Fio Fio (Pigeon peas) – Cajanus cajan | 14 Interesting Medicinal Uses

Pigeon peas popularly known as Fio fio in Nigeria is a leguminous plant grown for its edible seeds. Achicha a food popular among the South-Eastern part of Nigeria is one of the common ways Pigeon pea is used as food.

Fio Fio

However, Pigeon peas has other uses aside from being consumed as food. The use of this plant as a herbal medicine is widely practiced in Africa, China and India. Some of the herbal uses of this plant includes; In Bangladesh, the leaves are used for the treatment of Diabetes.

The Chinese uses the leaf extract of this plant to arrest bleeding, as an analgesic and antihelmintic. While, the the Benin villages of West Africa drinks the decoction of this plant for the treatment of ulcer and to detoxify poisons from snake bite. The filtrate is also used to treat eye infection by people of Pobe.

Ciklavit, an indigenous nutritional supplement produced by Neimeth International Pharmaceuticals, Nigeria for the management of sickle cell anemia is from this wonderful plant.

Meanwhile, there are other outstanding interesting uses of this plant. However, it is important to describe some Pharmacognostic properties of this plant first. Read more to see the advantages of consuming fio fio.


Pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan (L.) Huth) is a drought resistant, erect, woody shrub of about 4cm to 6cm tall. It is grows in tropical and subtropical part of the World because of its ability to to resist draught and arid environments. As a result, Pigeon peas are considered to be of utmost importance for food security in regions where rainfall is unreliable and droughts are prone to occur.

The fruit of Cajanus cajan is a flat, straight, pubescent pod, 5-9 cm long x 12-13 mm wide. In addition, it contains 2-9 seeds that are brown, red, white or black in color, small and sometimes hard-coated.1

Common names

  • Pigeon peas (English)
  • No-eye pea
  • Red gram
  • Fio fio or Mgbumgbu in Igbo
  • Waken-masar or Waken-turawa in Hausa
  • Otili or Otinli in Yoruba.
  • Chícharo in Latin America
  • Toor Dal or Rahar daal in India

Botanical name

Cajanus cajan (L.) Millsp.



Scientific classification

  • Kingdom       Plantae
  • Division        Magnoliophyta
  • Class            Magnoliopsida
  • Order           Fabales
  • Family          Fabaceae
  • Genus          Cajanus
  • Species        Cajanus cajan (L.) Millsp.

Chemical Constituents

Quercetin, Pinostrobin, Apigenin, Luteolin, Cajaninstilbene acid, Isoharmnetin, Cajanol, Cajanin, Cajanuslactone, Stigmasterol, Juliflorine, Cajanone, Phytoalexin, Hordenine, Betulinic acid, Longistylin A and Longistylin C.

Medicinal uses of Fio Fio

The Chemical constituents above and other bioactive compounds from Pigeon peas has proven to have a diverse Pharmacologic and Biological activities. Therefore, It is important to recommend Cajanus cajan as a plant to be evaluated properly as a source of new drugs in the Pharmaceutical Industries just as Neimith Pharmaceuticals have done.

Improves digestion

The tindad and tobago people of South America uses this plant to treat constipation and other Gastro-intestinal ailments.

Thus, this activity of fio fio is attributed to its possession of high fiber content just like other whole grains. This high fiber content of this plant gives it an edge in the improvement of digestion especially during constipation.

Antidote to poison

The Benin people of West Africa uses the root triturate as an antidote for the treatment of poisons and snake bites. However, there is no research to back-up the folklore use of this plant by this people.

Strengthens the heart

The major leading cause of Angina, Hypertension, Ischemia and stroke is the presence of bad Cholesterol in the blood (LDL). This bad Cholesterol adheres to the walls of blood vessels and making it narrower. Consequently, there is reduced blood flow to the heart and other body cells like the brain.

This is the major cause of so many diseases that affects the elderly population like Diabetes, Heart attack, Stroke, Hypertension, Angina e.t.c.

