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Results tagged “medicinal plants diversity series”

Dec 8, 2010: Dysphania ambrosioides

Let's conclude the medicinal plant diversity series with a species originating in Mesoamerica. Today's photographs are courtesy of Forest & Kim Starr, the photographers behind many of the images on the Hawaiian Ecosystems at Risk project. These images, plus many more, can be found on the photographs page for Dysphania ambrosioides (here labeled under a synonym, Chenopodium ambrosioides).

As implied above, Dysphania ambrosioides has readily spread (in some places, invasive) from its native southern North America to northern South America range to tropical and warm-temperate regions around the world (modern distribution in northern North America). Common names abound for the species, ranging from American wormseed to paico (Peru) and epazote (Latin America) to erva de Santa Maria (Brazil).

Dysphania ambrosioides has the quality of being both a spice and a traditional medicinal herb. Gernot Katzer's excellent Spice Pages has the details on epazote as a leafy herb, including its common names in 32 languages and its use in Mexican cuisine for foods such as refried beans (added due to its antiflatulent properties).

On the medicinal side--and in addition to its use as an antiflatulent--wormseed or wormwort was long-used globally as an antihelminthic, a drug that helps expel intestinal worms. The most medicinally active compound in Dysphania ambrosioides is ascaridole, present in its oil. In particular, there is a cultivated type of Dysphania ambrosioides known as Chenopodium ambrosioides var.? subsp.? anthelminticum (or sometimes Chenopodium anthelminticum) that is grown for its high concentrations of the chemical in the seed oil (the taxonomy is very uncertain here, not sure if the cultivated type is botanical or horticultural in origin). Use of Dysphania ambrosioides as an antihelminthic, however, declined significantly in the 1930s as less toxic medicines for treatment were developed, retreating from mainstream use in Europe, North America and South America to only being used significantly as a traditional medicine in its native Mesoamerica.

Cornell University's Medicinal Plants for Livestock: Dysphania ambrosioides gives an excellent account of the history of the species in cultivation and discusses the extreme toxicity of the oil (2 teaspoons of the oil can kill or adversely effect an adult sheep). It also warns "The dose that causes adverse effects is very close to the dose that is supposed to be efficacious. Therefore, extreme caution should be used when treating an animal with this plant or the oil made from the plant.". It should also be noted that in high concentrations, it is used as an insecticide.

Few references mention this, but the species has also received a recent examination as a candidate drug for cancer treatment: see Efferth, T. et al. 2002. Activity of ascaridol from the anthelmintic herb Chenopodium anthelminticum L. against sensitive and multidrug-resistant tumor cells. Anticancer Res. 22(6C):4221-4.

Dec 6, 2010: Coptis laciniata

Today's entry continues the medicinal plants diversity series, though I've not been able to find a reference to medicinal use of this particular species. However, other species in the genus are used in treatments (due to the same compounds in the roots), so it isn't a stretch to imagine it has medicinal potential.

I became aware of the medicinal uses of Coptis while researching economic values of members of the buttercup family for my presentation to the Native Plant Society of BC last week. Modern economic uses for this family, beyond ornamentals, are few and far between, but the genus Coptis stands out. As one example, an eastern Himalayan relative of today's species, Coptis teeta, is a prized Ayurvedic herb. Known as Mishmi (from the Mishmi Hills of Arunachal Pradesh), its roots contain berberine and it is used to treat gastrointestinal complaints and malarial infections. Due to a combination of deforestation and overharvesting, however, Coptis teeta has been brought close to extinction. Other members of the genus have also been used medicinally by their respective local indigenous peoples, including Coptis chinensis (China), Coptis japonica (southeast Asia) and Coptis trifolia (North America) (ref: The Cultural History of Plants, ed. Prance and Nesbitt, but also see: WHO Monographs on Selected Medicinal Plants - Volume 1, pp. 105-144).

Discussion on the pros and cons of berberine as a medicinal compound are difficult to find in specific relation to Coptis, but another member of the Ranunculaceae makes a good substitute. The increasingly-threatened goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) has been somewhat well-studied as an antibacterial and anti-inflammatory due to its high concentrations of berberine; you can read about some of the evidence (or lack thereof) via the University of Maryland Medical Center: Hydrastis canadensis, or the Dietary Supplement Database from the University of California, San Diego: Hydrastis canadensis. As an aside, the reasons for the decline of Hydrastis canadensis in its native range of eastern North America are unsustainable harvesting and mountaintop removal mining.

