Trichopus zeylanicus (family Dioscoraceae, a monocot family which includes yams) is a small, rare herbaceous plant native to wet, sandy river banks tropical forests of Malaysia, Sri Lanka and southern India. The leaves, though usually heart-shaped (cordate), can vary between heart, oval, triangular, and lanceolate forms even within one location. It produces a deep purple flower year round, and large grey-brown seedpods thought to be water-dispersed in floods and heavy currents (Sivarajan 1990). Previously classified into its own family, Trichopodaceae, T. zeylanicus is one of two species in its genus (the other, T. sempervirens is native to Madagascar) and its distinctive and variable morphology has long confounded its taxonomic placement (Caddick et al. 2002).
In the late 1980s, researchers from the Indian Tropical Botanical Garden & Research Institute (TBGRI) learned of and developed T. zeylanicus as a medicinal herb, based on ethnomedicinal information retrieved from Kani people, a nomadic population indiginous to the Agasthymalai hills in southern India. The Kani traditionally use the seeds of T. zeylanicus as an energy enhancer; their term for the herb, Arogyapacha, translates to “healthy green.” The effects of the herb are compared to those of Ginseng (Martin et al. 2011). Studies have found that T. zeylanicus seeds and leaf extracts are rich in Saponins (Martin et al. 2011) and contain antioxidant properties. Rats fed the seeds show decreased fatigue (Tharakan et al. 2005, 2006) although no studies or trials confirm these results in humans (Web MD 2009). The medicinal herb, patented under the name Jeevani is used to combat stress, improve stamina, boost immunity, and increase libido and other conditions (Web MD 2009, Evans et al. 2002). The intellectual rights and of this drug were shared between and the Kani tribe and TBGRI (Jayaraman 1996), however this arrangement has stirred up controversy over profit sharing with indigenous tribes and justifications of piracy of tribal knowledge (Bijoy 2007).