The Quinine tree (Rauvolfia caffra) is used as a medicinal plant among traditional communities in many countries to manage tumors and other diseases associated with oxidative stress. To validate indigenous knowledge and possibly position this herb for technology uptake and utilization, we established the level of antioxidant activity in R. caffra, and probed for the presence of associated phytochemicals.
Antioxidant activity was determined on 1,1-diphenyl-2-picrylhydrazyl (DPPH) while major phytochemicals were identified by multiple tests on methanol fractions.
R. caffra showed promise as a cure, with antioxidant activity comparable to the commercially used drug quercetin (R. caffra = 79.7% ±1.9; quercetin = 82.6% ± 2.0). However, we found two phytochemicals with possible antagonistic effect: co-occurrence of alkaloids and saponins significantly reduced antioxidant activity (alkaloids only = 63%; alkaloids plus saponins = 15%; steroids, terpenoids and cardiac glycosides = 82%), thus alkaloids and saponins should be exclusive to each other in drug formulations.
Antagonistic relationship among phytochemicals would affect the efficacy of crude extracts as used in traditional medicine. Unlike in herbal medicine, use of modern biotechnology in extraction, purification and design of optimal combinations will ensure efficient drug formulations with optimum bioactivity and minimum toxicity. Metabolic pathway engineering under a controlled environment may optimize availability of desired compounds.