Nothapodytes nimmoniana
Nothapodytes nimmoniana.Creative Commons

A medicinal plant, which was first documented more than a century ago and was believed to have gone extinct, has been rediscovered in the North-East Indian state of Assam.

The rare plant species, known as "Gandheli" (Nothapodytes nimmoniana) in the Assamese language, was rediscovered by Jatindra Sarma, a forest officer in Assam, in the Borjan area of the Tinsukia district.

First documented by botanist UN Kanjilal in 1914, the plant is said to have anti-carcinogenic properties that can neutralise the effects of cancer-causing substances.

"The plant is the richest source of Camptothecin and it is the world's third-most important plant-based bio-molecule for treating ovarian and colon cancers, besides its use against HIV virus," Sarma reportedly said. "The plant species possesses various bio-active substances like Camptothecin, an anti-cancer alkaloid."

Sarma and his team undertook several botanical explorations before confirming that the plant was indeed Nothapodytes nimmoniana, whose occurrence was last mentioned by Kanjilal in his book "Flora of Assam", published in 1934.

Gandheli, which belonged to the Icacinaceae family, is a small tree largely found in the tropical regions of America and in parts of China and Sri Lanka. In India, the plant is found in the Nilgiri mountains and in Mysore.

However, the species was declared endangered due to "over-collection and massive destruction of habitat," Sarma said, adding that the Camptothecin found in Gandheli is a new class of chemotherapeutic agent with special cytotoxic properties that can damage cancer cells.

Gandheli has been documented in Sarma's recently-published book, titled "Medicinal Plants and Mushrooms of India with Special Reference to Assam," in which he has talked of nearly 1,400 medicinal and aromatic plant species.

"Garcinia cowa Roxb, known as Kau thekera in Assamese, is another such plant which is included in the book. Both the fruit and the leaves of this plant have medicinal properties. While the fruit has anti-dysenteric properties, the leaves have anti-malarial properties," Sarma said.