Family • Amaranthaceae - Amaranthus spinosus Linn. - PIGWEEED - Tz'u Hsien-ts'ai

Scientific names

Amaranthus spinosus Linn.

Other vernacular names

CHINESE: Ci xian, Le xian cai, Lei xian cai.
FINNISH: Piikkirevonhäntä.
FRENCH: épinard Cochon, épinard Malabre, Amarante épineuse, Epinard Cochon, Epinard piquant, Pariétaire piquant.
GERMAN: Dorniger Fuchsschwanz, Malabarspinat.
HINDI: Chaulai Bhaji, Cholai, Kateli, Katemath.
INDIA: Katemath.
JAPANESE: Hari byu.
NEPAL: Ban lure, Dhuti ghans.
NORWEGIAN: Tornamarant.
PORTUGUESE: Bredo-bravo, Bredo-de-espinho, Carurú-de-espinho, Caruru-bravo.
SANSKRIT: Tanduliya, Tanduliyah.
SPANISH: Bledo Espinoso, Espinaca De Malabar, Quelite Espinoso.
SWEDISH: Taggamarant.
TAMIL: Mullikkirai, Mullukkirai.
THAI: Phak Khom Nam

Common names

Akum (Mag.)
Alayon (If.)
Ayantoto (Pamp.)
Bawan (Bon.)
Bayambang (Tag.)
Giting-giting (Aul.)
Harum (Bis.)
Kalitis (Hlg., S.B.)
Kalunay (ilk.)
Kilitis (Tag., Bik.)
Kolitis (Bis.)
Kuantung (Ilk.)
Kulitis (P. Bis.)
Tadtad (Bon.)
Tilitis (Bis.)
Uray (Tag.)
Calaloo (Engl.)
Needle burr (Engl.)
Pigweed (Engl.)
Prickly amaranth (Engl.)
Prickly calalu (Engl.)
Spiny amaranth (Engl.)
Thorny amaranth (Engl.)
Thorny pigweed (Engl.)
Tz’u Hsien-ts’ai (Chin.)

Urai is a stout, erect, smooth, branched herb, 0.4 to 1 meter high. Stems are armed with slender, axillary spines. (The presence of spines differentiate it from kolitis (Amaranthus viridis). Leaves are glabrous, long-petioled, oblong to oblong ovate, or elliptic-lanceolate, 4 to 10 centimeters long, obtuse, alternate.
Flowers are very numerous, stalkless, green or greening-white, about 1 millimeter long, and borne in dense, axillary clusters and in elongated terminal axillary spikes. Sepals are 5 or 1-3, ovate to linear, often aristate. Petals are scarious. Bracts are linear, bristle-pointed and as long as the sepals or longer.
Fruits are utricles, wrinkled, nearly as long as the sepals. Seeds are minute, black and shining.


– Weed found throughout the Philippines at lowlands and low altitudes, in open waste place, gregarious and abundant along sand bars and margins of streams.
– Probably introduced; now, pantropic.

– Slightly sweet-tasting, mucilaginous.
– Considered refrigerant, antidote, diaphoretic, febrifuge, astringent, emmenagogue.
– Sudorific, lactagogue.
– Root considered diuretic.
– Leaves considered emollient.


– Leaf contains anthraquinone derivatives, cardiac glycosides and saponins.
– Study yields 18 kinds of amino acids, 8 of which are essential.
– Contains 7-p-coumaroyl apigenin 4-O-beta-D-glucopyranoside, a new coumaroyl flavone glycoside called spinoside, xylofuranoxyl uracil, beta-D-ribofuranosyl adenine, beta-sitosterol glucoside, hydroxycinnamates, quercetin and kaempferol glycosides, betalains, betaxanthin, betacyanin; amaranthine and isoamaranthine, gomphrenin, betanin, b-sitosterol, stigmasterol, linoleic acid, rutin and beta-carotene.

Additional Sources and Suggested Readings

(1) Hepatoprotective activity of Amaranthus spinosus in experimental animals / doi:10.1016/j.fct.2008.08.013 / Food and Chemical Toxicology
Volume 46, Issue 11, November 2008, Pages 3417-3421

(2) Amaranthus spinosus water extract directly stimulates proliferation of B lymphocytes in vitro / Bi-Fong Lin et al / International Immunopharmacology • Volume 5, Issue 4, April 2005, Pages 711-722 / doi:10.1016/j.intimp.2004.12.00

(3) STUDIES ON THE EFFECTS OF Amaranthus spinosus LEAF EXTRACT ON THE HAEMATOLOGY OF GROWING PIGS / Olufemi B E et al / African Journal of Biomedical Research 2003 (Vol. 6)

(4) Antidiarrheal and antiulcer activity of Amaranthus spinosus in experimental animals / Zeashan Hussain et al / Summary Pharmaceutical Biology • October 2009, Vol. 47, No. 10, Pages 932-939

(5) Betacyanins and Phenolic Compounds from Amaranthus spinosus L. and Boerhavia erecta L. / Florian C Stintzing et al / Z. Naturforsch. 59c, 1Ð8 (2004)

