Litsea cubeba

Litsea cubeba

The aromatic litsea or may chang (Litsea cubeba (Lour.) Pers.) Is an arboreal or shrub species belonging to the Lauraceae family.

Systematics –
From a systematic point of view it belongs to:
Eukaryota Domain,
Kingdom Plantae,
Magnoliophyta Division,
Magnoliopsida class,
Subclass Magnoliidae,
Order Laurales,
Lauraceae family,
Genus Litsea,
L. cubeba species.
The following terms are synonymous:
– Actinodaphne citrata (Blume) Hayata;
– Aperula citriodora (Siebold & Zucc.) Blume;
– Aperula formosana Nakai;
– Benzoin citriodorum Siebold & Zucc .;
– Benzoin cubeba (Lour) Hatus .;
– Daphnidium cubeba (Lour.) Nees;
– Laurus cubeba Lour .;
– Laurus piperita Meisn .;
– Lindera citrata (Blume) Koidz .;
– Lindera citriodora (Siebold & Zucc.) Hemsl .;
– Lindera dielsii H.Lév .;
– Litsea citrata Blume;
– Litsea citriodora (Siebold & Zucc.) Hatus .;
– Litsea dielsii (H.Lév.) H.Lév .;
– Litsea mollifolia Chun;
– Litsea mollis glabrata Diels;
– Litsea piperita Mirb .;
– Malapoenna citrata (Blume) Kuntze;
– Malapoenna cubeba (Lour.) Kuntze;
– Omphalodaphne citriodora (Siebold & Zucc.) Nakai;
– Persea cubeba (Lour.) Spreng .;
– Tetranthera citrata (Blume) Nees;
– Tetranthera cubeba (Lour.) Meisn .;
– Tetranthera polyantha Wall. ex Nees.

Etymology –
The term Litsea derives from the two Chinese terms ‘li’, which means plum, and ‘tse’, which means small.
The specific cubeba epithet comes from medieval English Quibibe and medieval Latin cubeba, a term derived from the Arabic dialect Kubāba.

Geographic Distribution and Habitat –
Litsea cubeba is a plant native to China, Indonesia, Taiwan and other parts of Southeast Asia that grows in an area between East Asia, China, Japan, Indian subcontinent, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Its habitat is the sunny slopes, thickets, sparse woods, roadsides, water banks at an altitude between 300 and 3,200 meters.

Description –
Litsea cubeba is a deciduous to evergreen tree or shrub, 5-12 meters tall.
The trunk is straight.
The leaves are oblong lanceolate, placed alternately on the branches.
The flowers are small, whitish in color, gathered in small clusters and the plant is dioecious, so both the male and female forms must be cultivated to produce fruit even if there are forms with fertile hermaphrodite flowers.
The fruits are small drupes that are green at the beginning and brownish-brown when ripe.

Cultivation –
Litsea is a deciduous to evergreen shrub or small tree that is often used in traditional medicine and is also a source of food flavorings, essential oil, and timber.
This plant is harvested in nature or grown commercially, particularly in China, Japan, Indochina and Java, for its essential oil.
It is a fast-growing tree and plants produced from cuttings can start bearing fruit when they are only 2-3 years old.
All parts of the plant have a pleasant aroma similar to lemon and it is a dioecious species, so to obtain the fruits it is necessary to cultivate both the male and the female, even if there are specimens with fertile hermaphrodite flowers.
Propagation can take place both by seed and by cutting.

