Also known as coast morning glory, purple beach convolvulus, and goat’s-foot morning glory this plant has fascinated me since I was a little girl. Its medicinal properties substantiate the ancient and modern herbalists’ belief that Mother Nature ensures that medicinal herbs grow where mankind will need them.This plant is a prime example of the philosophy because it grows on beaches where it’s available to treat stings from marine creatures. Australian aborigines heated beach convolvulus leaves and placed them against the stings of stonefish and stingrays. Some say that the juice of the leaves also worked well. They also used the heated leaves the same way to treat other conditions such as boils, headaches, sores, swellings, and ant stings. Decoctions made from the leaves were drunk to treat colds and also were used as a wash for scabies. The Australian aborigines weren’t the only people to use the plant for treating these conditions, those from Latin America, India, Africa, Southeast Asia, New Guinea, and Torres Strait also used the plant for similar purposes.
It is interesting to note here that although beach convolvulus is popularly believed to have a powerful constituent that counters stings, two American studies have found that the plant has no medicinal effect. However, a study done in Thailand has discovered a substance in the plant that is mildly antihistaminic and it does counter the poison from jellyfish.
The seeds of beach convolvulus have been spread around vast regions of the Indian and Pacific oceans by ocean currents and wherever the plant is found growing it is known as a strong medicine.
Beach convolvulus is a trailing creeper that grows vigorously on sandy beaches and coastal sand dunes. The leathery heart-shaped leaves have a cleft at the tip and are shaped like a goat’s footprint hence its Latin name pes-caprae, meaning ‘foot of goat’. Pink or lavender trumpet flowers appear in autumn and the seeds are found inside capsules at the end of long stalks.
While the plant is native to Africa and Asia it has spread throughout the India-Pacific region including northern and eastern Australia and is found on beaches as far south as Sydney.
Closely related to sweet potato, beach convolvulus has a similar starchy root that has an irritant taste and fibrous texture so Aborigines only ate it in times of famine. In other areas the leaves have been boiled as a vegetable.The tough, flexible stems have been used to make cord, and the leaves were used to provide shade for fish traps.