Fritillaria spp. (Fritillary)

Fritillaria belongs to the family Liliaceae and its bulb is a traditional Chinese medicine (“Beimu” in Chinese). The bulb of the fritillary is divided into two groups according to its medical use: the fritillary bulb of zhebei and the fritillary bulb of chuanbei. The former is the underground bulb of Fritillaria thunbergii Miq. and the latter the underground bulb of F. sungbei Hsiao et K.C. Hsia, mss, F. cirrhosa D. Don, F. cirrhosa D. Don var. paohsinensis S.C. Chen, F. delavayi Franch., F. pallidiflora Schrenk., F. sichuanica S.C. Chen, and F. ussuriensis Maxim. Geographic Distribution F. thunbergii Miq. is a glabrous perennial plant. Its semi-globate bulb is white, 2-6 cm in diameter, and contains two or three thick bulb scales which are fused at one end. It is an erect, cylindrical, single stem with no branches, 30-70 cm high and green or light purple. The leaf is monophyllous and sessile. The leaves are opposite in the lower part of the stem, whorled with three to five leaves in the middle part of the stem, and alternate at the top of the stem. The leaves at the top of stem are shorter than those in the middle, and are lanceolate. The leaves above the middle of the stem and the apex of the leaf-like bract appear Read more […]

Saponaria officinalis L.

Saponaria officinalis L.: In Vitro Culture and the Production of Triterpenoidal Saponins There are very few studies on the production of triterpenoids and their saponins by in vitro plant culture. These products now enjoy growing interest since their chemical extraction and purification have become easier and their structural identity has been made possible by methods like RMN-13C or Fab-MS. Among the plants producing triterpenoidal saponins, some contain great amounts of very polar saponins, essentially in the rhizome and the roots (Saponaria officinalis L., Gypsophila sp., Caryophyllaceae) or in the bark (Quillaja saponaria Mol., Quillaja smegmadermos D.C., Rosaceae). These saponins are among the biggest with nine to ten oses bound to a pentacyclic triterpenoid acid. Their amphiphilic structure confers to them some well-known properties such as detergent, emulsive, hemolytic and toxic substances. Some of them are still largely used as shampoo (Quillaja saponins) or to make photographic emulsion (saponins of S. officinalis, fuller’s herb or of Gypsophila sp., soapwort). First results showed us the presence of these compounds in plant cell culture in vitro, so we have tried to investigate their production and metabolism Read more […]

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 […]

America North of the Rio Grande

American mayapple and Podophyllotoxin Podophyllum peltatum / Berberidaceae American mandrake or American mayapple is a poisonous weed which was commonly used in many regions of North America for many centuries. Its main use (e.g., by the Cherokee, Delaware, Iroquois) was as a laxative and the resin had been included in the American pharmacopoeia of 1820 for this purpose. Another use for the resin is the treatment of warts. It is one of the main sources of podophyllotoxin, a lignan which has resulted in semisynthetic derivatives essential in the chemotherapy, for example, of leukemia, especially teniposide, which was introduced into clinical use in 1967. It is well known that this substance revolutionized the chemotherapy of leukemia and has saved untold numbers of young lives. Californian yew, Pacific yew Taxus brevifolia / Taxaceae Taxus brevifolia or Californian yew has been used by a variety of West-American Indian groups in the United States and Canada as a medicine, and also for producing a variety of other useful products (canoes, brooms, combs). Very diverse pharmaceutical uses of the root and the bark are recorded and include several reports of the treatment of stomachache and, in the case of the Tsimshian Read more […]

White Deadnettle: Later Confusion

Grieve is no less confusing. There is an entry for white deadnettle with no medicinal uses appended, followed by purple deadnettle with medicinal actions and uses ― decoction of herb and flowers for haemorrhage, leaves to staunch wounds, dried herb as tea with honey to promote perspiration and act on kidneys, useful in cases of chill. Then, under a subheading ‘other species’, henbit, spotted deadnettle and hempnettle are described. This is followed by a quote from Gerard on white archangel after which the next heading, ‘parts used medicinally’, begins ‘the whole herb collected…’, but which herb is meant here is far from clear. Then a further ‘medicinal actions and uses’ confuses the picture even more. Whichever plant (or plants) is meant, it is astringent in nature, Grieve tells us, and used for stopping haemorrhage, spitting of blood and dysentery. The decoction of the flowers is a blood purifier for rashes, eczema etc., but no source is cited. Reputations from the tradition then follow – healing green wounds, bruises and burns. Culpeper and others follow, on lifting spirits, against quartan agues, and bleeding of nose and mouth applied to nape of neck. She rehearses use in the past for hardness of spleen, the 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 […]

