About the Author(s)

Nokukhanya E. Thembane Email symbol
Department of Biomedical Science, Mangosuthu University of Technology, Umlazi, South Africa


Thembane, N.E., 2023, ‘Pleurostylia capensis Turcz (Loes): A review of its phytochemistry, pharmacology and toxicology and its ethnomedicinal uses’, Journal of Medicinal Plants for Economic Development 7(1), a187. https://doi.org/10.4102/jomped.v7i1.187

Review Article

Pleurostylia capensis Turcz (Loes): A review of its phytochemistry, pharmacology and toxicology and its ethnomedicinal uses

Nokukhanya E. Thembane

Received: 17 Nov. 2022; Accepted: 22 Mar. 2023; Published: 18 May 2023

Copyright: © 2023. The Author(s). Licensee: AOSIS.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Background: Pleurostylia capensis Turcz (Loes) is a tree species found in Africa that has been used in traditional medicine for various ailments.

Aim: This review aims to investigate the phytochemistry, pharmacology and toxicity of P. capensis Turcz (Loes) and its ethnomedicinal uses.

Method: A comprehensive search was conducted using electronic databases, including PubMed, Scopus and Web of Science. The keywords used were ‘Pleurostylia capensis’, ‘phytochemistry’, ‘pharmacology’, ‘toxicology’ and ‘ethnomedicine’. Studies were included if they reported on the phytochemical composition, pharmacological activities, toxicological evaluations and/or ethnomedicinal uses of Pleurostylia capensis.

Results: A phytochemical analysis revealed the presence of various bioactive compounds including alkaloids, flavonoids, terpenoids and phenolic compounds. Pharmacological studies have reported the plant’s potential as an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antimicrobial and a potential agent for bone and articular cartilage regeneration. Toxicological evaluations have shown that the plant is safe for human consumption at recommended doses.

Conclusion: The review highlights the potential of Pleurostylia capensis as a source of bioactive compounds with pharmacological activities. Toxicological evaluations have also shown that the plant is safe for human consumption. The review provides useful information for further research on the development of new drugs from natural products.

Contribution: This review provides a comprehensive summary of the phytochemistry, pharmacology, toxicology of Pleurostylia capensis and its ethnomedicinal uses. The review highlights the potential of the plant as a source of bioactive compounds and provides a basis for further research on the development of new drugs from natural products.

Keywords: Pleurostylia capensis; phytochemistry; pharmacology; toxicology; ethnomedicine.


The use of medicinal plants for the treatment of human diseases has a long history in many cultures and remains an important source of healthcare worldwide. Among the diverse array of plants used for medicinal purposes, Pleurostylia capensis Turcz (Loes) (P. capensis) has received attention in recent years because of its beneficial pharmacological properties and potential therapeutic applications. Pleurostylia capensis Turcz (Loes) is a species of flowering plant native to South Africa. It belongs to the family Celastraceae (Darbyshire et al. 2016); and is commonly known as the Cape satinwood. It is a tree or shrub that can grow up to 20 m tall and is often found growing in coastal forests, dune scrub and rocky hillsides (Pote et al. 2006). A researcher named Turczaninow, first reported on P. capensis Turcz (Loes) in the early 1800s, described the plant as Euonymus capensis and later, in 1852, as a new species, P. capensis (Turczaninow 1829). This article aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the taxonomic classification, geographical distribution, common names, morphological characteristics, traditional medicinal uses, cultural practices use, commercialisation, non-medicinal uses, toxicology and pharmacological properties of P. capensis. The article presents a detailed analysis of the available literature on P. capensis, with a focus on its ethnobotanical and pharmacological significance. The information presented in this study may be useful for researchers and practitioners interested in exploring the potential applications of P. capensis in the fields of medicine and pharmacology.


