Introduction to Saponins
Saponins – plant constituent which bring about
frothing in an aqueous solution. Historically
used for their detergent properties.
Saponins = glycosides
Saponins have haemolytic properties when
injected into the blood stream are highly toxic
(used as an arrow poisons).
When taken orally, saponins are harmless.
2 Types of saponins are recognized –
pentacyclic triterpenoid and steroidal types.
Saponins = Glycosides
Therefore hydrolyzed (by acids) to give an aglycone and
different sugars related to uronic acids.
Aglycone called sapogenin (insoluble in water).
Structure of the sapogenin (aglycone) determines the
type of saponin
(steroidal or tetracyclic triterpenoid and pentacyclic
Both types of glycosides have a glycosidal linkage at C-
Both types of saponins have a common biogenic origin
(mevalonic acid and isoprenoid units)
Pentacyclic Triterpenoid Saponins
Rare in monocotyledons, but abundant in
Sapogenin is attached to a chain of sugar
or uronic acid units (or both) often in the
Also called tetracyclic
Found in many
monocotyledons such as
Wild yam (Dioscorea
Saponin – Diosgenin.
Also found in
Digitalis contain both
(glycosides) and cardiac
Significance of Steroidal Saponins
Generate much interest
due to their relationship
with compounds such as
sex hormones, cortisone,
diuretic steroids, vitamin
D and the cardiac
Some are used as
starting materials for the
synthesis of these
Diosgenin is the main
sapogenin used by
Biogenesis of Steroidal Saponins
Formed via the
During this pathway,
cholesterol forms part
sapogenins (not all).
Natural Steroids for the Production
Natural products serve as starting points for the
partial synthesis of commercial products.
E.g. Cortisone – synthesized from Hecogenin.
Sex horomones (oral contraceptives) –
synthesized from diosgenin.
Diosgenin can also be used to make
Dioscorea villosa - Dioscoreaceae
Definition: Wild yam is
the underground roots
and tubers of Dioscorea
There is no suggestion
that the plant was used
as a contraceptive in the
past. It has, however
traditionally been used to
treat menstrual, ovarian &
Dioscorea villosa – Wild Yam
Constituents OTHER USES
Steroidal saponins In Zulu traditions, wild yam is
(mainly dioscin) used to treat convulsions,
epilepsy and hysteria.
tannins, starch. Also used for colic, dry cough,
Actions: diabetes, emotional weakness,
immune weakness, IBS, leg
inflammatory, anti-rheumatic, pain, low sperm count, lung
diaphoretic, diuretic, qi tonic, weakness, morning sickness,
expectorant neuralgia, night sweats, RA,
Topically: salve for eczema,
poultice for bruises and
Eleutherococcus senticosus -
ginseng consists of the
dried roots and rhizomes
Unlike other medicinal
herbs, this one is better at
maintaining good health
rather than treating
Siberian Ginseng – Eleuthrococcus
Triterpenoid saponins Insomnia
Polysaccharides Surgery Recovery
Coumarins Chemotherapy patients
Lignins Cardiovascular disease
Tonic Hypertensive patients
Ginseng – Panax ginseng
consists of the dried
or fresh roots of
Panax ginseng. Also
called Korean or
Panax ginseng – Korean Ginseng
To Improve stamina, reaction
Active Constituents time, decrease high
Triterpenoid saponins cholesterol.
(ginsenosides), B vitamins, Speeds up recovery time after
selenium, phytosterols, illness, childbirth and
volatile oils. surgery.
Aids, Alzheimer’s, anaemia,
appetite loss, chronic
Medicinal Actions: fatigue, depression,
Adaptogenic tonic, anti- infertility, memory loss,
inflammatory, anti-oxidant, tacchycardia, PTSS.
anti-spasmodic, Helps soften skin – anti-
cardiotonic, wrinkle products.
Leaves can be used for fever.
Effects – cumulative – work
best after a period of use,
but should not for
Panax ginseng – Contra-indications
Should not be used if
pregnant or lactating.
Not to be used in
cases of heat or
Should not be taken if
suffering from flu,
Trigonella foenum-graecum –
Fabaceae (Legume Family)
consists of the dried
seeds of Trigonella
Fenugreek - Trigonella
Active Constituents Anti-inflammatory,
Steroidal saponins carminative, antiseptic,
(diosgenin, yamogenin), B emollient, expectorant,
vitamins, alkaloids, hypoglycaemic,
glycosides, flavonoids, phytoeostrogenic.
Stabilize blood glucose
levels, anorexia, catarrh,
cough, sore throat.
NOTE: Should not be Topically for boils, burns,
used to treat diabetes cellulitis, gargle for sore
without professional throats, eyewash for
supervision. inflammed eyes and a
Quillaja saponaria – Rosaceae
bark consits of the
dried inner bark of
It is also called Soap
bark, Quillaia or
Quillaia Bark - Constituents
Mixture of saponins
On hydrolysis: main
acid & gypsogenin.
Also consists of
sugars, starch and
Quillaia Bark - Uses
Used as an emulsifying agent.
Glycyrrhiza glabra - Leguminosae
consists of the dried
unpeeled roots and
stolons of Glycyrrhiza
Glycyrrhiza – Cultivation &
Plants grow well in deep
sandy, fertile soil.
The underground parts
are collected in their 3rd-
Dug up & washed.
Some are peeled and cut
shorter before drying;
others are left unpeeled.
Imported in bales, or
made into stick or block
Glycyrrhiza glabra - Constituents
Glycrrhizin – responsible for the sweet taste.
Glycerrhizic acid – triterpenoid saponin.
Flavonoids – responsible for yellow colour.
Liquiritin – a chalcone
Sugars (glucose and sucrose), protein & starch.
Glycyramarin – bitter principles (mostly in outer
tissue – removed in peeled varieties)
Glycyrrhiza glabra - Adulterants
Glycyrrhiza glabra –
Actions & Uses
Polygala senega - Polygalaceae
consists of the dried
rootstock and root of
Polygala senega – Constituents
Main saponin – senegin
consisting of senegenin
Also contains sorbitol (sweet taste), sucrose, fat
Polygala senega - Adulterants
White senega – Polygala
Southern senega –
Pakistan senega – Glinus
Turkey senega –
Polygala senega - Uses
First used by the Native
American Indians as a
remedy for snake-bite. It
was later used by the
English as cure for pleurisy
Genitana lutea - Gentianaceae
consists of the dried,
fermented roots and
rhizomes of the
Collection & Preparation
In Autumn the Roots are dug up in plants 2-5 years old.
There is no demand for the unfermented ‘white’ gentian,
all commercial drugs consist of the fermented ‘red’
Herb is made into heaps, packed on a hillside and
occasionally covered with earth and left there for some
Washed and cut into slices.
Dried: open air and then in sheds.
When prepared this way, the herb becomes much darker
in colour (fermented), loses some of its bitterness and
Rumex alpinus rhizomes
(give a positive test for
Gentiana lutea - Constituents
Also bitter glycosides,
sugars, pectin and
Gentiana lutea - Uses
Picrasma excelsa - Simaroubaceae
consists of the stem
wood of Picrasma
known as Jamaica
Picrasma excelsa - Constituents
Quassia consits of
Triterpenoid saponin –
Enema for thread worms
& Siberian Ginseng,
Quassia, Quillaia and
for an expectorant