Bougainvillea : Bugambilia

B. spectabilis

also known as paper flower (English); Buganvilla, Bugambilea, Napoleón , Veranera, Trinitaria , Santa Rita, and Papelillo (en espanol); bougainvillier (French), buganvillea (Italian); bunga kertas (Indonesian); felila (Japanese); bouganvila (Konkani); buginvila (Malay); cherei (Manipuri); bogambilya (tagalog); kagithala puvvu (Telugu); fuang fah (Thai); bong giay (Vietnamese); booganbel (Hindi); baganbilas (Bengali); mao bao jin, ye zi hua (Chinese);

This plant is native to eastern South America, found from Brazil, west to Peru, and south to Argentina.

The name bougaivillea is derived from Louis Antoine de Bougainville (1) who encountered these plants in Brazil in 1768

  1. variously described as a “French navigator”, an “admiral in the French Navy”, and a “French soldier and explorer” (being a contemporary of the British explorer James Cook)

Much like the poinsettia the flower of the bougainvillea is somewhat deceptive. What at first glance appears to be flowers are actually modified bracts (1). The inflorescence (2) consists of large colourful sepal-like bracts which surround three simple waxy flowers.

  1. a modified or specialized leaf, especially one associated with a reproductive structure such as a flower, inflorescence axis or cone scale. Bracts are often different from foliage leaves
  2. the complete flower head of a plant including stems, stalks, bracts, and flowers.
The bougainvillea flower

The poinsettia flower.

B. spectabilis is referred to as “Paper Flower” as its bracts are thin and papery. One of its Spanish names “papelillo” also means “cigarette paper”.

Cigarette paper is quite delicate. Anyone who has rolled their own cigarettes will know what I’m talking about. It is a good comparison for the feel and translucency of the dried bougainvillea flower. The flowers are more durable when fresh.

The purple or magenta colour is the most common Bougainvillea colour, but the flowers may range in colour from white to orange and pink.

The stem is a woody perennial vine, with multi-trunked and large clumping stems which spread up to 2-4 m. It climbs by sending out slender arching canes armed with stiff curved thorns. These thorns are deadly. They can easily reach 2 inches (5 cm) in length and are very strong. As a child I jumped from a fence into a pile of bougainvillea prunings and a dried thorn pierced my big toe from bottom to top and straight through the nail. The plant can grow very large (it can cover houses) and makes an excellent living fence.

Bougainvillea’s leaves are not toxic, but a prick from the plant’s sharp thorns can lead to dermatitis, a skin rash typically caused by an allergic reaction. Symptoms of dermatitis caused by bougainvillea resemble that of poison oak or poison ivy, and may include pain, itching, stinging, or burning skin, blisters, scaly rash, swelling and sores.

Bougainvillea fence.

Medicinal Use.

In traditional medicine the species B. buttiana, B. glabra, and B. spectabilis are indicated for the treatment of coughing (Monroy-Ortiz and Monroy 2006) and pertussis (Villamar etal 1994). B. glabra is recommended for asthma (Alonso-Castro etal 2017), bronchitis, and dysentery. In a small number of cases, it is indicated for stomach pain, pimples, and blackheads. B. spectabilis is also used in other respiratory conditions, including snoring or lung pain, flu, and bronchitis (Villamar etal 1994).

Bugambilia is noted in the materia medica of the Universidad Autónoma Chapingo in their Programa Univeritario de medicina tradicional y terapeutica naturista (2).

  1. Chapingo Autonomous University  is an agricultural college located in Texcoco in Mexico. The university is a federally funded public institution of higher education. It offers technical and full bachelor’s degrees as well as having scientific and technological research programs. Many of these programs are related to agriculture, forestry and fishing.
  2. University program of traditional medicine and naturopathic therapy

Traditional therapeutic uses

  1. cough.
  2. asthma.
  3. bronchitis.
  4. dysentery.
  5. whooping cough

Pharmacological evaluation.

  • The infusion of the flowers presented stimulating activity


  • Boil 1-3 grams of plant (1) for 4 minutes in a litre of water. It is recommended not to consume for more than 15 days.
  1. although the part of the plant used is not specifically mentioned we are considering the flowers (rather than bark, stem or root)

Administration route.