A systematic review of the literature was conducted to identify, evaluate and synthesise peer-reviewed journal articles and relevant data on P. capensis. A comprehensive search of electronic databases including PubMed, Scopus and Web of Science was conducted using the keywords ‘Pleurostylia capensis’, ‘phytochemistry’, ‘pharmacology’, ‘toxicology’ and ‘ethnomedicine’. Inclusion criteria were studies reporting on the plant’s phytochemical composition, pharmacological activities, toxicological evaluations and/or ethnomedicinal uses. Additional information deemed noteworthy by the investigator was also included. A total of 35 relevant journal articles, documents and data were included in the study. The main objective was to compile information on the plant, including harvest patterns based on traders’ commercialisation and conservation status.

Review findings


P. capensis is a species of flowering plant that belongs to the eudicot clade within the plant kingdom. It is classified under the order Malpighiales, which is a diverse group of flowering plants, consisting of 36 families. P. capensis belongs to the Phyllanthaceae family, which includes tropical and subtropical plants like trees, shrubs and herbs. The Pleurostylia genus, to which P. capensis belongs, is native to Africa and Madagascar (Darbyshire et al. 2016).

Geographical distribution

P. capensis is native to Southern Africa and its distribution range includes several countries in the region. The plant is specifically found in South Africa, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Botswana. Within these countries, it is found in diverse types of woodland and forest habitats, including the Fynbos biome in South Africa, the Zambezian and Mopane woodlands in Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Additionally, the P. capensis plant species has been introduced to other regions such as Australia and Madagascar (Darbyshire et al. 2016; Hyde et al. 2023; Loffer & Loffer 2005; eds. Manning & Goldblatt 2012; Van Wyk, Oudtshoorn & Gericke 1997).

Vernacular names

P. capensis is known by different names depending on the region or country. The general English language refers to P. capensis as mountain hard pear, coffee pear and saffron wood. The South African Afrikaans speaking citizens have termed it koffiehardepeerhout, koffiepeer and berghardepeerhout. The AmaXhosa clan who originate from the Eastern Cape, South Africa call it umthunywalele, umbovane ontsaka and umngqangqa (Johnson 1990). The people who speak IsiZulu have termed it umngqangqa, umthunyelelwa, umthelela and thunyulelelwa (Grace et al. 2003). The Tonga people who live in Zimbabwe refer to it as Mulyamandebele (Tshisikhawe, Van Rooyen & Bhat 2012).

Physical description

This plant grows up to a height of 20 m. It is a spindly shrub that has glistering dark green to fresh green leaves as depicted in Figure 1. P. capensis grows in coastal and mountainous forests, along the banks of rivers, canyons and streams (Razwinani, Tshikalange & Motaung 2014).

FIGURE 1: (a) The leaves (Loffer 2022); (b) bark (Khumalo 2018) and (c) stem (Hyde et al. 2023) of P. capensis.

The bark is the most harvested part of the plant. The use of the bark for medicinal purposes is reported for approximately 30% of the woody species (Tshisikhawe et al. 2012). The appearance of the outer bark varies depending on the age of the plant. Young stems are relatively smooth and have a rectangular scale, while mature trunks have a rough bark with irregular flakes as depicted in Figure 1.

The inner part of the bark of the plant has a smooth texture with vertical ridges and is stratified by yellow and pink layers when cut longitudinally. The bark powder has a pinkish-grey colour and a sawdust smell. These descriptions are based on the trader’ reports and observation of the plant, and the descriptions of the bark physical characteristics as reported by Khumalo (2018).

Traditional practices of P. capensis

In addition to its medicinal use, P. capensis is also employed in traditional practices. Reports about the plant were said to be believed to have strong sorcery properties among the Venda people in South Africa, as cited by Mabongo (2012). Traditional practitioners grind the plant into a powdery form, which is then mixed with other anti-parasitic medicinal plants and animal or plant materials to create a magical mixture. This mixture is then blown towards a specific individual and is believed to have an effect even if the individual is distant from the source (Razwinani et al. 2014). Other reported uses of P. capensis include its utilisation for traditional and religious purposes; wherein the patient undergoes a ritualistic body wash to purge against witchcraft (Razwinani et al. 2014).

