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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

BEEFWOOD TREE,COAST SHE-OAK: HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF BEEFWOOD


BEEFWOOD, AGOHO, CASUARINA EQUISETIFOLIA
The beefwood tree goes by a number of names in English, including the horsetail tree as its branches, with their drooping leaves resemble a horse’s tail and also the horsetail fern. It is also known as the She-oak or Coast She-oak, Ironwood, Australian beefwood or Australian pine, and the whistling pine. Its needle–like leaves resemble pine needles and it bears cone-like fruit with small, winged seeds and it looks a little like a pine tree. It is also an evergreen with a pyramid shaped crown which can grow to heights of 30 metres.
  The name Casuarina is believed to come from the Malay word kasuari from which we get the name for the bird, the cassowary, and it is called this as it resembles the bird’s plumage; equestifolia means horse-leaved. It is a member of the Casuarinaceae family of plants. The tree is actually native to Malaysia, South Asia, Australia and Oceania, although it has been planted around the world for its protection from the sea, and because it is a nitrogen fixer and helps make land more fertile.
  You can see this tree along coasts in North Africa, and Florida in the US where it is now an invasive species, having first been introduced in the 1800s when it was planted to stabilize ditches and canals and for its shade and timber. It is sometimes used as a nurse plant in coconut groves, and even for pine trees. In India lemon, orange and other citrus trees grow larger than they would usually do when they are grown under the protection of the Beefwood tree.
  The tree has a multitude of uses: in Thailand its timber is used for poles to make fish traps, and it is used for firewood around the globe, as it burns well even when freshly cut and yields high quality charcoal. It is valued in the leather industry in Madagascar for its tannin and is used for fences (with the trees coppiced, providing live fences and the cut timber also being utilized for the same purpose). It is also used for boat-building, for electricity poles, handles for implements and tools, for cart wheels and also the bark is a dye producer.
  It can be annoying as the leaf litter under trees deters wild life and so it can damage eco-systems where it has been cultivated. However it is used in folk medicine for a number of ailments, and has astringent properties (due to its tannin content), is used for menstrual irregularities, colic and stomach pains, headaches and more.
  In the Philippines a decoction of the bark is used to remedy diarrhoea and dysentery, and to promote menstruation, and in large doses it is used as a pain-killer. The liquid after boiling the bark is used as a lotion for beriberi (vitamin B1 deficiency) and the powdered bark is made into a paste with water and applied to pimples, acne and other skin eruptions. An infusion of the bark is prescribed as a general tonic. A decoction of the twigs is made into a lotion for inflammatory swellings, while an infusion of the branches is used as a diuretic. The leaves are used in decoctions and infusions for colic and other stomach upsets and to stop spasms.
  The leaf litter can be used to start and feed fires, and the wood pulp can be used to make paper and the timber being resistant to some termites makes it useful in tropical countries.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

ALEXANDERS OR BLACK LOVAGE: HISTORY, HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF ALEXANDERS


ALEXANDERS, BLACK LOVAGE, SMYRNIUM OLUSATRUS 
Alexanders looks a lot like angelica, and is related to it as it is a member of the Apiaceae or Umbelliferae family. As such it is related to fennel, dill, sweet Cicely, cow parsley, lovage, carrots, caraway, anise, lesser and greater burnet saxifrage, water fennel or water dropwort and Thapsia to which it bears a strong resemblance with its yellow- green flowers. It originated in Europe and Asia and has naturalized in Britain where it was grown in monastery gardens in the Middle Ages as a pot-herb and vegetable.
  It tastes a little like celery and the leaves are similar to those of this plant. The seeds are used as a condiment and all parts of the plant are edible. The flowering tops can be eaten and cooked like broccoli for which it can be a substitute. The unopened flower buds can be pickled and when this is done they look like mini-cauliflowers. The leaves and young shoots may be eaten raw in salads or cooked and added to soups or stews, which is what the Romans used them for. It is said that they introduced this plant to Britain as they enjoyed the “myrrh” taste they thought these imparted to soups.
  The stems can also be cooked like asparagus, steamed or boiled for 5 to 10 minutes, and served as a side dish. The plant grows in autumn and has leaves throughout the winter, so was a useful source of nourishment. It is said that if the root is left in a cool place over winter it becomes tender and is good in soups and stews. The stems are a little more pungent than celery and the seeds are peppery. The flower buds may be eaten raw in salads too.
  In the past Alexanders was used to treat asthma, menstrual problems and wounds, but generally it is not used today, although there would seem to be no reason not to as it is not poisonous as plants such as aconite, thornapple (datura) and aak are.
  Nicholas Culpeper, writing in the 17th century has this to say about it:-
“Government and virtues. This plant is under Jupiter, therefore friendly to nature. The whole plant has a strong warm taste, and was more used in the kitchen than in the medicinal way, having been either eaten raw, as a sallad among other herbs, or else boiled and eaten with salt meat, or in broths in the spring season. The root pickled was deemed a good sauce, but its use in the kitchen has been entirely superseded by the cultivation of celery. It is reckoned to be of the nature of parsley or smallage, but stronger, and therefore may be serviceable in opening obstructions of the liver and spleen, provoking wind and urine, and consequently good in the dropsy or stranguary. For this purpose, half a drachm of the seeds powdered, and taken in white wine, every morning, is seldom known to fail. It is likewise good for bringing on the courses, and expelling the after-birth, notwithstanding it is seldom used in medicine.”
  It is known as black lovage because of the colour of the root and seeds, which are almost black when ripe. It flowers in Britain in April and May and the whole plant was once used in a decoction as a diuretic.
  Writing in 1640, Parkinson says that it was eaten during Lent to aid digestion and to digest “the viscous humours in the stomache.” Lenten pottage is an old Irish recipe which was eaten during Lent and which comprised nettles, watercress and Alexanders. Nowadays the seeds are crushed and added to vodka to give it some more oomph.
  It used to be called the herb of Macedonia, where Philip of Macedon, Alexander the Great’s father had ruled. It could be that this is why it was called Alexander’s herb, although some sources claim that the Alexander in question was actually Alexandria. (It is sometimes called Alexander’s parsley.)
  Alexanders is the centre of some research into the sesquiterpenoids all parts of the plant yield in their essential oil (2010 Papaioannou, F. et al).  Sesquiterpene lactones from the plant have also been investigated in a study published in 2001 for their ability in vitro and in mice to kill cancer cells. More research needs to be done on this plant to discover what medicinal benefits it has for us.

