Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Plants Used in Herbalism

Plants have the ability to synthesize a wide variety of chemical compounds that are used to perform important biological functions, and to defend against attack from predators such as insects, fungi and herbivorous mammals. Many of these phytochemicals have beneficial effects on long-term health when consumed by humans, and can be used to effectively treat human diseases. At least 12,000 such compounds have been isolated so far; a number estimated to be less than 10% of the total.[1][2] These phytochemicals are divided into (1) primary metabolites such as sugars and fats, which are found in all plants; and (2) secondary metabolites – compounds which are found in a smaller range of plants, serving a more specific function.[3] For example, some secondary metabolites are toxins used to deter predation and others are pheromones used to attract insects for pollination. It is these secondary metabolites and pigments that can have therapeutic actions in humans and which can be refined to produce drugs—examples are inulin from the roots of dahlias, quinine from the cinchona, morphine and codeine from the poppy, and digoxin from the foxglove.[3] Chemical compounds in plants mediate their effects on the human body through processes identical to those already well understood for the chemical compounds in conventional drugs; thus herbal medicines do not differ greatly from conventional drugs in terms of how they work. This enables herbal medicines to be as effective as conventional medicines, but also gives them the same potential to cause harmful side effects.[1][2]

Most cultures have a tradition of using plants medicinally. In Europe, apothecaries stocked herbal ingredients for their medicines. In the Latin names for plants created by Linnaeus, the word officinalis indicates that a plant was used in this way. For example, the marsh mallow has the classification Althaea officinalis, as it was traditionally used as an emollient to soothe ulcers.[4] Ayurvedic medicine, herbal medicine and traditional Chinese medicine are other examples of medical practices that incorporate medical uses of plants. Pharmacognosy is the branch of modern medicine about medicines from plant sources. Plants included here are those that have been or are being used medicinally, in at least one such medicinal tradition.

Modern medicine now tends to use the active ingredients of plants rather than the whole plants. The phytochemicals may be synthesized, compounded or otherwise transformed to make pharmaceuticals. Examples of such derivatives include Digoxin, from digitalis; capsaicine, from chili; and aspirin, which is chemically related to the salicylic acid found in white willow. The opium poppy continues to be a major industrial source of opiates, including morphine. Few traditional remedies, however, have translated into modern drugs, although there is continuing research into the efficacy and possible adaptation of traditional herbal treatments.


Açai (Euterpe oleracea) Although açai berries are a longstanding food source for indigenous people of the Amazon, there is no evidence that they have historically served a medicinal, as opposed to nutritional role. In spite of their recent popularity in the United States as a dietary supplement, there is currently no evidence for their effectiveness for any health-related purpose.[5]
Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) leaves are used to lower cholesterol, as well as for kidney and urinary tract ailments.[6]
Aloe vera leaves are widely used to heal burns, wounds and other skin ailments.[7][8]
Arnica (Arnica montana) is used as an anti-inflammatory[9] and for osteoarthritis.[10]
Ashoka (Saraca indica) is used in Ayurvedic traditions to treat gynecological disorders. The bark is also used to combat oedema or swelling.[11]
Asthma weed (Euphorbia hirta) has been used traditionally in Asia to treat bronchitic asthma and laryngeal spasm.[12][13] It is used in the Philippines for dengue fever.[14][15]
Astragalus (Astragalus propinquus) has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine to strengthen the immune system, and is used in modern China to treat hepatitis and as an adjunctive therapy in cancer.[16]