  • orally.
  • vaporizations.
  • cutaneous.
  • mouthwashes


  • 3-5gr per litre of water.
  • 3-4 glasses a day.
  • 10-15 days

Bougainvillea has been well studied.


Actions : antibacterial, antidiabetic, anticancer, antifertility, antihyperlipidemic, antifungal, anti-hepatotoxic, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antipyretic, antiulcer

The leaf of B. spectabilis had beneficial effect on serum cholesterol concentration reduction. The plant extract showed significant reduction in total cholesterol, triglyceride, low density lipoprotein, very low density lipoprotein levels. It has also shown significant increase in high density lipoprotein. (Adebayo etal 2015)


the leaf of B. spectabilis showed a good oral glucose tolerance and significantly reduced the intestinal glucosidase activity by studying diabetic mice (Adebayo etal 2005)

The stem bark extract exhibited significant hypoglycemic activity 22.2% more than standard oral hypoglycemic drug, glibenclamide.

Permanent hyperglycemia in alloxan-induced diabetic rats was reversed with a week’s treatment with an ethanol extract of root bark. In the study, no considerable signs of toxicity were observed in the albino Wistar rats.(Sunil etal 2012)

Another study on the effects of aqueous extract of Bougainvillea spectabilis (Chauhan etal 2015) leaves on blood glucose, glycosylated hemoglobin, lipid profile, oxidative stress, and on DNA damage, if any, as well as on liver and kidney functions in streptozotocin-induced diabetes in Wistar rats. Daily administration of the aqueous extract of B spectabilis leaves for 28 days resulted in significant reduction in hyperglycemia and hyperlipidemia and concluded that the aqueous extract of B.spectabilis leaves may be useful in treating diabetes mellitus whilst showing no toxicity.

Antimicrobial Effects.

B. spectabilis stem, leaves and flowers have antimicrobial potential against S. typhi

Study evaluated the disinfectant effect of ethanolic extract of fresh green leaves of Bougainvillea spectabilis. Results showed it can retard the growth of gram negative Escherichia coli and gram positive Micrococcus aureus. Activity was attributed to the presence of myristic acid and to some extent palmitic acid. Results suggest solvent extract of B. spectabilis can be used as first aid disinfectant for minor wound dressings prior to proper medicinal clinic evaluation and treatment.

Various flower extracts (chloroform, EA, ethanol, and water) of B. spectabilis were investigated for antimicrobial activities. Maximum antibacterial activities were observed with the ethanol and water extracts, and maximum fungal activity was observed with chloroform and ethanol extracts.

Study evaluated phytoconstituents and antibacterial activity of ethanol extract of B. spectabilis flowers. An ethanolic extract exhibited maximum inhibitory activity on E. coli than S. aureus (Hajare etal 2015)

the ethanolic extract of B. spectabilis showed reduction in gastric volume, free acidity, total acidity and the ulcer inhibition (H.pylori) was found to be 100%


The healing practises of curanderismo address several maladies not readily acknowledged by standard western medical dogma. These include mental/emotional/spiritual conditions such as susto, espanto, coraje, bilis, muina and nervios. (1)

  1. See Posts What is Curanderismo; Pericón. Tagetes lucida and Glossary of Terms used in Herbal Medicine for further information on these terms.

In Puebla the plant has been used to treat sadness in children. The sad child must throw the red bracts in the water and as the flowers float away, so does the sadness (folk illnesses) (Gutiérrez etal 2014)


In India, Bougainvillea glabra (mainly leaves) have been used by traditional practitioners of Mandsaur for variety of disorders like diarrhoea, excessive stomach acidity, cough and sore throat; decoction of dried flowers for blood vessels and leucorrhoea (1); and decoction of the stem for hepatitis (Gupta et al. 2009). The plant has been reported to be used by traditional medicine practitioners for the treatment of diabetes mellitus (Adebayo et al. 2009).