Customs and Traditions –
May chang is a plant that produces a fruit that is processed for its lemon essential oil.
It is called “mountain pepper” (山 胡椒; pinyin: shānhújiāo) in Mandarin and maqaw (馬 告) by the Atayal aborigines of Taiwan. The oil can also be extracted from the leaves, but this is considered to be of lower quality. Wood is sometimes used to make furniture and handicrafts. Parts of plants are also used medicinally.
The essential oil yield of the fruit is 3-5%. The main component of the oil is citral, at 70-85% of the oil. It is mainly produced in China from plantations and is marketed as “Litsea cubeba”, with an estimated production of between 500 and 1,500 tons of oil per year. The oil is used as a perfume (especially in soap bars) and to flavor various products. It is also used as a raw material by the chemical industry for the synthesis of vitamin A and violet-like fragrances.
This essential oil is traded internationally.
The fragrant flowers are eaten or used as a flavoring for tea and the fruits are eaten as a side dish for vegetables and are a common substitute for Piper cubeba.
The fruit, bark and leaves are often used by the Karen people of northern Thailand as a curry ingredient in a dish called “Kaeng Nuea”.
The roots are cooked as a seasoning in food.
This plant is an important source of substances for medicinal use.
The roots, twigs, leaves, and fruits are all used in traditional medicine to treat internal health problems, such as swelling and pain.
Research has shown the presence of different alkaloids in various parts of the plant.
Among those recently isolated and identified are: laurothetanine, O-methyloblongin, oblongin, xantoplanin and magnocararineu. Bioanalysis studies indicated thermal, anti-asthmatic and anti-anaphylactic activities.
Furthermore, recent studies have found that the essential oil may be useful in the treatment of cardiac arrhythmia.
The essential oil has demonstrated antifungal properties against various pathogens including Alternaria alternata, Aspergillus niger, Candida albicans, Fusarium spp, Helminthosporium spp.
All parts of the Litsea cubeba plant are applied medicinally and have antiparalytic, anticephalic, antihysterical, carminative, spasmolytic and diuretic properties.
The flowers, leaves and fruit walls are all sources of essential oils which are processed for citral and are also used for their fragrance and medicinal properties.
Citral is used for the production of ionones and formerly vitamin A and in essences for cosmetics, food and tobacco products.
Due to its pleasant citrus smell and flavor it helps to give a lemon and lime taste and is a general refreshing in fruit flavors.
The main essential oil, known as “May-chang oil” is obtained from the fruit and is used in perfumery and is also the main source of citral.
In perfumery, the oil is used as an alternative to verbena oil and lemongrass oil to make colognes, home sprays, soaps and deodorants.
The seed contains a fatty oil, from which lauric acid and capric acid are produced.
The fruit is used in decoction for the treatment of dizziness, paralysis and in post-partum preparations.
Traditionally, the Dayak Kenyah people of East Kalimantan use the fruits and bark as oral and topical medicine for both children and adults. It is applied in case of fever, stomach pain, chest pain and as a tonic. It is also an antidote to treat drunkenness.
The leaves are used to treat skin diseases.
In aromatherapy, the oil is applied as a cooling agent against acne and dermatitis and to relieve anxiety and stress.
Among other uses, it should be remembered that may chang can be used as a pioneer species when restoring natural woods and when you want to create a wooded garden.
It is also bred as a shade tree for other plantations and is planted as a windbreak on tea plantations.
This species proves to be an excellent fast-growing pioneer, usually gregarious in open areas, found along the edges of tropical rainforests and on the edges of both lower and upper montane forests.
It can be used early on in reforestation projects.
The tree is planted as a pioneer species in northern Thailand in reforestation projects to restore natural woodlands and is planted in degraded woodlands and open areas in intercropping with various other species which all have the ability to grow rapidly; it produces dense foliage that suppresses weeds and attracts wildlife that scatters seeds, especially birds and bats. The wood of this plant is used for the manufacture and construction of furniture in general.

Preparation Method –
Litsea cubeba is a plant grown for both food and medicinal purposes and for the cosmetic industry.
The pulp of the fruit has an avocado-like flavor and is eaten raw or steamed with rice and is a common substitute for Piper cubeba.
The essential oil is marketed internationally for cosmetic and medicinal uses.
The flowers, which are fragrant, are eaten or used as a flavoring for tea. The fruit, bark and leaves are often used by the Karen people of northern Thailand as a curry ingredient in a dish called “Kaeng Nuea”.
The roots are also consumed, cooked as a condiment in food.

Guido Bissanti

Sources
– Acta Plantarum – Flora of the Italian Regions.
– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– Useful Tropical Plants Database.
– Conti F., Abbate G., Alessandrini A., Blasi C. (ed.), 2005. An annotated checklist of the Italian vascular flora, Palombi Editore.
– Pignatti S., 1982. Flora of Italy, Edagricole, Bologna.
– Treben M., 2000. Health from the Lord’s Pharmacy, Advice and experiences with medicinal herbs, Ennsthaler Editore.

Warning: Pharmaceutical applications and alimurgical uses are indicated for informational purposes only, they do not represent in any way a medical prescription; therefore no responsibility is taken for their use for curative, aesthetic or food purposes.





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