New Zealand Medicinal Plants

Despite the small area of New Zealand, comparable with that of California, it constitutes a distinctive botanic region. Of the approximate number of two thousand species of higher plants found, 75% are endemic to the country. Many unusual plants occur and the chemical investigations conducted to date have confirmed the unique nature of the flora. In view of these facts it is surprising that only a few native plants have been commercially exploited. Several of the trees, notably Agathis australis, Dacrydium cupressinum, Podocarpus totara, P. dacrydioides, and Vitex lucens yield useful timber, but the stands of these have largely been worked out. New Zealand flax, Phormium tenax, is cultivated for its fibre which is made into ropes and matting. Kauri gum (really a fossil product) up to a value of £21 million has been exported but it is a declining article of commerce. It has been shown that useful dyestuffs can be produced from a number of plants, particularly in the genus Coprosma, but no commercial exploitation has resulted. Pharmacology is probably the most promising field for extending the use of New Zealand native plants and it should therefore be of value to have a check list of those plants reported to have Read more […]


A common inflammatory pilosebaceous disease characterized by comedones, papules, pustules, inflamed nodules, superficial pus-filled cysts, and, in extreme cases, canalizing and deep, inflamed, sometimes purulent, sacs. (The Merck Manual) Acne is a common, potentially disfiguring skin disease. Unfortunately, it often affects those in an emotionally vulnerable stage of life — adolescents. Acne involves the sebaceous glands in the skin, which secrete lubrication (sebum) for the hair follicles (pilosebaceous follicles) and surrounding skin. These are located in greatest concentrations on the face, back, shoulders, and chest. Acne is most common in adolescents, with a peak in the late teens. Acne may, however, appear for the first time in the mid-20s or later and can persist into the 40s or 50s. Acne lesions are commonly of three types: Blackheads are glands plugged with excessive material that discolors on exposure to air. Whiteheads are small collections of pus within glands. Nodules or, papules are the red and inflamed areas of more extensive infection. A complex of causes underlies acne. Unfortunately, determining underlying causes is rarely as simple as blaming fats, chocolate, and sugar. Important predisposing Read more […]


A chronic and recurrent disease characterized by dry, well-circumscribed, silvery, scaling papules and plaques of various sizes. (The Merck Manual) This is a common skin disease of unknown cause that affects up to 3 % of the American population. Onset usually occurs before age 20, but all age groups may be affected. The severity of this condition can vary from the presence of one or two cosmetically annoying lesions to a physically disabling and disfiguring affliction of the entire body surface. The condition is not contagious in any way, and general health usually is not affected. However, it is no exaggeration to say that in extreme cases, psoriasis be ruinous to the individual’s physical, emotional, and economic well-being. In addition, some cases are associated with a severe form of arthritis, called psoriatic arthritis, that affects general health in much the same way as rheumatoid arthritis does. Psoriasis usually develops slowly, following a typical course of remission and recurrence. The characteristic psoriatic plaques, or lesions, are sharply demarcated, red and raised, covered with silvery scales, and bleed easily. These plaques do not usually itch, and will heal without leaving scar tissue or affecting Read more […]

Eczema and dermatitis

Superficial inflammation of the skin, characterized by vesicles (when acute), redness, edema, oozing, crusting, scaling, and usually itching. (The Merck Manual) The terms eczema and dermatitis are the cause of much confusion. In keeping with the broad guidelines given in The Merck Manual, we shall use these terms synonymously to indicate superficial inflammation of the skin. The dermatologist subdivides dermatitis and eczema into a range of different disease entities distinguished by location and appearance. For the phytotherapist, however, the most important distinction is between cases with an internal or endogenous cause and those with a contact or exogenous cause. In cases of dermatitis or eczema of exogenous cause, it is often possible to solve the problem simply by removing or avoiding the surface irritant, if it can be identified! Such problems, often called contact dermatitis, are commonly caused by: • Industrial solvents • Dyes • Nickel and other metals • Leather-tanning chemicals • Some soaps In such cases, eczema is the final result of a complex series of internal reactions to allergens and irritants. It is often associated with other allergic diseases, such as hay fever and asthma, Read more […]

Herbs for the treatment of skin problems

Internal treatment of skin problems will often be relevant, but it may be appropriate to also apply herb externally for local effects. Alteratives As with the musculoskeletal system, the skin is often the focus for manifestations of systemic illness. For the phytotherapist, it should come as no surprise that alterative herbs are again the cornerstone of any fundamental healing transformation. The therapist is continually faced with the challenge of selecting appropriate alteratives for given individuals. Because of its focus on secondary actions and system affinities, our herb selection model often helps, but sometimes it is not the answer. I have found the following generalization to be helpful. Bear in mind that as with all generalizations, there are many exceptions. However, it is possible to broadly group alterative herbs according to their botany and their impact on elimination. Table Alteratives Grouped by Plant Part and Route of Elimination PLANT PART USED PRIMARY ELIMINATION PATHWAY/ACTION HERBAL EXAMPLES Leaf Kidney/diuretic Galium aparine, Trifolium pratense, Urtica dioica Root, rhizome, wood Liver/hepatic Arctium lappa, Mahonia aquifolium, Rumex crispus Herbs for Read more […]