Barberry (Berberis vulgaris) has a long history of medicinal use, dating back to the Middle Ages particularly among Native Americans. Uses have included skin ailments, scurvy and gastro-intestinal ailments.[17]
Belladonna (Atropa belladonna), although highly toxic, was used historically in Italy by women to enlarge their pupils, as well as a sedative, among other uses. The name itself means "beautiful woman" in Italian.[18]
Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) used to treat diarrhea, scurvy, and other conditions.[19]
Bitter gourd (Momordica charantia) is used as an agent to reduce the blood glucose level.[20]
Bitter leaf (Vernonia amygdalina) is used by both primates and indigenous peoples in Africa to treat intestinal ailments such as dysentery[21][22]
Bitter orange (Citrus × aurantium) used in traditional Chinese medicine and by indigenous peoples of the Amazon for nausea, indigestion and constipation.[23]
Black cohosh (Actaea racemosa) historically used for arthritis and muscle pain, used more recently for conditions related to menopause and menstruation.[24]
Blessed thistle (Cnicus benedictus) was used during the Middle Ages to treat bubonic plague. In modern times, tisanes made from blessed thistle are used for loss of appetite, indigestion and other purposes.[25]
Blueberry (genus Vaccinium) are of current medical interest as an antioxidant[26][27] and for urinary tract ailments[28]
Burdock (Arctium lappa) has been used traditionally as a diuretic and to lower blood sugar[29] and, in traditional Chinese medicine as a treatment for sore throat and symptoms of the common cold.[30]


Cat's claw (Uncaria tomentosa) has a long history of use in South America to prevent and treat disease.[31]
Cayenne (Capsicum annuum) is a type of chili that has been used as both food and medicine for thousands of years. Uses have included pain relief and treating fever, cold, diarrhea, among other conditions.[32][33]
Celery (Apium graveolens) seed is used only occasionally in tradition medicine. Modern usage is primarily as a diuretic.[35]
Chamomille (Matricaria recutita and Anthemis nobilis) used over thousands of years for a variety of conditions, including sleeplessness, anxiety, and gastrointestinal conditions such as upset stomach, gas, and diarrhea.[36]
Chaparral (Larrea tridentata) leaves and twigs are used by Native Americans to make a tisane (tea) used for a variety of conditions, including arthritis, cancer and a number of others. Subsequent studies have been extremely variable, at best. Chaparral has also been shown to have high liver toxicity, and has led to kidney failure, and is not recommended for any use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or American Cancer Society.[37][38]
Chasteberry (Vitex agnus-castus) used over thousands of years for menstrual problems, and to stimulate lactation.[39]
Chili (Capsicum frutescens)'s active ingredient, capsaicine, is the basic of commercial pain-relief ointments in Western medicine. The low incidence of heart attack in Thais has been shown to be related to capsaicine's fibronolytic action (dissolving blood clots).[40]
Cinchona is a genus of about 38 species of trees whose bark is a source of alkaloids, including quinine. Its use as a febrifuge was first popularized in the 17th century by Peruvian Jesuits.[41]
Clove (Syzygium aromaticum) is used for upset stomach and as an expectorant, among other purposes. The oil is used topically to treat toothache.[42]
Coffee senna (Cassia occidentalis) is used in a wide variety of roles in traditional medicine, including in particular as a broad-spectrum internal and external antimicrobial, for liver disorders, for intestinal worms and other parasites and as an immune-system stimulant.[43][44]
Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) has been used as a vulnerary and to reduce inflammation.[45] It was also used internally in the past, for stomach and other ailments, but its toxicity has led a number of other countries, including Canada, Brazil, Australia, and the United Kingdom, to severely restrict or ban the use of comfrey.[46]
Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) used historically as a vulnerary and for urinary disorders, diarrhea, diabetes, stomach ailments, and liver problems. Modern usage has concentrated on urinary tract related problems.[47]


Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) was most commonly used historically to treat liver diseases, kidney diseases, and spleen problems[48]
Digitalis* (Digitalis purpurea L.), or foxglove, came into use in treating cardiac disease in late 18th century England in spite of its high toxicity.a Its use has been almost entirely replaced by the pharmaceutical derivative Digoxin, which has a shorter half-life in the body, and whose toxicity is therefore more easily managed.[49] Digoxin is used as an antiarrhythmic agent and inotrope[50]
Dong quai (Angelica sinensis) has been used for thousands of years in Asia, primarily in women's health.[51]

*Digitalis use in the United States is controlled by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and can only be prescribed by a physician. Misuse of this highly potent herb can cause death.


Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) berries and leaves have traditionally been used to treat pain, swelling, infections, coughs, and skin conditions and, more recently, flu, common cold, fevers, constipation, and sinus infections.[52]
Ephedra (Ephedra sinica) has been used for more than 5,000 years in traditional Chinese medicine for respiratory ailments.[53] Products containing ephedra for weight loss, energy and athletic performance, particularly those also containing caffeine, have been linked to stroke, heart arrhythmia, and even death. Such products have been banned in the United States since December, 2003. Other dietary supplements containing ephedra were similarly banned in February, 2004.[54]
Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus) leaves were widely used in traditional medicine as a febrifuge.[55] Eucalyptus oil is commonly used in over-the-counter cough and cold medications, as well as for an analgesic.[56]
European mistletoe (Viscum album) has been used to treat seizures, headaches, and other conditions.[57]
Evening primrose (Oenothera spp.) oil has been used since the 1930s for eczema, and more recently as an anti-inflammatory[58]


Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) has long been used to treat symptoms of menopause, and digestive ailments. More recently, it has been used to treat diabetes, loss of appetite and other conditions[59]
Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) has been used for centuries for fevers, headaches, stomach aches, toothaches, insect bites and other conditions.[60]
Flaxseed (Linum usitatissimum) is most commonly used as a laxative. Flaxseed oil is used for different conditions, including arthritis[61]


Garlic (Allium sativum) widely used as an antibiotic[62][63][64][65] and, more recently, for treating cardiovascular disease[66][67]
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is used to relieve nausea[68]
Gingko (Gingko biloba) leaf extract has been used to treat asthma, bronchitis, fatigue, and tinnitus[69]
Ginseng (Panax ginseng and Panax quinquefolius) has been used medicinally, in particular in Asia, for over 2,000 years, and is widely used in modern society.[70]
Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) was used traditionally by Native Americans to treat skin diseases, ulcers, and gonorrhea. More recently, the herb has been used respiratory tract and a number of other infections[71]
Grape (Vitis vinifera) leaves and fruit have been used medicinally since the ancient Greeks.[72]
Guava (Psidium guajava) has a rich history of use in traditional medicine. Scientific study of guava's medicinal usage has focused on gastro-intestinal ailments. Guava has been shown to be an effective treatment for acute infectious diarrhea.[73][74]


Hawthorn (specifically Crataegus monogyna and Crataegus laevigata) fruit has been used since the first century for heart disease. Other uses include digestive and kidney problems.[75]
Hoodia (Hoodia gordonii) is traditionally used by Kalahari Bushmen to reduce hunger and thirst. It is currently marketed as an appetite suppressant.[76]
Horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) seeds, leaves, bark, and flowers have been used medicinally for many centuries. The raw plant materials are toxic unless processed.[77]
Horsetail (Equisetum arvense) dates back to ancient Roman and Greek medicine, when it was used to stop bleeding, heal ulcers and wounds, and treat tuberculosis and kidney problems.[78]


Jamaica dogwood (Piscidia erythrina or Piscidia piscipula) is used in traditional medicine to treat pain, insomnia and anxiety.[79] Scientific studies have underscored the plant's medicinal potential.[80]


Kava (Piper methysticum) has been used for centuries in the South Pacific to make a ceremonial drink with sedative and anesthetic properties. It is used as a soporific, as well as for asthma and urinary tract infection[81]
Khat (Catha edulis) mild stimulant used for thousands of years in Yemen. Contains Cathinone.
Konjac (Amorphophallus konjac) is a significant dietary source of glucomannan,[82][83] which is used in treating obesity,[84] constipation,[85] and reducing cholesterol.[86]
Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) Kratom is known to prevent or delay withdrawal symptoms in an opiate dependent individual, and it is often used to mitigate cravings thereafter. It can also be used for other medicinal purposes. Kratom has been traditionally used in regions such as Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia.
Kanna (Sceletium tortuosum) African treatment for depression. Suggested to be an SSRI or have similar effects, but unknown MOA.


Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) was traditionally used as an antiseptic and for mental health purposes. It was also used ancient Egypt in mummifying bodies. There is little scientific evidence that lavender is effective for most mental health uses.[87]
Lemon (Citrus limon), along with other citruses, has a long history of use in Chinese and Indian traditional medicine.[88] In contemporary use, honey and lemon is common for treating coughs and sore throat.
Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) has a long history of medicinal usage in Eastern and Western medicine. Uses include stomach ulcers, bronchitis, and sore throat, as well as infections caused by viruses, such as hepatitis.[89]


Marigold (Calendula officinalis), or calendula, has a long history of use in treating wounds and soothing skin[90]
Marsh mallow (Althaea officinalis) has been used for over 2,000 years as both a food and a medicine[4]
Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) has been used for thousands of years for a variety of medicinal purposes, in particular liver problems.[91]


Neem (Azadirachta indica), used in India to treat worms, malaria, rheumatism and skin infections among many other things. Its many uses have led to neem being called "the village dispensary" in India.[92]
Noni (Morinda citrifolia) has a history of use as for joint pain and skin conditions.[93]


Opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) is the plant source of morphine, used for pain relief. Morphine made from the refined and modified sap is used for pain control in terminal patients. Dried sap was used as a traditional medicine until the 19th century.
Oregano (Origanum vulgare), used as an abortifacient in folk medicine in some parts of Bolivia and other north western South American countries, though no evidence of efficacy exists in Western medicine. Hippocrates used oregano as an antiseptic, as well as a cure for stomach and respiratory ailments. A Cretan oregano (O. dictamnus) is still used today in Greece as a palliative for sore throat. Evidence of efficacy in this matter is also lacking evidence.


Papaya (Carica papaya) is used for treating wounds.[94]
Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) oil, from a cross between water mint and spearmint, has a history of medicinal use for a variety of conditions, including nausea, indigestion, and symptoms of the common cold.[95]
Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and other species of Echinacea has been used for at least 400 years by Native Americans to treat infections and wounds, and as a general "cure-all" (panacea). It is currently used for symptoms associated with cold and flu[96][97]
Passion flower (Passiflora) - Thought to have anti-depressant properties. Unknown MOA. Used in traditional medicine to aid with sleep or depression.


Red clover (Trifolium pratense) has been used historically to treat cancer and respiratory problems. More recently, it has been used for women's health issues.[98]
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) has been used medicinally from ancient times. Rosemary essential oil was shown to improve cognitive performance and mood in a recent study.[99][100]


Sage (Salvia officinalis), shown to improve cognitive function in patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease[101][102]
Syrian rue (aka Harmal) (Peganum harmala) - MAOI. Can be used as an anti-depressant, but carries significant risk. Used in traditional shamanistic rites in the amazon, and is a component of Ayahuasca, Caapi or Yajé (which is actually usually Banisteriopsis caapi but has the same active alkaloids.
St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum), evaluated for use as an antidepressant, but with ambiguous results.[103][104][105]
Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) was used medicinally by the Seminole tribe[106]


Tea tree [essential oil] (Melaleuca alternifolia) has been used medicinally for centuries by Australian aboriginal people. Modern usage is primarily as an antibacterial or antifungal agent.[107]
Thunder God Vine (Tripterygium wilfordii) is used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat inflammation or an overactive immune system[108]
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is used to treat bronchitis and cough. It serves as an antispasmotic and expectorant in this role. It has also been used in many other medicinal roles in Asian and Ayurvedic medicine, although it has not been shown to be effective in non-respiratory medicinal roles.[109]
Tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum), or Holy basil is used for a variety of purposes in Aryuvedic medicine.[110]
Turmeric (Curcuma longa), a spice that lends its distinctive yellow color to Indian curries, has long been used in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine to aid digestion and liver function, relieve arthritis pain, and regulate menstruation.[111]


Umckaloabo, or South African Geranium (Pelargonium sidoides), used in treating acute bronchitis[112]


Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) has been used since at least ancient Greece and Rome for sleep disorders and anxiety.[113]


White willow (Salix alba) is a plant source of salicylic acid, a chemical related to aspirin, although more likely to cause stomach upset as a side effect than asprin itself. Used from ancient times for the same uses as aspirin.[114]


Yerba santa (Eriodictyon crassifolium) was used by the Chumash people to keep airways open for proper breathing.[115]

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