(6) Amaranthus spinosus L. Inhibits Spontaneous and Dexamethasone-Induced Apoptosis in Murine Primary Splenocytes / Jin-Yuarn Lin et al / Journal of Food and Drug Analysis, Vol. 16, No. 4, 2008, Pages 52-61

(7) Antinociceptive activity of Amaranthus spinosus in experimental animals / Zeashan Hussain et al / Journal of ethnopharmacology • 2009, vol. 122, no3, pp. 492-496

(8) IN VITRO ANTIBACTERIAL ACTIVITY OF AMARANTHUS SPINOSUS ROOT EXTRACTS / Harsha Vardhana S / Pharmacophore 2011, Vol. 2 (5), 266-270

(9) The Synthesis of Gold Nanoparticles Using Amaranthus spinosus Leaf Extract and Study of Their Optical Properties* / Ratul Kumar Das, Nayanmoni Gogoi, Punuri Jayasekhar Babu, Pragya Sharma,
Chandan Mahanta, Utpal Bora / Advances in Materials Physics and Chemistry, 2012, 2, 275-281 / doi:10.4236/ampc.2012

(10) Evaluation of gut modulatory and bronchodilator activities of Amaranthus spinosus Linn. / Chaudhary MA, Imran I, Bashir S, Mehmood MH, Rehman NU, Gilani AH. / BMC Complement Altern Med. 2012 Oct 1;12:166. doi: 10.1186/1472-6882-12-166


(12) Antitumor activity of the ethanol extract of Amaranthus spinosus leaves against EAC bearing swiss albino mice / L. Samuel Joshua*, Vipin Chandra Pal, K. L. Senthil Kumar, Ram Kumar Sahu, Amit Roy / Der Pharmacia Lettre, 2010, 2(2): 10-15


(14) Comparative Evaluation of Anti Gastric Ulcer Activity of Root, Stem and Leaves of Amaranthus spinosus Linn. in Rats / Prasanta Kumar Mitra / International Journal of Herbal Medicine, 2013, Vol 1, Issue 2.

(15) In vitro alpha-amylase inhibition and in vivo antioxidant potential of Amaranthus spinosus in alloxan-induced oxidative stress in diabetic rats / B.S. Ashok Kumara, K. Lakshmanb, R. Nandeeshc, P.A. Arun Kumard, B. Manoje, Vinod Kumard, D. Sheshadri Shekard / Saudi Journal of Biological Sciences, Volume 18, Issue 1, January 2011, Pages 1–5

Uray3Parts utilized
· Roots, stems and leaves.
· Harvest the root at any time of the year.
· Wash thoroughly, cut into pieces and sun-dry.

– Plant , especially the young leaves, can be used as vegetable.
– In Singapore, young leaves used as a spinach substitute; also, as much used in Indo-China and East Africa.

· In the Philippines, decoction of roots has been used for treatment of gonorrhea.
· Roots – sun dried, calcined, powdered and made into pill – used for gonorrhea.
· Used for fever, bronchitis, snake bites, bacillary dysentery, diarrhea, acute and chronic gastroenteritis, urinary tract inflammation.
· Bruised leaves used for eczema.
· Used as antidote for snake-poison; also, as lactagogue.
Uray4· Dosage: Use 30 to 60 gms of dried material or 60 to 120 gms of fresh material, as infusion or decoction. For external application, employ decoction of fresh material as wash for ulcers and sores. Decoction also used as gargle for sore throat.
· For bleeding hemorrhoids, uray can be combined with Verbena officinalis and boiled into decoction. To the decoction, add a small amount of vinegar and drink. Bleeding should cease the following day.
· Poultice of seeds used for broken bones.
· Like all amaranths, uray is used for coughs. Plant used as expectorant and to relieve breathing in acute bronchitis.
· In Pakistan, roots are used for menorrhagia, gonorrhea, eczema, colic and as lactagogue. Leaves and roots used as laxative, on boils and as poultice for abscesses.
· In the traditional medicine of Taiwan and China, used for diabetes.
· In the Gold Coast, enema prepared from the plant used for piles.
· In China, poultice of seeds used for broken bones; used internally for bleeding, diarrhea and menorrhagia.
· In Malaya, root decoction used as diuretic.
· In Mauritius, root decoction used as diuretic.
· In India, infusion of roots used in treatment of eczema. Roots also used for menorrhagia.
· In Nepal, used as abortifacient.
· Bruised leaves used as emollient; applied externally to ulcerations in the mouth, eczema, burns, wounds, boils, earaches and hemorrhoids.
· Plant sap used as eye wash to treat ophthalmia and convulsions in children.
· In Malaysia, used as expectorant and for acute bronchitis.
· Bark decoction used for malaria.
· In Ayurveda, leaf infusion used as diuretic and for treatment of anemia. Root paste used in treatment of gonorrhea.
· In Nigeria, ashes from burnt plant used for sores; juice from plant used as eye wash.

• Dye: Plant yields yellow and green dyes.

