Tawa-tawa (Euphorbia hirta)

By Penelope A. Domogo, MD

“Lately, DOST Secretary Fortunato dela Pena (pna.gov.ph June 4, 2020) reported that Filipino researchers are studying the possible benefits of tawa-tawa and lagundi for covid! Wow, a miracle plant indeed! ”

After a lull in dengue cases last year, there is a surge of cases this year, adding to our burden of covid. This increase in cases, though, is expected because dengue has a 2-3 year cycle. Dengue fever is a viral infection like covid thus there is no specific western medicine for it. Normally, it will just go away on its own but with the poor immune system of many of today’s population, dengue can become hemorrhagic and deadly and has claimed lives. Naturally, people looked to nature and tradition for remedies and viola! tawa-tawa was discovered. So we feature today another miracle plant that has helped dengue patients- tawa-tawa.
Tawa-tawa (Euphorbia hirta) is asthma weed in English, “boto-botonis” or “gatas-gatas” in Tagalog, “maragatas” in Ilokano. “Tawa-tawa” is a Hiligaynon or Ilonggo term. It’s a common plant in pathways, roadsides, tuping (riprap), in the yard, just like dupduppil, everywhere in the tropics.
It’s a hairy herb, creeping or a little bit ascending, with a purplish-reddish stem that blends with the color of the soil and unless you intentionally look for it, you won’t see it. It releases a milky sap or latex when wounded. It also has purplish leaves. At the nodes are tiny flowers, greenish or purplish, densely arranged in a rounded cluster resembling a button thus the Tagalong name. Its stem and leaves are rough and tough and so I don’t think we feed it to our pigs.
Before dengue came to our mountains, I just knew tawa-tawa as one of the medicinal plants in the Philippines so I had it in my compilation back then. I didn’t know then of any local use. Apparently, though, it’s a popular medicinal plant in the country and the world, especially in Ayurvedic medicine and traditional Asian medicine. Leonard Co, my favorite botanist, lists the following as its traditional uses: (from Common Medicinal Plants in the Cordillera)
1. Diarrhea – drink a decoction of the plant 2x a day.
2. Asthma – smoke a cigarette made from dried leaves
3. Boils – apply a poultice of the fresh plant
4. Superficial wounds – apply a poultice of the fresh plant or use decoction for washing wounds.
5. Athlete’s foot – make a tincture of the plant and rub on the affected area. How to make a tincture? Immerse 90 grams of the fresh plant in 500 ml vodka or brandy or gin. Let stand for 3-5 days .
“This herb shows antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antimalarial, galactogenic, antiasthmatic, antidiarrheal, anticancer, antioxidant, antifertility, antiamoebic, antifungal activities.” (Sumil Kumar, et.al., “Euphorbia Hirta: Its Chemistry, traditional and medicinal uses, and pharmacological activities”, Pharmacognosy Review Jan-June 2010). So there, it has diverse uses. The term “galactogenic” means it increases breastmilk production. A decoction of the roots is used for this.
When dengue fever became a national epidemic in the Philippines in the 1980s, tawa-tawa caught the spotlight because there were reports of patients getting well after drinking tawa-tawa decoction. “It has been used to treat fever in the Philippines as early as 1948. Its use as a treatment for dengue started only in the 1980s… the only reported side effect is increased urinary frequency.” (Hilton Y. Lam, et.al., “Ethnomedicinal Uses of tawa-tawa in selected communities in the Philippines”, Acta Medica Philippina vol. 52 #5 2018). If it increases urinary frequency, it means it is a diuretic thus it can help in hypertension. A research by students of the University of Santo Tomas “showed that tawa-tawa increased platelet count and reduced bleeding time” in experimental. Former assistant city health officer of Baguio City, Dr. John Tinoy-an, said that based of his personal experience, “tawa-tawa can increase platelet and red blood cell count of a dengue patient.” (pna.gov.ph August 14, 2019). Observations of a medical technologist at the Bontoc General Hospital showed that platelet count increased in patients after drinking decoction of tawa-tawa and/or camote leaves.
Lately, DOST Secretary Fortunato dela Pena (pna.gov.ph June 4, 2020) reported that Filipino researchers are studying the possible benefits of tawa-tawa and lagundi for covid! Wow, a miracle plant indeed!
Wait, one time a dengue patient was looking for tawa-tawa and it was nowhere to be found. It’s a small plant so it could really be missed. But no worry. If you can’t find tawa-tawa, there is camote leaves or papaya leaves, just like we mentioned last week. These are easily found anywhere, especially camote leaves. If you don’t have it in your yard, just go the market. And what have these three have in common – tawa-tawa, camote leaves and papaya leaves? They have green colors and they have latex or that milky white sap (lena, nena). And also all three need to be boiled and drank. And aside from ingesting the numerous healing compounds in tawa-tawa, the patient also gets hydrated by drinking the tawa-tawa and/or camote leaves tea. Take note, dear reader, hydration is the most important intervention in preventing hemorrhage in dengue fever and in healing the patient. So drink enough of the herbal decoction. But we don’t wait for disease to strike before taking action. With hospitals fully occupied, the best thing we can do is prevent disease. And to prevent dengue and covid, cut down on sweets and dairy.**

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