Coptis laciniata is commonly known as Oregon goldthread, and this low-growing perennial is found in wet coniferous forests on the west side of coastal mountain ranges from Washington to California. For additional photographs, see the Burke Museum's entry for Coptis laciniata or CalPhoto's Coptis laciniata image collection.

Dec 3, 2010: Hypericum perforatum

Hypericum perforatum

Claire continues with the medicinal plant diversity series:

Thank you to Marianne (marcella2@Flickr) of Alkmaar, Netherlands for this gorgeous photograph of Hypericum perforatum, or St. John's wort, provided via the BPotD Flickr Pool. Zeer gewaardeerd!

Hypericum perforatum is known as common St. John's wort -- the name "St. John" stems from the traditional harvest time of Hypericum perforatum during the day of St. John on June 24th. The species belongs to a genus that includes a whopping 370 species worldwide. It has spread, via introduction, to temperate and subtropical regions in North America and Asia, with origins in Europe. Sadly, it is an invasive species or noxious weed in many countries, particularly because it is very toxic to livestock and can be lethal.

Contrasting to the effects it can have on animals, Hypericum perforatum's primary medicinal application is treatment for mild to intermediate forms of depression. It has also been used for less serious maladies like scrapes and cuts (early studies show some positive results for having antibacterial properties against gram-negative bacteria). The most medicinally-active chemicals in Hypericum perforatum are hypericin and hyperforin, which have proven to be effective in treating depression . These chemicals may function as inhibitors of monoamine oxidase, a compound associated with the illness. A study published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews suggests common St. John's wort is more effective than a placebo and equivalent to tricyclin antidepressants for short-term treatment. St. John's wort contains many other compounds (including oils, tannins, and flavinoids) that have been suggested as medicinal, though further research is needed.

Hypericum perforatum can be a lovely ornamental in gardens, drank as an herbal tea (though the taste, I was told, is a bit peculiar) and produces colours for dyes: a pleasant purple when the buds and fruits are crushed and yellow when the flowers are used. Needless to say, this is an intriguing and important species that could take some more looking into!

Nov 30, 2010: Leonotis leonurus

Claire continues the medicinal plants series, and writes:

Thank you to Meighan (Meighan@Flickr) of Vancouver, Canada for these photograph of a fascinating shrub, Leonotis leonurus (via the BPotD Flickr Pool). Original images are here and here. Thank you, Meighan!

To some, Leonotis leonurus is best known as wild dagga (a name sometimes used for Cannabis sativa, but note that Leonotis leonurus has no biological or chemical relationship to Cannabis sativa). However, to gardeners, one of its "lion" common names (lion's ear, lion's claw, lion's tail) is more often applied to this lovely perennial shrub with bright orange pubescent flowers.

The species is relatively hardy as well as being tolerant of drought. In South Africa, it is found in grasslands where it grows among rocks. Of the nine recognized species of Leonotis, Leonotis nepetifolia is the only one naturally found outside of Africa (in southern India).

Leonotis leonurus is classified in the mint family, Lamiaceae (formerly Labiatae). The Lamiaceae is chock-full of aromatic, herbal, and medicinal plants such as oregano, lavender, sage, rosemary, marjoram, thyme and teak, to name just a few. The medicinal properties of Leonotus leonurus are well-known to African and east Asian cultures (the species has naturalized through much of the tropical world). The Zulu and Xhosa peoples of southern Africa (along with others) utilize this plant for both human and animal medicine, including treatment of respiratory symptoms, snake bites, and skin ailments. Premarrubiin and marrubiin are two compounds present in the plants that may be linked to healing effects, as similar compounds are used in the treatment of wet coughs and bronchial disease. Leonurine, an alkaloid present in the leaves, shoots and flowers, is a well-known active compound in some communities -- it is documented to have mild sedative and euphoric effects when smoked, hence the name "wild dagga". Indeed, Leonotis leonurus was used by the Khoikhoi people as an inebriant (PDF).

I would think the majority of us prefer to enjoy lion's ear in our gardens, as the flowers attract bees and butterflies in addition to their beautiful orange colouration. Since it has a late flowering season, I'm hoping that Meighan's lion's ear survived the cold front we had last week, so that it can be enjoyed just a little longer.


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