Cephaëlis ipecacuanha-Ipecac

Family: Rubiaceae

Other names: Ipecac, Rio, Matto Grosso, Euphorbia ipecacuanhae, American Ipec, Brazil Root, Brazilian Ipecac, Callicocca ipecacuanha, Cartagena Ipecac, Cephaelis acuminata, Cephaelis ipecacuanha, Ipéca, Ipéca du Brésil, Ipéca du Nicaragua, Ipéca du Panama, Ipecacuana, Ipécacuana, Ipecacuanha, Matto Grosso Ipecac, Nicaragua, Chacruna, Psychotria viridis

hazardsmallToxicity: Do not use the root or rhizome. Take formulations containing ipecac carefully and only as instructed on the label. Avoid when pregnant or breast feeding.Not for children under 1 year. Avoid with heart complaints. Avoid in cases of chemical poisoning. Do not use with Crohn’s disease. Misuse of ipecac can lead to serious poisoning, heart damage, and death. Signs of poisoning include difficulty breathing, digestive tract problems, abnormal heart rates, blood in the urine, convulsions, shock, coma, and death.

Habitat: Native to tropical South America, including Brazil, and cultivated in southern Asia. This is an indigenous plant, found growing in dry, sandy soils, on Long Island, in New Jersey, and the middle and southern states, and flowering from May to August.

Ipecac is a valuable medicinal herb which originates from South America. It is probably best known as a component of cough syrup and was once taken by mouth to cause vomiting after suspected poisoning, although this use is no longer recommended. Ipecac syrup is available both as a nonprescription product and as an FDA-approved prescription product. It is also used to treat bronchitis associated with croup in children, a severe kind of diarrhoea (amoebic dysentery), and cancer. Ipecac is also used as an expectorant to thin mucous and make coughing easier. Small doses are used to improve appetite. Health professionals sometimes give ipecac by IV (intravenously) for hepatitis and pockets of infection (abscesses).

By Kurt Stüber [1] [GFDL (https://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

Description of Ipecac:

Euphorbia ipecacuanhae is a perennial shrub. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil.

As with the E. corollata, it yields a milky juice, which causes a pustular eruption when applied to the skin. The root is the part used in medicine. The fresh root is from 3 to 7 feet long, tuberculated, and of a yellowish color; from 1/2 to 1 inch in diameter, and of a very acrid taste. The dry root is light and brittle, without odor, and has a sweetish, not very disagreeable taste (E. & V.). The powdered root is of a light-brown, or light snuff-color, speckled similar to E. corollata. Water or alcohol takes up its active properties. Its incompatibles are probably the same as those of the E. corollata.

Cultivation of Ipecac:

Locate this plant in a partially shady place, where it can take in the solar rays during the coolest hours of the day. We advise cultivating the the Cephaelis ipecacuanha, ipecac in a covered place, in an apartment or green house, as they don’t like temperatures below 15°C: during late Spring they can be moved outdoors.Let’s position the plants where they can enjoy a good source of light,yet avoiding direct sunshine, which could cause anti-aesthetic burnings on the foliage.

Propagation of Ipecac:

Everybody seems to agree that it is very difficult to germinate Cephaelis ipecacuanha, Ipecac seeds. I’ve heard of so many failures, I have never tried. I ended up buying a rooted cutting to save myself the hassle. If you really must grow from seed, I would recommend using a variation of this technique:

  • Soak the seeds for 15 minutes in a mild bleach solution.
  • Rinse off the bleach with sterile water.
  • Soak the seeds in sterile water for 24 hours.
  • Plant the seeds 8mm deep in vermiculite or a mixture of vermiculite and potting compost.
  • Water from below until the growing medium is moist throughout.
  • Place in a heated propagator away from direct sunlight and wait.
Growing from Cuttings

Cuttings, on the other hand are easy. Cephaelis ipecacuanha, Ipecac clones well using a standard leaf cutting technique, so all you need is a fresh leaf to get you started.

Remove a large leaf from the plant complete with a full petiole (leaf stem). Take hold of the leaf by its petiole, bend it away from the stem and gently pull in the same direction until it breaks. The petiole should have a short tail which has pulled away from the stem. This will ensure that there is a large amount of cambium layer present, which is essential for root development.

Lay the leaf on a flat surface and cut it in half horizontally with a sharp sterile blade. Removing the top half of the leaf will cut down on evaporation from the leaf and retain moisture before roots form.

Prepare a free draining growing medium. Something like equal parts vermiculite, sand and potting compost would be about right. You may wish to 100% inorganic components to prevent moulds forming. Fill pots or seed trays with your growing medium, making small holes every 5-7cm with a matchstick or similar pointy thing. Place the leaves in the holes, petiole down, cut edge up. The leaves should be planted deep enough so that the petiole and about 0.5cm of the lower part of the leaf are covered.

Water, leave to drain, and place inside a heated propagator. If you have no propagator, place inside sandwich bags and leave somewhere warm. The cuttings should receive bright light, but not direct sunlight. Mist daily with a pump spray or similar. Water regularly, but ensure the growing medium never becomes waterlogged. If mould appears, treat with Chestnut Compound, or any fungicide. Also remember to feed with fertilizer as per instructions on the pack.

The cuttings should be slowly acclimatised to drier, brighter conditions as soon as possible. When they are well established or overcrowded, they can be potted up individually.

Collection: The root of this small South American shrub is gathered throughout the year, although the Indians collect it when it is in flower during January and February.

Culinary uses of Ipecac:

No known uses of this plant.

By Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen (List of Koehler Images) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Medicinal uses of Ipecac:

Actions: Expectorant, emetic, sialagogue, anti-protozoal.

Part used: Root and rhizome.

Indications: Ipecac is mainly used as an expectorant in bronchitis and conditions such as whooping cough. At higher doses it is a powerful emetic and as such is used in the treatment of poisoning. Care must be taken in the use of this herb. After an effective emetic dose has been given, large amounts of water should be taken as well. In the same way that Ipecac helps expectoration through stimulation of mucous secretion and then its removal, it stimulates the production of saliva. It has been found effective in the treatment of amoebic dysentery.

Combinations: In bronchial conditions Ipecac combines well with White Horehound, Coltsfoot and Grindelia. In amoebic dysentery it may be used with American Cranesbill or Echinacea.

Preparation and dosage of Ipecac: 

Infusion; as this is a very powerful herb, only a small amount should be used. 0.01-0.25 grams of the herb are used for an infusion. Pour a cup of boiling water onto a small amount of the herb (equaling the size of a pea) and leave to infuse for 5 minutes. This can be drunk three times a day. If you need to use it as an emetic, 1-2 grams should be used, which equals 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoonful when used for an infusion.

Other uses of Ipecac:

None known

Esoteric uses of Ipecac:

None known but if you use this herb for any purpose please let us know!

The Chemistry:


  • Isoquinoline alkaloids; usually about 2-3%, consisting mainly of emetine and cephaeline, with psychotrine, O-methylpsychotrine, emetamine and protoemetine
  • Tannins; ipecacuanhin and ipecacuanhic acid
  • Glycosides such as ipecoside (a monoterpene isoquinoline derivative) & saponins
  • Allergens, a mixture of glycoproteins of mol. wt. 35, 000-40, 000
  • Miscellaneous; starch, choline, resins.
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