Study Findings
• Antifertility: Study that included the aqueous and ethanolic extracts of A spinosus roots was studied for anti-fertility effects. The results showed alcoholic extract use in day 1 to day 5 of pregnancy showed significant pregnancy interruption, more likely with the alcohol than aqueous extracts.
• Antimalarial: Study showed the efficacy of AS extracts against Plasmodium falcifarum supporting its traditional use for anti-parasitic activity.
• Immunomodulatory: Study assessed the immunomodulatory effects of AS water extract and results suggested a heat-labile anti-apoptotic component.
• Hepatoprotective / Antioxidant: Study results strongly indicated potently hepatoprotective activity in experimental hepatic damage in animals. Study suggests the protective mechanism to be from the presence of flavonoids and phenolics.
• Anti-diabetic / Spermatogenic: Study showed methanolic extract of AS significantly decreased blood glucose, comparable to glibenclamide. It also showed hypolipidemic effects and accelerated spermatogenesis by increasing sperm count and accessory sex organ weights. Results supports it folkloric use for diabetes.
• Anti-Inflammatory: Study of methanol extract of AS leaves showed antiinflammatory activity probably through inhibition of prostaglandin biosynthesis.
• Immuno-Modulatory / B-Lymphocyte Proliferation: Study of A spinosus water extract exhibited immuno-stimulating activity through direct stimulation of B-lymphocyte activation in vitro and suggests possible subsequent T cell proliferation in vitro. Results suggest a potential for future nutraceutical and immuno-pharmacologic use for AS.
• Adverse Hematologic Effects: Study of ethanol extract in pigs showed significant reduction of PCV, RBC and hemoglobin of pigs. Results suggest caution of in use to avoid probably toxic effects.
• Anti-Diarrheal / Anti-Ulcer: Study of ethanol extract of the whole plant of AS significantly inhibited travel time of a charcoal meal. Anti-ulcer effects were noted with differing degrees of protection with extract and with cimetidine.
• Phytochemicals / Betalains: Study of phenolic profile yielded betalains – amaranthine and isoamaranthine. Extracts were found to contain hydroxycinnamates, quercetin, kaempferol glycosides.
• Immunomodulatory: Study of water extract of AS inhibited the spontaneous and dexamethasone-induced apoptosis of splenocytes. Results suggest a potentially valuable substance for future nutraceutical and immunopharmacological use.
• Antinociceptive / Anti-Inflammatory: Study of 50% water extract of AS showed significant and dose-dependent anti-inflammatory activity and central and peripheral analgesic activity.
• Antioxidant: Study showed the antioxidant activity of the extracts to be concentration dependent. Study yielded rutin and quercetin which showed inhibition of haemoglycosylation.
• Antibacterial: Study evaluated ethanol and aqueous extracts of roots for antibacterial activity against ten bacterial strains including Gram+ and Gram- bacteria. Results showed the plant could be a source of bacterial agents. The ethanol extract showed the best results.
• Gold Nanoparticles Synthesis: Study reported the application of the ethanolic extract of A. spinosus for the synthesis of gold nanoparticles. Cytotoxicity studies showed the synthesized AuNPs to be non toxic with a potential use in biomedical applications.
• Gut Modulatory and Bronchodilator Activities: Study showed A. spinosus to possess laxative activity partially through a cholinergic action. A spasmolytic effect was mediated through calcium channel blocking. Bronchodilator activity was achieved through a combination of ß-adrenergic and CCB pathways.
• Antioxidant / Antipyretic: Study of methanolic extract of leaves showed potent antioxidant activity on DPPH, superoxide, hydroxyl, NO and ABTS radical scavenging assays. Extract also showed significant antipyretic activity.
• Anthelmintic / Anti-Inflammatory: Study of petroleum ether and ethanolic extracts of whole plant showed dose-dependent and significant inhibition of carrageenan-induced paw edema. Anti-inflammatory effect was comparable to ibuprofen, and attributed to its steroid, alkaloid, and flavonoid contents. An aqueous extract showed dose-dependent anthelmintic activity against adult Indian earthworms Pheritima posthuma and Tubifex tubifex.
• Antitumor / Leaves: Study evaluated the antitumor potentials of an ethanol extract of A. spinosus against EAC bearing Swiss albino mice. Results showed significant antitumor effects with a decrease in tumor volume and viable cell count, increase in mean survival time and non viable tumor cell count.
• Anti-Peptic Ulcer / Leaves: Study evaluated the anti-peptic ulcer activity of leaves of A. spinosus in peptic ulcer models in rats induced by ethanol and cysteamine. Results showed anti-peptic ulcer activity, however, less than that of omeprazole.
• Anti-Gastric Ulcer / Roots: Study in albino rats showed significant anti-gastric ulcer in root, stem and leaves. The root showed the highest activity which was comparable to that of omeprazole.
• Anti-Diabetic / In Vitro Alpha-Amylase Inhibition / In Vivo Antioxidant: Study investigated a methanolic extract of A. spinosus for in vitro alpha-amylase enzyme inhibition by CNPG3 (2-chloro-4-nitrophenol α-d-maltotrioside) and in vivo antioxidant potential of malondialdehyde (MDA), glutathione (GSH), catalase (CAT) and total thiols (TT) in alloxan-induced diabetic rats. Results showed potent alpha-amylase, anti-diabetic and antioxidant activities.