Commercialisation of P. capensis

Historical studies have classified P. capensis as a vulnerable and a rapidly declining plant species in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa (Grace et al. 2003). P. capensis is readily available for commercial uses and pharmaceutical companies. The proliferation of medicinal plant trade appears to be prevalent in the Venda, Gauteng and Mpumalanga region, of South Africa. Ethnobotanical studies previously revealed that the expanding market for indigenous medicinal plants in South Africa poses a significant risk to the conservation and preservation of many plant species (Tshisikhawe et al. 2012).

However, in the recent study, P. capensis was assessed for its conservation status by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI). The most recent assessment conducted by Von Staden (2020), classified the P. capensis species as ‘Least Concern’. This assessment was based on the widespread distribution of P. capensis and the lack of evidence indicating any significant threats to its survival (Von Staden 2020). Therefore, there is currently no immediate concern for the conservation of this species. However, ongoing monitoring and research on the population dynamics, habitat quality and potential threats are necessary to ensure the long-term survival of P. capensis in the wild. The ethnomedicinal use involves the traditional or indigenous use of P. capensis by various communities. The practice is based on local knowledge, practices and beliefs surrounding the use of P. capensis for supporting health (Stafford et al. 2008) (Table 1).

TABLE 1: Some ethnomedicinal uses of Pleurostylia capensis Turcz (Loes) in Africa.

A study conducted by Khumalo (2018) entitled ‘An inventory of the most popular medicinal barks sold on Johannesburg muthi (medicinal) markets and the antimicrobial activity of selected extracts and isolated chemical compounds’ reported that in South Africa, the powdered form of the bark is sold in Johannesburg, South Africa. Traders claim that the bark is used to induce and clarify dreams, particularly when an urgent message is needed from ancestors (Dold & Cocks 2012). Additionally, the bark is commonly used as a love charm emetic, and young males hold the bark in high regard, referring to it as ‘umthunywa avume njengempaka yomthakathi’ (Khumalo 2018). Notably, even in recent times, P. capensis is still considered to be an efficacious cathartic agent in communities that attribute symptoms to witchcraft.

Non-medicinal use: Wagon construction and firewood

Apart from harvesting the parts of the plant for commercialisation in ethnomedicinal and traditional use, the South African people use P. capensis for non-medicinal use. For instance, the wood of the P. capensis tree was traditionally used for wagon construction due to its strength and durability (Archer & Van Wyk 1993). However, the widespread use of other materials in modern times has reduced the demand for this particular use (Mabongo 2012). Another study by Dyer (1996) indicated that the rural community members in South Africa use wood for fire.


The plant has been studied extensively for its phytochemical composition and various biological activities as indicated in Table 2. Phytochemicals are compounds that occur naturally in plants as secondary metabolites. Several studies have reported the presence of different classes of secondary metabolites in the plant, including triterpenoids, flavonoids and alkaloids (Bachar et al. 2020). P. capensis contains noteworthy phytochemicals; however, scientific studies investigating whether these compounds contribute to its medicinal properties are yet to be conducted.

TABLE 2: The various secondary metabolites contained by P. capensis.


Cytotoxicity of Pleurostylia capensis stem bark extracts

This study aimed to evaluate the cytotoxicity of P. capensis stem and bark extracts. The stem bark of P. capensis was extracted using different solvents, including ethanol, acetone, dichloromethane and water. The MTT Assay is 3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyl-2H-tetrazolium bromide, a gold standard method for determining cell viability and proliferation. The results showed that the water extract of P. capensis stem bark had the least cytotoxic effect on Vero and HEPG-2 cell lines, while the dichloromethane extract had the highest cytotoxic effect. The study concluded that P. capensis stem bark extracts had varying degrees of cytotoxic effects depending on the solvent used for extraction (Razwinani, Tshikalange & Motaung 2014).