Monday, February 27, 2012

TEAK TREE IS NOT ONLY USED FOR ITS WOOD: HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF TEAK TREES


TEAK TREE, TECTONA GRANDIS 
The teak tree is renowned for its durable wood which can be used for almost any purpose, including in the construction industry, for furniture, flooring, ships’ decks, and because it is resistant to the wood-boring mollusc, the shipworm, it is used for piers and jetties too. It has quinones in its sawdust which are resistant to fungi making it ideal for many purposes in tropical conditions.
  It has its origins in south and south-east Asia, but is now cultivated in many parts of the world for its timber. It is a member of the mint or Lamiaceae family and so is related to the Chaste Tree and Fragrant Premna, as well as herbs, marjoram, basil, Holy basil, oregano, savory, thyme, lavender, lemon balm, bugle, motherwort, self-heal, wall germander, cat nip, ground ivy, Jupiter’s sage and hyssop and a whole host of other plants. As one of the verbenas (some botanists classify this as a member of the Verbenaceae family) it is allied with vervain (Verbena officinalis) and lemon verbena.
  Teak trees can grow to heights of forty metres and have white through to cream flowers which are followed by pale yellow fruit which are about 1 or 2 centimetres in diameter and covered with star-shaped hairs.
  It is cultivated now throughout the tropics and has its uses in traditional systems of medicine in countries where it grows. Virtually every part of the teak tree has medicinal uses, and medical science has shown that the leaves have antibacterial, anti-ulcer and antifungal properties. In Ayurdeva the wood is considered a laxative, a sedative for the uterus, good for piles, dysentery and leucoderma. In folk medicine the roots are used for urinary tract problems, the flowers for bronchitis, nausea and urinary tract problems too. The bark has been used to treat diabetes, and an extract of the bark has been found to have insulin resistance in mice.
  In other parts of Asia a decoction of the fresh or dried leaves is used for menstrual problems and haemorrhages, as well as a gargle for sore throats. A plaster made from the powdered wood is applied to headaches which cause nausea, and too disperse swellings which are caused by inflammation, perhaps caused by rheumatism for example. The powdered wood is used internally to get rid of intestinal parasites, and, made into a paste with water, it is used on swollen eyelids and also for acute dermatitis and other skin irritation. In India the charred wood is soaked in poppy juice and made into a paste for swollen eyelids. Flowers and seeds have diuretic properties while the oil from the fruit seeds is used to stimulate hair growth and soothe irritated skin.
  Dyes are produced from the root bark and young leaves and this is used for paper products, matting and cloth. The dyes may be yellow-brown or red-brown. Dye from the leaves alone is used for dying cloth especially wool and cotton. In Java, Indonesia, the sawdust is burnt as incense.
  The leaves are edible and can be filled with jackfruit and other ingredients and steamed, and are combined with jackfruit in other ways to make desserts in southern India and in parts of Indonesia too.
  Research is ongoing to attempt to prove that there are scientific bases for the tree’s use in traditional systems of medicine.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

