The generic name Rauwolfia, commemorates a 16th century German physician, Leonhart Rauvolf, who travelled widely to collect medicinal plants. The specific designation vomitoria refers to the purgative and emetic properties of the bark.
Rauwolfia vomitoria belongs to the family apocynacea. It is a shrub or small tree up to 26 feet (8 m). The parts that are commonly used for herbal remedies are roots, root bark, leaves and stem-bark. Roots may be harvested non-destructively annually by cutting them 4 inches (10 cm) from the taproot, allowing for fair-trade commercialization of this traditional remedy.
Modern science has studied the phytochemical constituents of Rauwolfia since the middle of the 20th century. The main alkaloid present is called reserpine and was first discovered by Swiss scientists, Schiller and Muller of CIB Pharmaceuticals in Switzerland in 1952. Reserpine is commonly used as a marker to identify Rauwolfia.
Reserpine, according to Okpako (1991), is a major constituent of antihypertensive drugs. Taken orally, Reserpine tablets treat the symptoms of high blood pressure (1) and psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia. Reserpine lowers blood pressure by lowering certain chemicals in the blood stream, relaxing and widening the blood vessels. Potentially serious side effects of this medication include uncontrollable movement of the legs, arms, or hands, an irregular heartbeat, or heart failure .(2) Symptoms of heart failure include a sudden weight gain of at least five pounds (2.3 kilograms), chest pain, or swelling in the legs and ankles.