The Mukuna pruriens is a tropical climbing plant belonging to the Fabaceae family, native to the Caribbean, which is also found in India and Africa. Also called "velvet bean", it owes its botanical name to the fact that the contact with its leaves and with the pods causes a tremendous itching, but it is widely cultivated in many areas for its remarkable therapeutic properties.
The Mukuna pruriens is annual and its climbing stems can reach 15 meters in length. The leaves are ovate and pointed, with very fluted sides and covered with hair, especially when the plant is young. The flowers are flower heads arranged in clusters that take the form of a panicle 15 to 30 centimeters long, with a white or purplish corolla. The fruits are legumes enclosed in a pod about 10 centimeters long whose skin is very hairy, the seeds are flattened and fleshy ellipsoids, very similar to common beans. The hairs on which the pod is covered, in contact with the skin, cause a very severe itching due to the presence of a protein called mucunaina, and of serotonin. The seeds can be brown or glossy black.
In some areas of the world the Mukuna pruriens is used as a fertilizer for other crops, because it enriches the soil where it grows with nitrogen, and in the tropical regions it is above all a forage plant, since the beans it produces are extremely rich in proteins and constitute a valid food for animals.
However, the Mukuna is also known to be a weed, especially in Florida where it often invades vast lands.
The Mukuna pruriens is used in some places as a coffee substitute, in addition the beans can also be used for human nutrition but only after a long soaking in water and a long cooking, which eliminates the chemicals harmful to humans, and however they can be equally toxic if consumed in large quantities.
Properties and uses
Mukuna pruriens, has been used since ancient times by Ayurvedic medicine thanks to its multiple beneficial properties. It contains numerous interesting active ingredients such as serotonin, nicotine and especially l-dopa (or l-dihydroxyphenylalanine) which in the extract is transformed into dopamine, which is considered to be the neurotransmitter of well-being because it has a stimulating effect on mood, in fact the research has shown important neurological benefits, as well as considerable tolerance on the part of man and an almost absolute absence of side effects.
This is why the seeds of Mukuna pruriens are used above all for their antidepressant properties and in the treatment of different forms of neurosis. A remarkable beneficial contribution was also found in the treatment of Parkinson's disease.
Furthermore, the administration of Mukuna Pruriens extract has the ability to stimulate the secretion of the growth hormone from the pituitary gland. This causes the increase in muscle mass without fat accumulation, strengthens the body in terms of energy and resistance, and promotes the feeling of general well-being.
Ayurvedic medicine traditionally uses this plant in treatments for sexual dysfunctions, being able to increase the level of testosterone and didopamine, so it promotes ovulation and increases sperm count, making it useful in cases of infertility. In our country experiments have been done on rats, which have shown an effective improvement in sexual function.
In ancient tribal communities it was also used as an antidote against snake bites, and from studies carried out on the plant it seems that it actually has detoxifying properties against the poison of the cobra and the viper.
There are numerous products based on Mukuna pruriens, in herbal medicine and pharmacy, on the market, in fact the plant extract is widely used in the production of food supplements, particularly used by athletes who, thanks to their intake, see their physical resistance and energy increase. It is also present in capsules, tablets and other formats.
Mukuna pruriens: Itching
The hairs that cover the pods and leaves of Mukuna Pruriens contain serotonin, a substance that causes a strong itching when touched. Even the chalice of flowers can cause itching due to its stinging hairs.
In case of contact with the plant, water should not be used, which dilutes the responsible chemicals but does not eliminate their effect, and the area of the exposed skin should not be rubbed because it would only aggravate the itching. Due to the fact that when there is the strong itching caused by the Mukuna pruriens it tends to be scratched uncontrollably, the inhabitants of northern Mozambique call these legumes "malucos feijхes", or "crazy beans". Their solution to relieve itching is to apply raw and moist tobacco to the affected skin, and cow dung, which seems to have soothing properties and is able to ignite irritation, is also widely used to treat itch.