Pharmacological activities

Anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antimicrobial activity

P. capensis has been studied for its efficacy against various microorganisms and its anti-inflammatory activity. Razwinani et al. (2014) investigated the potential use of P. capensis in this regard. Studies reported that extracts of the P. capensis bark have antimicrobial activity against various clinical isolates namely: (1) Staphylococcus aureus, (2) Bacillus cereus, (3) Mycobacterium smegmatis, (4) Escherichia coli, (5) Klebsiella pneumoniae, (6) Klebsiella oxytoca, (7) Streptococcus pyogenes, (8) Pseudomonas aeruginosa, (9) Salmonella typhimurium and (10) Candida albicans. The bark extracts of P. capensis also showed antioxidant activity when evaluated using the 1,1-diphenyl -2-picrylhdraxyl (DPPH) technique, as well as anti-inflammatory activity when evaluated using enzyme-based cyclooxygenase assays COX-1 and COX-2 (Razwinani et al. 2014).

Pleurostylia capensis extracts promote osteogenic differentiation of C2C12 myoblasts

The background motivation for this study was based on bone fractures. According to the researchers, the bone healing process continues to present a formidable orthopaedic challenge because of non-unions. Non-unions are a result of a failure in the natural bone healing process, resulting in the formation of fibrous tissue instead of bone (Thembane 2019). This study aimed to investigate the effect of P. capensis crude extracts on the osteogenic differentiation of C2C12 mouse myoblasts. Cells were cultured as monolayers and treated with P. capensis extracts and incubated for 2, 4 and 8 days for biological assays. Effects of the crude extract were analysed using the MTT assay (to assess cell viability), the expression of alkaline phosphatase (ALP) to liver function, bone morphogenic protein-2 (BMP-2) protein levels by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and Real-Time Polymerase Reaction (RT-PCR) for bone biochemical markers (Thembane 2019). Histological studies were conducted after 21 days, using micro mass culture to confirm matrix mineralisation and calcium deposit synthesis on C2C12 cells. The results showed that aqueous extracts from the bark and roots of P. capensis were most effective at a concentration of 30 μg/mL. The extracts enhanced the proliferation and viability of cells reported by the MTT and protein assays. There was also upregulation of osteogenic markers, including ALP and BMP-2, with the expression of bone turnover markers, namely, Runx-2, ALP and Osteocalcin (OC) in RT-PCR. Histology confirmed matrix mineralisation and calcium deposit synthesis on C2C12 cells, suggesting an osteogenic phenotype. The findings of this study demonstrated the potential of P. capensis crude extracts as a promising starting point for the formulation of a treatment strategy for fracture. Further studies are required to fully understand the mechanisms behind these effects and to optimise the formulation for clinical use (Thembane 2019).

Chondrogenic differentiation for osteoarthritis

This study investigated the effect of the P. capensis bark and root extracts on chondrogenic differentiation of porcine adipose-derived mesenchymal stem cells (pADMSCs) (Razwinani & Motaung 2022). The effect of P. capensis bark and root extracts at 5 µg/mL, 15 µg/mL, 30 µg/mL and 50 µg/mL on cellular growth viability and viability of pADMSCs was investigated using MTT and xCELLigence assays and TGF-β3 (10 ng/mL) as a positive control. The biosynthesis of glycosaminoglycan (GAG) and the expression of chondrogenic markers SOX 9, aggrecan (AGG), proteoglycan (Proteo), collagen type II (Col II) and X (Col X) of pADMSCs in pellet culture were investigated in vitro. The results showed that P. capensis bark extracts at 5 µg/mL and 50 µg/mL stimulated the proliferation of pADMSCs between 24 h and 48 h of incubation, with cell viability of approximately 100%. The root extracts showed cell viability of about 90% with all treatments at 48 h. The amount of GAG synthesised was high with bark extracts at 5 µg/mL and 15 µg/mL and with root extracts at 15 µg/mL and 30 µg/mL in comparison to the control and TGF-β3 treated cells at 21 days. Bark extracts at 30 µg/mL induced the highest expression of SOX 9, Proteo, Col II and Col X significant at p ˂ 0.01 at 14 days. Root extracts at 15 µg/mL induced the highest expression of SOX 9 and AGG at 14 days. All the cells treated with P. capensis bark and root extracts exhibited a strong positive stain for Safranin-O and strongly observed Toluidine blue at day 14. Immunohistostaining revealed minimal positive staining at matrix for COL-10 from both groups of treatments. Nevertheless, P. capensis (bark extract) at 30 µg/mL and the root extracts at 15 µg/mL indicate that P. capensis has a potential to be used as a future treatment strategy for chondrogenic differentiation of stem cells and supports the use of this plants extracts as used in indigenous knowledge (Razwinani & Motaung 2022).