Vervain: European Medicinal Uses

Now that we have returned to medicinal virtues of vervain, let us look at the medieval sources. The Old English Herbarium lists one internal use of the powdered herb peristerion, taken in drink to disperse poison, and 11 indications for vermenaca. These include liver pain, headache, wounds of various kinds including the bites of snakes, spiders and mad dogs, ‘for those who have clogged veins so that blood cannot get to the genitals’, an indication recalling the employment of vervain in love magic, and for those who cannot keep their food down. Two new uses are mentioned: for bladder stones and for swollen glands. Grieve tells us that the name vervain comes from the Celtic ‘fer’ and ‘faen’ meaning ‘to drive away the stone’. The Salernitan herbal specifies the root in mead for bladder stones, Macer wants equal parts of vervain, betony Stachys officinalis and saxifrage in white wine and Fuchs cites Aetius of Amida and Simeon Seth on the herb taken in drink with honey for unspecified stones. Parkinson and Culpeper after him state that vervain cleanses the kidneys and bladder of humours which engender stones, and helps to break stones and expel gravel. Quincy comments more generally on indurations and obstructions of the Read more […]

Ricinus communis

Ricinus communis L. (Euphorbiaceae) Castor Oil Plant, Castor Bean Ricinus communis L. is an erect herb, growing up to 3.6 m high, having pinkish succulent stem and large alternate palmate leaves that are green or reddish brown. Leaves are lobed, consisting of 6-8 radiating leaflets with serrated edges and prominent central veins. Flowers are green, pink or red and inconspicuous, with no petals. The fruits are capsular, with three lobes, prickly and green, containing three seeds. Origin Native to Africa, naturalised throughout tropics and subtropics. Phytoconstituents Ricin, ricinoleic acid, ricinine, p-coumaric acid, ferulic acid, o-coumaric acids, syringic acid, cinnamic acids, stigmasterol, fucosterol and others. Traditional Medicinal Uses Its leaf poultice is applied to boils and sores in India; to treat headaches and fever in Hawaii. The leaves and roots are used in a decoction for anal prolapse, arthritis, constipation, facial palsy, lymphadenopathy, strabismus, uteral prolapse, cough, and also as a discutient and expectorant. The heated leaves are applied to gout and swellings as well. The leaves and oil are used for dermatological purposes in Nigeria. Its seeds are used to treat abscesses and skin eruptions, Read more […]

The Authority Of Apuleius

Is burdock’s place in the formula for this ointment based on empirical knowledge of the plant’s action or on a misreading of Dioscorides? For once, the authority of Apuleius appears equal with that of the triumvirate of Dioscorides, Pliny and Galen when we turn to the Renaissance writers on burdock. Fuchs, Dalechamps and Bauhin cite him fully. Fuchs indeed avoids citing Pliny at all, gives Dioscorides in full, and Galen on the quality and actions of personatia or bardana. The plant is found everywhere, he tells us – thus providing, we may think, ample opportunity for empirical experiment of reputed uses such as burns – especially at the edges of meadows and fields. Fuchs then cites Apuleius, whose entry is more substantial in terms of uses, but his text has several alterations and accretions too: the juice in honey is now diuretic and used for bladder pain, for burns the rubbed leaf is applied with egg white, and, also among the indications of bearwort, the powdered seed in wine taken for 40 days ‘miraculously’ heals hip pains (see discussion under ground ivy). The treatment of snake bites is made by scarification of the wound, then the bruised leaves are applied while 2 denarii (8 g) in weight of the roots are Read more […]

Agrimony Out Of The Mainstream

Use of agrimony is continued, however, by some practitioners. Green, in his Universal Herbal of 1832, records that ‘its root appears to possess the properties of Peruvian bark Cinchona pubescens in a very considerable degree, without manifesting any of its inconvenient qualities’, and if taken in large doses, either in decoction or powder, ‘seldom fails to cure the ague‘, as Culpeper had already suggested. Hill, in mid-18th century, uses agrimony for treating jaundice, another old use. His prescription states 6 oz of the crown of the root in a quart of boiling water, sweetened with honey, and half a pint of the infusion drunk three times daily. Coffin, writing in 1849, finds Culpeper at fault ‘as he oftimes is, for he ascribes such abundance of good properties that if half be true, humans would scarcely require any other medicine’. Coffin struggles to accept the sheer number of herbs in Culpeper’s writings which he claims can open obstructions of the liver and spleen. Yet, regarding agrimony, he refers to Hooper’s description of the herb as a valuable astringent which, by the testimony of Clomel, ‘was successful in enlargement of the liver’ in two cases. To this binding effect can be added a diuretic action and, Read more […]