Therefore, the consumption of the plants and its use as a functional food will be an advantage on the Cardiovascular health.

Management of Anemia

The Department of Pediatrics Hematology and Blood Transfusion, College of Medicine of University of Lagos (CMUL) evaluated the extract of Pigeon pea in Sickle Cell Anemia (SCA). It was found that this extract was able to reduce the painful crises of anemia and  adverse effect by 33.3 per cent in 6 months.

This is the rationale behind the use of Ciklavit – a natural supplement for the management of Anemia in West Africa.

Another interesting study has shown that leaves of three plants – Cajanus cajan (pigeon pea), leaves of Zanthoxylum zanthoxyloides (artar root) and leaves of Carica papaya (papaya)  can be used as an alternative in the management of Anemia. They where compared with hydroxyurea and the result shows there is hope for sickle cell with these three plants.

Treatment of Malaria

In so many parts of sub-saharan Africa, the leaf of this plant is an effective agent in the treatment of malaria. The antimalarial effect of this plant is attributed to the presence of a chemical constituent known as Cajachalcone.

In addition, this constituent was able to inhibit the growth of a multi-resistant strain of P. falciparum.  Therefore, a proof that this plant is a good source of an antimalarial drug.

Hepatitis and its management

Hepatitis simply means the inflammation of the liver due to viral infection or the effect of harmful substances on the liver. The extracts of this plant have been proven to be a very good choice in protecting the liver against harmful substances.

The mechanism of action is due to the scavenging of the free Reactive Oxygen Species ( ROS) that causes ageing and death of cells in the body.

Helps in weight loss

Problem with weight gain is indiscriminate eating between meals and lack of conversion of calories to body fuel for metabolism. However, the Pigeon peas has moderate calories with more fibers that can keep you full throughout the day.

Another contributing effect on weight loss is its ability to reduce cholesterol and body fats.

Treatment of Diabetes

Garo Tribe of Bangladesh has been using the leaf of Cajanus cajan (fio fio) for the control of excess sugar. This is supported by the research on the effect of Ethanolic extract of Cajanus cajan on Hyperglycermic rats. Nevertheless, It was found that at concentration between 400mg/kg and 800mg/kg, the extract has a very good sugar control.

Lowers body Cholesterol

Increase in Cholesterol, Triglyceride and Bad Lipoprotein (LDL) has a myriad of negative effects on health. It is the leading cause of Diabetes, Hypertension and other health-related issues.

The prove that Pigeon pea helps to reduce these cholesterol is a big relief  and an improvement in the in the management of these diseases.

As an antimicrobial agent

The stem of this plant is used in West Africa as a chewing stick and mouthwash for oral hygiene. The idea is that the mouth wash helps to clear oral bacteria and fungal infection.

The antimicrobial property of this plant extract was investigated using Six pathogens including Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella typhi, and Klebsiella pneumoniae. The plant was able to prevent the infection by these microorganisms.

Antioxidant properties

Pigeon pea is a rich source of Vitamins C and Vitamins E which are effective antioxidants. Antioxidants acts by scavenging the free radicals in the body. This free radicals causes ageing and death of cells.

Pigeon pea can contribute positively in the world of cosmetics. As an example, it can help the skin, hair and other body cells to recover from damages easily.

Helps to reduce anxiety and depression

Pinstrobin, One of the chemical constituents of this plant has activity in the brain. Pinostrobin works by suppressing the depolarizing effects of the sodium channel by inhibiting the voltage-gated sodium channels of mammalian brain.

The Pharmacological action of the plant is similar to the drugs commonly used as Antidepressants which are used in the treatment of Anxiety disorders and depression.

Pinostrobin also has a neuroprotective effect by suppressing the formation of DNA fragmentation in Pheochromocytoma cells.

Treatment of cancer

Cajanol from the root of Cajanus cajan was effectively in use to induce death of breast cancerous cells. Though, there is further research to check the activities of Cajanol in other research works as a proven anticancer agent.

