Traditional uses, phytochemistry, and pharmacology of the genus Acer (maple): A review

J Ethnopharmacol. 2016 Aug 2:189:31-60. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2016.04.021. Epub 2016 Apr 29.


Ethnopharmacological relevance: The genus Acer (Aceraceae), commonly known as maple, comprises approximately 129 species that primarily grow in the northern hemisphere, especially in the temperate regions of East Asia, eastern North America, and Europe. These plants have been traditionally used to treat a wide range of diseases in East Asia and North America. Moreover, clinical studies have shown that medicinal plants belonging to Acer are highly effective in the treatment of rheumatism, bruises, hepatic disorders, eye disease, and pain, and in detoxification. This review provides a systematic and constructive overview of the traditional uses, chemical constituents, and pharmacological activities of plants of the genus Acer.

Material and methods: This review is based on a literature study of scientific journals and books from libraries and electronic sources such as SciFinder, ScienceDirect, Springer, PubMed, CNKI, Google Scholar, Baidu Scholar, and Web of Science. The literature in this review related to chemical constituents and pharmacological activities dates from 1922 to the end of October 2015. Furthermore, ethnopharmacological information on this genus was obtained from libraries and herbaria in China and USA.

Results: In traditional medicine, 40 species, 11 subspecies, and one varieta of the genus Acer are known to exhibit a broad spectrum of biological activities. To date, 331 compounds have been identified from 34 species of the genus Acer, including flavonoids, tannins, phenylpropanoids, diarylheptanoids, terpenoids, benzoic acid derivatives, and several other types of compounds, such as phenylethanoid glycosides and alkaloids. Preliminary pharmacological studies have shown that the extracts and compounds isolated from this genus exhibit a broad spectrum of biological activities such as antioxidant, antitumor, anti-inflammatory, antidiabetic, hepatoprotective, and antiobesity activities, as well as promoting osteoblast differentiation. To date, reports on the toxicity of Acer species to humans are very limited, and the major safety concern of these plants is in the veterinary field.

Conclusions: Based on our systematic review, Acer species can be used to treat rheumatism, hepatic disorders, eye disease, pain, etc. effectively. Some indications from ethnomedicine have been validated by pharmacological activities, such as the anti-inflammatory and hepatoprotective activities of the species. The available literature showed that most of the activities of these species can be attributed to flavonoids and tannins. To ensure the safety and efficacy in clinical practice in the future, studies identifying active molecules and clarifying their pharmacological mechanisms as well as toxicity are needed.

Keywords: Acer; Aceraceae; Maple; Pharmacology; Phytochemistry; Traditional uses.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Acer / chemistry*
  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal / adverse effects
  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal / chemistry
  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal / isolation & purification
  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal / therapeutic use*
  • Ethnobotany
  • Ethnopharmacology
  • Humans
  • Medicine, Chinese Traditional
  • Phytochemicals / adverse effects
  • Phytochemicals / chemistry
  • Phytochemicals / isolation & purification
  • Phytochemicals / therapeutic use*
  • Phytotherapy
  • Plant Extracts / adverse effects
  • Plant Extracts / chemistry
  • Plant Extracts / isolation & purification
  • Plant Extracts / therapeutic use*
  • Plants, Medicinal
  • Risk Assessment
  • Toxicity Tests


  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal
  • Phytochemicals
  • Plant Extracts