There are studies involving another South African medicinal plant Eucomis autumnalis and its possible application in bone and cartilage regeneration. A study conducted by Alaribe determined that the anti-inflammatory effects of E. autumnalis were because of its ability to inhibit the COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes, leading to a reduction in the synthesis of prostaglandins. The researchers suggested that other medicinal plants with anti-inflammatory properties similar to E. autumnalis could stimulate the anabolic function of osteoblasts, while also inhibiting the catabolic function of osteoclasts and adipocytes, thereby promoting bone formation (Alaribe et al. 2018). However, it remains unclear whether the osteogenic and chondrogenic potential of P. capensis Turcz (Loes) is attributed to its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antimicrobial activity.


The use of medicinal plants for the management and treatment of various ailments has been a widespread practice in human cultures for centuries. The current literature review identified various pharmacological activities of P. capensis, including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, analgesic and antimicrobial properties. The phytochemical composition of the plant was also reported, including the presence of alkaloids, flavonoids, tannins and saponins. Additionally, the toxicological evaluations revealed that the plant is relatively safe for consumption, with minimal adverse effects reported. The review also highlighted the plant’s traditional use in ethnomedicine, where it is used to treat various ailments, including respiratory disorders, gastrointestinal disorders and skin conditions. Moreover, the study supplied information on the commercialisation and conservation status of the plant, highlighting sustainable harvesting and the conservation efforts. In sum, P. capensis Turcz (Loes) or ‘coffee pear’ is an important medicinal plant in Southern Africa with significant ethnobotanical, phytochemical, pharmacological, ethnomedicinal and toxicological significance. While some therapeutic effects of P. capensis extracts have been highlighted in this review, there is a need for further research on the ethnomedical benefits of extracts from various morphological parts of the plant. Such studies could potentially reveal additional medicinal properties of P. capensis and enhance its potency in the management and treatment of human and animal ailments. Additionally, more laboratory based, and animal studies are required to establish the mechanisms and pathways of the biological and pharmacological properties of P. capensis. Therefore, further investigations into the medicinal properties of P. capensis could lead to the development of new and effective medicines, contributing to the advancement of healthcare and pharmaceuticals. Future research should focus on: (1) the identification of bioactive compounds that offer the plant osteogenic and chondrogenic properties; and (2) the development of sustainable harvesting practices to ensure the long-term viability of this important medicinal plant.


The author would like to extend their heartfelt gratitude to Dr Mlungisi Ngcobo and Mr Siphamandla Hlatshwayo from the Traditional Medicine Laboratory at University of KwaZulu Natal, South Africa; who generously shared their time, experience and insight. The success of this article was through their willingness to engage, and the author is deeply thankful for their participation.

Competing interests

The author declares that they have no financial or personal relationships that may have inappropriately influenced them in writing this article.

Author’s contributions

The author, N.E.T., confirms that they are responsible for the conceptualization, data collection, analysis, draft manuscript preparation and interpretation of this article.

Ethical considerations

The study was a review of existing literature; therefore, ethical clearance was not required.

Funding information

The author received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

Data availability

There is a single figure/image used which comes from factual data from copyrighted material.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any affiliated agency of the author.


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