However, the Korea Research Institute of Bioscience and Biotechnology isolated a fraction of Pigeon pea similar to female hormone and suggests that this fraction can be used in medicinal and functional food fields to treat and prevent gynecological cancers and menopausal symptoms.

Improves growth and development

The Pigeon pea has a high density of protein contents. Meanwhile, protein is the building block of so many cells. This makes Pigeon pea the right food option for growth and development.

In Conclusion, So many tribes have used this plant as a remedy for the treatment of so many diseases in Africa, India and China. This plant when used as food will benefit individuals of all ages. Pigeon peas helps strengthen the heart, reduces cholesterol and sugar level and therefore is beneficial for the elderly. Also, the high protein content will help for growth and development of children while the antioxidant activities from the vitamins present will help nourish the body.

See also the medicinal uses of


  1. Heuzé V., Thiollet H., Tran G., Delagarde R., Bastianelli D., Lebas F., 2017. Pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan) seeds. Feedipedia, a programme by INRA, CIRAD, AFZ and FAO. Last updated on April 26, 2017, 18:22
  2. Akinsulie AO, Temiye EO, Akanmu AS, Lesi FE, Whyte CO., 2005. Clinical evaluation of extract of Cajanus cajan (Ciklavit) in sickle cell anaemia. J Trop Pediatr. 2005 Aug;51(4):200-5 [Pubmed]
  3. Joana F., 2017. Plant Extracts Show Promise for Managing Sickle Cell Disease Symptoms, Study Says. blog post. source; Sickle cell Anemia news.
  4. E. O. Ajaiyeoba, O. O. Ogbole, O. O. Abiodun, J. S. Ashidi, P. J. Houghton, and C. W. Wright, “Cajachalcone: An Antimalarial Compound from Cajanus cajan Leaf Extract,” Journal of Parasitology Research, vol. 2013, Article ID 703781, 5 pages, 2013.

More to our references you may need

5. Manzo, Jose & II, Rodel. (2017). Antihyperglycemic effects of Cajanus cajan L. (pigeon pea) ethanolic extract on the blood glucose levels of ICR mice (Mus musculus L.). National Journal of Physiology, Pharmacy and Pharmacology. 7. 1. 10.5455 [researchgate]

6. Chang HY, Wu JR, Gao WY, et al. The Cholesterol-Modulating Effect of Methanol Extract of Pigeon Pea (Cajanus cajan (L.) Millsp.) Leaves on Regulating LDLR and PCSK9 Expression in HepG2 Cells. Molecules. 2019;24(3):493. Published 2019 Jan 30. doi:10.3390/molecules24030493

7. R. N. Okigbo & O. D. Omodamiro (2007) Antimicrobial Effect of Leaf Extracts of Pigeon Pea (Cajanus cajan (L.) Millsp.) on Some Human Pathogens, Journal of Herbs, Spices & Medicinal Plants, 12:1-2, 117-127, DOI: 10.1300/J044v12n01_11

8. Nicholson, R. A. et al. “Pinostrobin from Cajanus cajan (L.) Millsp. inhibits sodium channel-activated depolarization of mouse brain synaptoneurosomes.” Fitoterapia 81 7 (2010): 826-9 .

9. Xian YF, Ip SP, Lin ZX, Mao QQ, Su ZR, Lai XP., 2012. Protective effects of pinostrobin on β-amyloid-induced neurotoxicity in PC12 cells. 2012 Nov;32(8):1223-30. doi: 10.1007/s10571-012-9847-x. Epub 2012 May 8.

10. Luo M, Liu X, Zu Y, Fu Y, Zhang S, Yao L, Efferth T.,2010. Cajanol, a novel anticancer agent from Pigeonpea [Cajanus cajan (L.) Millsp.] roots, induces apoptosis in human breast cancer cells through a ROS-mediated mitochondrial pathway.  2010 Oct 6;188(1):151-60. doi: 10.1016/j.cbi.2010.07.009. Epub 2010 Jul 16

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