Medicinal Plants

History


In every plant
There lives a spirit, more or less akin
Unto the spirit of humanity.
Some heal disease dire, others wake
Strange whimsies in the busy brains of man.
                            Ludwig Tieck -1773- 1853

Plants have been used for thousands of years to heal us. Some medicinal plants are grown


only for the medicine they contain. Other plants are foods but have a different part that is used for medicines.

Why Study Medicinal Plants?

Medicinal Plants

The study of medicinal plants offer a unique insight into the history of medicine and traditional ways of knowing. How did traditional societies discover these plants? How did they learn to ext

ract and process the active ingredients? Can we use a modern scientific method to measure the effectiveness of the natural compounds for neuroactivity, antibacterial activity, and other health benefits? Why would plants have evolved neuroactive chemicals when plants have no nervous system? These are some of the questions that can be explored by studying medicinal plants.

Examples

Aloe vera
The leaf of aloe contains a thick jelly that soothes burns.

Peppermint tea helps with indigestion, and relieves spasms of the gut. Peppermint and other aromatic oils is sometimes used in Aromatherapy

Rosemary  is a stimulant of the circulatory system and a nasal decongestant.

Banana is an important food the plant has several medicinal properties.

Basil reduces  stomach acid and cramps.

Garlic is anti-microbial and promotes respiratory health.

Kava is used for anti-anxiety

Mustard is sometimes applied as a plaster to the chest to help with bronchitis

Carnation flower
Carnation flowers brewed as tea have been used to treat depression, fatigue, stress, and even nausea.

Mangosteen is a tropical fruit which also has been used for medicinal qualities such as a skin treatment, anti-diarrheral, antibacterial, and immune system booster.



Today many drugs originally derived from plants are now synthesized. For example acetylsalicylic acid for aspirin is made in a lab rather than extracted from willow bark.

However there are still medicines that come from plants, see this list.

Safety

Careful! Some plants are deadly. You should never eat a plant, fruit or seed without knowing it is safe. Some plants can't be identified by seeing just the leaf, seed or flower.

For example can you tell the difference between these two plants?


Poison Hemlock

Wild Carrot









The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Mecidine (NCCAM)  is studying the benefits of herbal medicines as well as the dangers. For example one ingredient found in some Chinese medicines Aristolochia is a potent carcinogen and damages the kidneys.


Read the Scientist Article on Alternative Medicines


Links


Wikipedia on herbal medicines

Slideshow

Herbal Safety Factsheets

Herbs at a glance- NIH- NCCAM

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