  1. Leukorrhea, also spelled leucorrhoea, flow of a whitish, yellowish, or greenish discharge from the vagina of the female that may be normal or that may be a sign of infection. Such discharges may originate from the vagina, ovaries, fallopian tubes, or, most commonly, the cervix


Bougainvillea glabra shows antiulcer activity (Rajeshwari and Thejomoorthy 2005), antidiarrheal activity (Edwin etal 2007), antimicrobial activity, antacid activity (Edwin etal 2007), antibacterial activity (Umamahesheswari etal 2008), antidiabetic activity (Narayanan etal 1987), antifertility activity (Mishra etal 2009), antioxidant activity (Balandrin etal 1985) and anti-inflammatory activity (Joshi etal 1984).

Antiproliferative Activity
Bougainvillea glabra flower extract exhibited antiproliferative activity among four edible fl owers tested against several cancer cell lines (Kaisoon et al. 2012 ).

Antidiabetic Activity
The aqueous leaf extract of Bougainvillea glabra at a dose level of 150 mg/kg showed significant antihyperglycaemic activity (Edwin et al. 2006).

Wound Healing Activity
Studies by Rupesh et al. (2011) found that after 10 days of topical application of albino Wistar rats with the ointment of aqueous extract of Bougainvillea glabra leaves or oral administration of aqueous Bougainvillea leaf extract (200 mg/kg) in the dead space and incision wound models, significantly increased wound contraction, wound breaking strength, granulation tissue weight as compared to the control groups. The results suggested a beneficial role of Bougainvillea glabra leaf aqueous extract in healing of wounds in experimental rats.

Bougainvillea x buttiana (var. Rose)


anti-inflammatory, anti-nociceptive, antioxidant

There are no studies described in the literature regarding the traditional use of the other species and hybrids of Bougainvillea in medicine. However, the hybrid B. x buttiana was confused with B. buttiana since both are distributed and reported in Morelos, Mexico, and both are used to treat cough and whooping cough (Monroy-Ortiz and Monroy 2006)(Guerrero etal 2016).

Té de bugambilia (bougainvillea tea) is an essential Mexican home remedy during cold and flu season.


  • 12 ounces (350ml) boiling water
  • a large handful of clean flowers removed from the vine, pistil and stamen removed (about 12-14 flowers)
  • 2-3 limes, juiced
  • 1/2 teaspoon of honey, or more to taste
  • optional: Mexican cinnamon stick

1. Clean the flowers: Make sure you remove the pistil and stamen, rinse the flowers, and gently pat dry before you infuse them in boiling water to make tea
2. Bring water to a boil in a saucepan and add clean, dry flowers. Boil gently until the tea has turned bright pink, then strain the flowers out and pour tea into a mug.
3. Add the juice of one lime and a half teaspoon of honey and stir well. The tea should look slightly cloudy with the addition of the lime and honey. Add more of each to taste if you like.
If using the Mexican cinnamon stick, add it while the water is boiling, and remove it when you strain the flowers out.

If you wish to kick your tea up a medicinal notch then try the following….

2 parts gordolobo (common mullein) flowers
One part bugambilia bracts
One part manzanilla (German chamomile) flowers
One part jamaica (Hibiscus sabdariffa) flowers
One part tomillo (thyme) leaves
Pinch of ground canela (cinnamon)
Boil the herbs together, strain, drink hot or cold with cinnamon for flavoring.

Culinary Use.

El Tlecuil is a purveyor of fine food located in the market of Tepoztlán in Morelos, Mexico. They specialise in Pre-Hispanic artisan cuisine and vegetarian food.

Some of El Tecuils dishes using bugambilia as an ingredient.

Bugambila pulque curado

Agua de Bugambilia

  1. Collect 30 bougainvillea flowers – you can carefully pluck them or collect the newly fallen ones – and rinse them gently to remove any residual dirt or dust.
  2. Bring half a litre of water to boil and when the bubbles start to come out add the bougainvillea flowers.
  3. Boil for five minutes, remove from heat and let it cool down. You will see that the water is already pink.
  4. Pass the water through a strainer to remove the flowers, and add the remaining water to make one litre.
  5. Add the juice of 4 lemons and sweeten with a little honey, sugar or agave syrup
  6. Stir the water well, add ice cubes and drink

Tip: You can choose the intensity of the colour of your drink. If you want it very light pink, boil fewer flowers.

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