Stonebreaker

Stonebreaker hails from both India and South America and has been long used for medicinal purposes. Learn more about its history, preparations, and how it earned its descriptive name.

Quick Facts
General Information
  • Common name(s)Stonebreaker, Phyllanthus, seed-under-leaf, gale of the wind, chancapiedra, quebra-pedra
  • Ayurvedic nameBhuiaonla
  • Scientific namePhyllantus niruri
  • Native regionSouth America
  • Main producer(s)India
  • Main Economic UseMedicinal
Stonebreaker

Stonebreaker, an herb native to India and South America that now grows from Brazil to Texas, has been a traditional mainstay in Ayurvedic medicine for more than two millennia, where it is used for ailments ranging from hiccups to leprosy. It is also a prominent herb in the Unani system of medicine, which applies it to wounds and sores and uses it for symptoms like jaundice. It gets its common name, stonebreaker – as well as the Spanish and Portuguese equivalents – from its use in treating kidney stones.

Medicinal and Nutritional Information

Quick Facts (Medicinal and Nutritional Information)
  • Medicinal actionAntilithic, Antiviral
  • Key constituentsPhyllanthin, nirtetralin
  • Ways to useCapsules, Decoctions, Hot infusions/tisanes
  • Medicinal rating(3) Reasonably useful plant
  • Safety rankingSafety undetermined
Stonebreaker

Health Benefits of Stonebreaker

Stonebreaker has been used traditionally in Ayurvedic medicine and is a hot subject of research today. More studies are needed to ascertain the extent of stonebreaker's effectiveness in people, but its antilithic and antiviral properties give it the following medicinal uses:

  • Dissolving kidney stones and gallstones. Living up to its name, stonebreaker aids the passage of stones and also prevents their formation.

  • Treating hepatitis B. Preliminary studies have shown that stonebreaker can stop this virus from replicating.

Additionally, stonebreaker can quell flare-ups of gout by reducing uric acid levels.

How It Works

Phyllanthin, the most studied compound in stonebreaker, has been observed to have hepatoprotective, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties. In addition, nirtetralin is thought to have antiviral action: studies show that it can inhibit replication of the hepatitis B virus and suppress its antigens, therefore enabling a speedier recovery. However, more research is needed before using nirtetralin to treat other viruses.

Stonebreaker extract helps prevent and treat kidney stones by interrupting various steps in the formation of stones, which are made of uric acid and minerals. The plant's lignans lower blood levels of uric acid, helping to prevent crystal formation. Stonebreaker also reduces crystal clumping and alters the structure and composition of the crystals. The anti-inflammatory activity of the plant can relax the urethra, aiding in the passage of stones.

While its lignans are thought to be mainly responsible for the plant's medicinal actions, stonebreaker also contains flavonoids, tannins, and alkaloids.


Stonebreaker Side Effects

Stonebreaker is largely free of side effects. However, a closely-related species, P. amarus, may damage kidneys if used in the long term. Therefore, it is recommended to check with a physician before using stonebreaker.

How to Consume Stonebreaker

Stonebreaker is used chiefly for its medicinal properties, and it is not consumed as a food.

Remedies

Main preparations: Capsules, decoction, infusion

  • Capsules. Taking stonebreak in this supplemental form is widely preferred to obtain all its medicinal properties avoiding its naturally bitter flavor.

  • Decoction. When the aerial parts of the plant are boiled, the concentrated liquid can be taken to aid the elimination of stones and manage the symptoms of gout.

  • Infusion. Stonebreaker can be brewed into a warm tisane to be taken throughout the day in order to reduce uric acid and prevent the formation of stones.

Buying

In addition to the fact that it is not a food product, stonebreaker is only recently gaining Western attention. For this reason, it is not commonly available, though the plant may be found in some ethnic markets. Extracts and supplements are sold at specialized herbal medicine shops, and they can also be purchased online. Many of these web shops are based in India, where the herb has been used medicinally for more than 2,000 years.

