Therefore, a better understanding of the pharmacological and medicinal properties of its several constituents (e.g. alkaloids, flavonoids, carbohydrates, proteins, sterols, glycosides, and acidic compounds) will likely bring about new Hamelia-derived bioactive formulations enabling to improve both human and animal health and well-being.


REFERENCES

1. Noor G, Ahmad MA, Ahsan F, Mahmood T, Arif M, Khushtar M. A Phytochemical and Ethnopharmacological Recapitulation on Hamelia patens. Drug Res (Stuttg). 2020 May;70(5):188-198. doi: 10.1055/a-1131-7856. Epub 2020 Mar 30. PMID: 32227313

2. Castillo Ruiz, G.A., Morales Ruiz, R.P. and Contreras Vásquez, M.E. (2001) Obtención de un Jabón medicinal Cicatrizante a base de extracto acuoso de chichipince(hamelia patens), Repositorio Institucional de la Universidad de El Salvador. Universidad de El Salvador. Available at: https://ri.ues.edu.sv/id/eprint/8550/ (Accessed: April 26, 2023).

3. García Escobar, I.R. (2016) Evaluación clínica e histológica de heridas que cicatrizan por segunda intención en perros, al tratarlas con Chichipin (Hamelia patens Jacq.) , Repositorio Institucional USAC. Available at: http://www.repositorio.usac.edu.gt/3295/ (Accessed: April 26, 2023)

4. Morales Peña, D.A. (2018) Toxicidad Subaguda del Extracto Acuoso de Hojas de chichipince hamelia patens jacq (Rubiaceae) en ratones CEPA NIH de Laboratorio /, Reporsitorio de la Universidad de El Salvador. Available at: https://ri.ues.edu.sv/id/eprint/19734/2/ARTICULO%20CIENTIFICO%20CHICHIPINCE.pdf (Accessed: April 26, 2023).

5. Gomez-Beloz A, Rucinski JC, Balick MJ, Tipton C. Double incision wound healing bioassay using Hamelia patens from El Salvador. J Ethnopharmacol. 2003 Oct;88(2-3):169-73. doi: 10.1016/s0378-8741(03)00209-5. PMID: 12963138

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