Andrographis paniculata is an erect annual herb extremely bitter in taste in each and every part of the plant body. The plant is known in north-eastern India as ‘Maha-tita’, literally ‘king of bitters’, and known by various vernacular names (see the table below). As an Ayurveda herb it is known as Kalmegh or Kalamegha, meaning `dark cloud.' It is also known as ‘Bhui-neem’, ‘neem of the ground,’ since the plant, though being a small annual herb, has a similar strong bitter taste as that of the large Neem tree (Azadirachta indica). In Malaysia, it is known as 'Hempedu Bumi' literally means 'bile of earth' since it is one of the most bitter plants that are used in traditional medicine. The genus Andrographis consists of 28 species of small annual shrubs essentially distributed in tropical Asia. Only a few species are medicinal, of which A. paniculata is the most popular.
List of vernacular names of A. paniculata Nees
Andrographis paniculata (Kiriyatta)(Kalpa,穿心蓮,Ken Jang). It grows erect to a height of 30–110 cm in moist shady places with glabrousleaves and white flowers with rose-purple spots on the petals. Stem dark green, 0.3 - 1.0 m in height, 2 – 6 mm in diameter, quadrangular with longitudinal furrows and wings on the angles of the younger parts, slightly enlarged at the nodes; leaves glabrous, up to 8.0 cm long and 2.5 cm broad, lanceolate, pinnate; flowers small, in lax spreading axillary and terminal racemes or panicles; capsules linear-oblong, acute at both ends, 1.9 cm x 0.3 cm; seeds numerous, sub quadrate, yellowish brown.
A. paniculata is distributed in tropical Asian countries, often in isolated patches. It can be found in a variety of habitats, e.g. plains, hill slopes, waste lands, farms, dry or wet lands, sea shores and even road sides. Native populations of A. paniculata are spread throughout south India and Sri Lanka which perhaps represent the centre of origin and diversity of the species. The herb is also available in northern parts of India, Java, Malaysia (including Penang, Malacca, Pangkor Island which is south of Penang, and parts of Borneo), Indonesia (including West Java, the Celebes and parts of Borneo), the West Indies (including Jamaica, Barbados and the Bahamas), and elsewhere in the Americas where it is probably an introduced species. The species also occurs in Hong Kong, Thailand, Brunei, Singapore etc. However, precise data are lacking on the introduction and naturalization of the species in these countries. This plant is currently cultivated in the south-west geopolitical zone of Nigeria, West Africa.
Unlike other species of the genus, A. paniculata is of common occurrence in most places in India, including the plains and hilly areas up to 500 m, which accounts for its wide use. Since time immemorial, village and ethnic communities in India have been using this herb for treating a variety of ailments.
It does best in a sunny location. The seeds are sown during May–June. The seedlings are transplanted at a distance of 60 cm x 30 cm.
Since ancient times, A. paniculata is used in traditional Siddha and Ayurvedic systems of medicine as well as in tribal medicine in India and some other countries for multiple clinical applications. The therapeutic value of Kalmegh is due to its mechanism of action which is perhaps by enzyme induction. The plant extract exhibits antityphoid and antifungal activities. Kalmegh is also reported to possess antihepatotoxic, antibiotic, antimalarial, antihepatitic, antithrombogenic,...