Griffonia seed is the seed of a northwest African shrub or climbing vine, Griffonia simplicifolia, sometimes also known as Bandeiraea simplicifolia. Griffonia is most prevalent in Ghana and is a member of the legume or Fabiaceae family. The shrub grows 9 to 12 feet tall and eventually develops seed pods that ripen and explode open, dispersing numerous flat, rounded, black seeds. The seeds are a source of at least four lectins or plant proteins that bind to carbohydrate receptors on cell surfaces.
In Ghana and other parts of West Africa where Griffonia is prevalent, cattle graze on the shrubs. Humans use the twigs for chewing sticks, and preparations made from the plant are used for external and internal medicinal preparations. Internally, Griffonia medications are used for heart trouble, vomiting and diarrhea. The leaves may be used as an aphrodisiac. Externally, plant preparations are used as antiseptics.
Griffonia shrubs are understory plants, growing in the shade of larger trees. They are abundant in tropical rain forests of West Africa, in Liberia, Nigeria, Gabon and the Ivory Coast (in addition to Ghana). In some places, it is possible to find concentrations of wild Griffonia plants over several hectares of land.
Modern Medicinal Use
According to author Ethan Russo, author of "Handbook of Psychotropic Herbs," Griffonia seed is a source of 5-Hyroxytrytophan, an amino acid that has been studied in Europe for 30 years and has been available in the United States since 1998. 5-HTP, isolated from Griffonia seed, is said to increase levels of serotonin in the brain. 5-HTP has been studied as a possible remedy for a variety of ailments, including depression and anxiety, insomnia and migraine headache.
Griffonia as an Insecticide
Scientists, including a group led by Kyan Zhu at Purdue University, have investigated the efficacy of a lectin gene derived from Griffonia simplicifolia when used as an insecticide against the cowpea weevil, a threat to crops of edible cowpeas. Their findings support the hypothesis that the lectin gene helps the cowpea plant defend itself against this destructive insect.
Herbal medicine vendors sell various Griffonia seed preparations, including pills and capsules purported to contain plant extracts like 5-HTP and specific lectins. Advertisements make many claims about the efficacy of Griffonia for various ailments and sometimes make reference to unidentified "controlled studies" that support specific claims.Herbal remedies are not subject to United States Food and Drug Administration testing and approval and should not be used without consultation with a doctor.