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What are the Medical Uses of the Sensitive Plant?

By Casey Kennedy
Updated Feb 15, 2024
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The sensitive plant, Mimosa Pudica, is a medicinal plant sometimes used in types of alternative medicine — medical practices that are not considered modern to western civilization. In this alternative type of medicine, the plant has several medical uses that include treatment for gynecological disorders, skin problems, impotence, and bronchitis. It is also used to treat epilepsy and is prized as an aphrodisiac.

Unani and Ayurvedic medicine are two types of medicine where the plant is sometimes used. Ayurveda, which translates as the "science of life," is a traditional type of medicine practiced in India. Unani medicine is an ancient form of Greek medicine that was adopted into the Muslim world more than 1,300 years ago. The word Unani is actually the Arabic spelling of the word Ionian, which means "Greek."

In Ayurvedic medicine, the root of the plant is thought of as acrid and cooling. It is used for the treatment of blood diseases, dysentery, burning sensations, and inflammation. Generally, it has similar properties in Unai medicine where it is also used to treat blood impurities, leprosy, and jaundice. All parts of the plant, including roots, leaves, and flowers, are used in these two types of traditional medicine.

The sensitive plant is an evergreen shrub that grows to a height of 5 feet (about 1.52 m) tall with a 3 foot (about 0.91 m) spread. It is actually a perennial plant, but because of its short lifespan, it usually is considered an annual. It has green, feathery leaves that grow many as 10 to 20 leaflets per stem and produce globe-shaped purplish-pink flowers that bloom from September to March in Indian conditions. It prefers fertile well-drained soil and full sunlight.

Sometimes known as sleeping grass, bashful mimosa, touch-me-not, or the humble plant, the sensitive plant is actually native to Brazil, but it is invasive there and is often considered a weed. It is also found in many parts of tropical America and India. It was once so common in the United States (US) that seeds of the mimosa pudica were planted by Thomas Jefferson in 1811.

Although it is known by several names, it is often called the sensitive plant because of its ticklish-like nature that happens whenever its leaves are touched. When its feels a touch or even heat from a flame, this bashful plant closes and droops its leaves. After the plant is left alone, however, the leaves will reopen again a few minutes later. This oddity makes it a popular ornamental plant in the US, and there are more than 400 known species of US origin.

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Discussion Comments
By anon293860 — On Sep 28, 2012

This plant resembles pictures I have seen of Tribulus. Is there any connection?

By irontoenail — On May 23, 2012

@umbra21 - Well, I think it also helps to fix nitrogen in the soil. If it grows well in the area it can help to do that for crops which need nitrogen but can't fix it themselves.

Of course, as it says in the article, it can be a bit noxious and a bit of a weed, so anyone who plants sensitive plant seeds in their garden needs to be aware of this.

If it likes the local conditions it might very well take off and spread in the area. It might be called the humble plant and the sensitive plant, but it seems like it's anything but when it comes to throwing its weight around as a weed and the local ecology might be harmed with it there.

By umbra21 — On May 22, 2012

The first time I ever saw a sensitive plant was in Africa, surprisingly enough and I didn't realize that they were native to Brazil.

I guess they just grow really well in tropical conditions because I know when I saw it, the village people were growing sensitive plants in order to use them as a border plant to keep out animals, rather than because of their novelty value.

They had them planted around a barrier fence, which surrounded the crops. The idea, I believe, was to provide some shade as well as to stop grazing animals from even seeing the crops, and trying to push through the fence.

I do wonder now if they ever tried to use them for medicine, but since it wasn't really a local plant they wouldn't have the historical knowledge of it that they might in other parts of the world, I suppose.

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