Strausbaugh, Perry D. Department of Botany, West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia.
Core, Earl L. Department of Biology, West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia.
Last reviewed:August 2020
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A genus of mostly poisonous, tropical trees and shrubs of the dogbane family (Apocynaceae). Certain species of Rauwolfia are sources of valuable emetics and cathartics. The species R. serpentina (see illustration), which is known as serpentwood, snakeroot, and sarpagandha, has received special attention as the source of tranquilizing drugs. For centuries in India, plant extracts of R. serpentina have been used in the treatment of hypertension. Later, R. serpentina came into use in Western countries because of its ability to reduce blood pressure. Among the purified alkaloids that have been obtained from R. serpentina, reserpine is a tranquilizing agent and antihypertensive drug. Although it is not a sedative, as that term is usually construed, it often has a quieting influence on the patient. However, alternative and safer agents, with fewer side effects, have been developed. See also: Alkaloid; Gentianales; Pharmacognosy; Tranquilizer
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