Stonebreaker flourishes in tropical areas and produces beautiful foliage; its emerald leaves are the part most commonly used in medicinal remedies.

Growing

Quick Facts (Growing)
  • Life cycleAnnual
  • Harvested partsLeaves, Stem
  • Light requirementsPartial shade
  • Soil pH6.1 – 6.5 (Slightly acidic)
  • Growing habitatTropical rainforests
  • Plant spacing average0.4 m (1.31 ft)

Stonebreaker is a plant that can adapt to different types of soils and climate conditions. It will grow well in slightly acidic, wet soils typical of tropical regions. Though the plant is hardy, adequate organic matter will ensure the nutrient content and soil structure required for proper development.

The plant's lateral leaves reach nearly five inches (12 cm) long, so planting spaced in rows at distances of 16 inches (40 cm) between plants and 24 inches (60 cm) between rows will provide sufficient plantation density and enough space to avoid plants competing with each other for light and nutrients. Since stonebreaker grows well in tropical rainforests under partial shade conditions, it may do well in associative systems, such as agroforestry.

Additional Information

Quick Facts (Additional Information)
  • Other usesAnimal feed, Dye

Plant Biology

Stonebreaker can reach 12 - 24 inches (30 - 60 cm) in height. Its oblong leaves grow on angular steams, and it produces copious yellow-green flowers. The round fruit capsule it bears is small - almost stone-like in appearance - and yields three seeds.

  • Classification

    Stonebreaker (Phyllanthus niruri) belongs to the Phyllanthaceae family, which is represented by about 19 genera in several tropical environments, especially in the rainforest and the savanna. The genus Phyllanthus possess a great diversity that includes approximately 1,000 species of flowering plants.

  • Varieties and Subspecies of Stonebreaker

    Phyllanthus niruri is divided into two subspecies: P. niruri subsp. niruri and P. niruri subsp. lathryroides. In addition, the plant has over 20 botanical synonyms, though Phyllanthus niruri is the commonly accepted name. P. niruri's common names are also used to refer to a number of other plants in its genus, primarily P. amarus, P. fraternus, P. sellowianus, and P. urinaria. These relatives seem to share at least some of the same active compounds.

Economic Data

Stonebreaker grows freely in its native tropical zones, so there is no large-scale effort put forth towards its cultivation. In fact, it is considered a weed in some areas. There are no reliable sales or yield statistics on the plant, but there is a niche market for stonebreaker supplements in both India and northern South America. The majority of producers are located in India.

Other Uses

In its native India, stonebreaker has several practical applications aside from its medicinal uses. A decoction of the leaves and stem together can be used to dye cotton black. It is also used to help catch fish, and in desert regions, it is administered to camels to relieve their indigestion.

Bibliography

  • Germplasm Resources Information, Taxon: Phyllanthus niruri L., 2005
  • Phytotherapy Research, Lignans with anti-hepatitis B virus activities from Phyllanthus niruri L., 2012
  • International Brazilian Journal of Urology, Phyllanthus niruri as a promising alternative treatment for nephrolithiasis, 2010
  • Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Effects of an extract from Phyllanthus niruri on hepatitis B and woodchuck hepatitis viruses: in vitro and in vivo studies, 1987
  • North American Journal of Medical Sciences, Histological effects of chronic administration of Phyllanthus amarus on the kidney of adult Wistar rat, 2010
  • Journal of Urology, Can Phyllanthus niruri affect the efficacy of extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy for renal stones? A randomized, prospective, long-term study, 2006
  • Planta Medica, Antihyperuricemic lignans from the leaves of Phyllanthus niruri, 2006
  • Purdue University, Bhuiaonla (Phyllanthus niruri): A Useful Medicinal Weed, 2002
  • The Scientific World Journal, An Overview of Important Ethnomedicinal Herbs of Phyllanthus Species: Present Status and Future Prospects, 2014