Heartsease: Modern Applications

Grieve offers many more names for this plant, among them: love lies bleeding, love idol, Jack-jump-up-and-kiss-me, Kit run in the fields, stepmother, pink-eyed John, bouncing Bet. Discussing the names, she tells how the plant was prized for its potency as a love charm ‘in ancient days’, hence perhaps its name heartsease. Along with the uses familiar from the Renaissance authors, Grieve records the flowers were formerly considered cordial and good in diseases of the heart, attributing to this use a further possible origin of the name heartsease. Grieve offers no source for use of the plant as cordial. There is no obvious mention of this in our authors up to this point. Perhaps it stems more from a folk tradition, or perhaps even from a misinterpretation somewhere of the word angina. Leyel (1949) accords the herb cordial properties. She cites the past uses as in our authors, adds ‘a good herb in disorders of the blood’, and mentions its use in ‘moist cutaneous eruptions in children’, particularly crusta lactea and tinea capitis. Then she continues ‘it has derived the name heartsease partly from its early use as a heart tonic and it can be taken quite safely to relieve palpitation of the heart and to soothe a tired and Read more […]

Sweet Violet (Viola Odorata)

Family: Violaceae Part used: aerial parts There are over 90 Viola species in Europe. The Flora of Turkey gives 20 Viola species, including Viola odorata and Viola tricolor. Viola odorata L. is a low-growing perennial with a stout rootstock found in hedgerows, rough land and margins of woodlands. It is native to Europe south of the Alps and west into France, but has naturalized in more northern areas because of widespread cultivation. The stalked leaves arise in a rosette from the sturdy rootstock and are heart-shaped and hairy with an oval stipule. The fragrant, five-petalled dark violet or white flowers occur in spring and it may flower again in early autumn. The leafless flower stalks curve sharply so that the flower hangs down. The lowest petal has a prominent nectar-filled spur and the five sepals have basal appendages. The small seeds form in a three-valved capsule and it also spreads by long creeping stolons. Other species used Parma violets are cultivated for cut flowers and for their fragrance. The leaves are shiny green and the flowers are double. A study of six specimens cultivated in France and 31 wild Viola species found that Parma violets are cultivars of Viola alba. Parma violets are tender and Read more […]

Betony For Digestion

Otherwise Dalechamps and Bauhin are consistent with each other in citing Musa. Concerning the organs of digestion, 4 drachms (16 g) of the leaves eaten daily for 3 days or taken in 4 cyathi (180 mL) of cooled water soothe pains of the stomach, and of the liver and intestines if taken in hot water, while in wine they heal defects of the spleen and allay inflammation of the colon. If the pain in the intestines is due not to ‘crude juices’ but to constipation, this dose taken in double the quantity of water, this time honeyed, will comfortably move the bowels. A lesser amount of herb, 3 drachms or 12 g, in goat’s milk drunk for 3 days allays the vomiting of blood. Betony taken frequently in wine treats jaundice, and generally prevents drunkenness, removes a loathing for food and corrects dyspepsia. Musa’s recommendations place much weight on the volumes of liquid in which the herb is taken and whether it is hot or cold. Dioscorides insists that the dried, powdered herb, kept in a clay pot, is the correct preparation of the herb, suggesting that the powder is simply stirred into the liquids which Musa proposes. Furthermore, Dalechamps and Bauhin emphasize how different the powers of the leaves and flowers are from those Read more […]

Betony: Other Applications

Wood alone among the modern authors also mentions a lower respiratory condition treatable with betony, namely bronchitis. The respiratory tract is in fact another body system for which betony is recorded as having uses. Dale-champs and Bauhin state Musa’s recommendation of the herb in warm water as beneficial to those sighing and breathing with difficulty; while the leaves in honey help consumptives, especially those who cough up purulent matter. Betony in an eclegma, or thick syrup made from honey, sometimes conveyed to the mouth on a root of liquorice which is licked clean, and taken for 9 days eases a cough. Dioscorides also mentions betony with honey for tuberculosis and for internal abscesses, while 3 obols (1.7 g) of the powdered herb in 1 cyathos (45 mL) of tepid and diluted wine helps those that spit blood (haemoptysis). Galen states that betony cleanses the lungs and Serapio repeats this, adding a strengthening action. None of these points is listed in the Old English Herbarium. The Salernitan herbal repeats Musa and Dioscorides, but with different dosages or length of administration of the remedy. Macer mentions cough only. These indications are once again passed down in full or in part through Read more […]

Arctium lappa

Family: Asteraceae Part used: root, seed, leaf Arctium lappa L. is a robust biennial, found throughout Europe on roadsides, verges and scrub land. The Flora of Turkey gives three Arctium species, not including Arctium lappa but including Arctium minus. Stout, downy, striated, branched stems (to 1 m) bear alternate, entire leaves which are large (to 50 cm long) and wide with a heart-shaped base and white down underneath. The petioles (leaf-stalks) are solid. The spherical, purple flowerheads are stalked and surrounded by dense clusters of scale-like hooked bracts. The egg-shaped seeds are achenes and surrounded by a pappus of yellowish free hairs and characteristic stiff hooked scales derived from the bracts. The ribbed seeds are dispersed by animals as the scales stick firmly to fur. Lesser burdock Arctium minus Bernh. is very similar but smaller (to 50 cm). Basal leaves are smaller and narrower with hollow leaf stalks. The purple flowerheads occur in clusters and project beyond the surrounding spiny bracts. The seed is not ribbed. Arctium minus has three subspecies and a fertile cross with Arctium lappa and there are many variants. The photographed specimen may be a cross as it as over 1 m tall but had hollow Read more […]