ACONITE, POISONOUS PLANT: HISTORY OF USES OF ACONITE NAPELLUS


ACONITE, MONKSHOOD, WOLFSBANE, ACONITUM NAPELLUS 
Aconite has been used for pain relief and was in the British Pharmacopeias, but only that grown in Britain, however there is no scientific evidence to support its use as a cancer treatment, whether as a cure or for preventative purposes. Neither is there evidence for its other purported uses. Aconite is extremely poisonous as is datura or thornapple and aak. Aconitum napellus is an attractive flowering plant whose leaves, stems and roots were especially valued in medicine until the mid 1900s. However it has fallen into disuse because it is so poisonous.
  It has been used in traditional Asian medicine in China, Japan and in Ayurvedic medicine in the Indian sub-continent for centuries, but the poisonous principle is removed by processing the plant and it is used only in miniscule dosages. It is used as a pain-reliever in inflammatory problems such as gout, migraines, rheumatism and sciatica, but is used to cure the symptoms and not the disease itself.
  It is a member of the buttercup of Ranunculaceae family and as such is a relative of the Lesser Celandine, marsh marigolds, black cohosh, wood anemones and goldenseal. It grew in South Wales when I was growing up and looked to me like a delphinium (larkspur). It seems to like to grow on rocky, craggy places and aconite comes from the Greek akonos which means stone while napellus refers to the root shape which was thought to resemble a small turnip.
   It gets the name monkshood because the petals are thought to resemble a monk’s cowl.
  Aconite causes arrhythmia, heart failure and death and was Medea’s poison of choice in her potions, one of which was destined for Theseus, who did not drink it. The Greek myth says that aconite grew from the slobber of the three-headed dog, Cerberus who guarded the gate of Tartarus. Because of the association with this hell-hound it has been called Dog’s bane. Athena used its poison to turn Arachne into a spider for her impiety, and it was much feared by the ancient Romans. The Roman Emperor Claudius I was poisoned with it by his physician and the Emperor Trajan forbade its cultivation under pain of death. It was referred to as Hecate’s herb (Hecateis herba) in Mediaeval times and it was believed to have been an ingredient along with Belladonna of witches’ flying ointment.
  Aconite can be absorbed through the skin, whether broken or not so should not be used externally or internally.
  Pliny wrote that aconite could kill a mouse that was some distance away, and for this reason it was called mousebane by some. The name wolfsbane comes from the belief that it could turn people into werewolves or perhaps cure them of being wolf men. Its poison was also used to tip arrows to kill wolves.
  John Gerard, the English herbalist writing in the 16th century wrote that it was “so forcible that the herb only thrown before the scorpion or any other venomous beast, causeth it to be without force or the strength to hurt” until the plant was removed.
  In 1603, Ben Jonson the English playwright has this to say about aconite in his play “Sejanus, his fall
“I have heard that Aconite
Being timely taken hath a healing might
Against the scorpion’s stroke.”
Shakespeare in his play Henry IV part 2 Act 4 scene 4 mentions it in this way:-
“A hoop of gold to bind thy brothers in,
That the united vessel of their blood,
Mingled with venom of suggestion-
As perforce, the age will pour it in-
Shall never leak, though it do work as strong
As aconitum or rash gunpowder.”
  Much late in his poem Flowers, Thomas Hood (1799-1845) an English poet, mentions it in this way: -
 “The wolfsbane I should dread;
   Nor will I dreary rosemarye,
   That always mourns the dead;
   But I will woo the dainty rose,
   With her cheeks of tender red.”
It is best not to touch this plant especially if you have broken skin, and don’t be tempted to make your own poison with it –it has been too well documented in literature as a poison (Brother Cadfael books, Harry Potter and others).


Saturday, February 25, 2012

FRAGRANT PREMNA TREE, WITH LOTS OF POTENTIAL BENEFITS: HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF THE FRAGRANT PREMNA TREE


 FRAGRANT PREMNA, ALAGAW, PREMNA ODORATA 
The Fragrant Premna is a small tree or shrub which can flower at 3 or 4 metres high, but which can grow to heights of 8 metres. It is a member of the mint or Lamiaceae family, or the Verbenaceae family. This being so it is related to marjoram, basil, Holy basil, oregano, savory, thyme, lavender, lemon balm, bugle, motherwort, self-heal, wall germander, cat nip, the Chaste tree, ground ivy, Jupiter’s sage and hyssop and a whole host of other plants. As one of the verbenas it is allied with vervain (Verbena officinalis) and lemon verbena.
  This tree or shrub is native to the Philippines, where it is used for a number of ailments in folk medicine. It has aromatic leaves which are fragrant when crushed, thus giving rise to the Latin name odorata, meaning fragrant. Its flowers, which are a green-white, grow in clusters as do those of the elder tree and its dark purple berries are also reminiscent of those of the elder.
  A decoction of the leaves mixed with sugar or honey and lemon juice is drunk for coughs, while a decoction of the fresh leaves is used for vaginal irritation. The fresh leaves, applied over the bladder area promote urination it is believed. An infusion of these is given for flatulence, and when children have tympanites (a swollen abdomen due to gas or air in the abdomen or the peritoneal cavities) the leaves are mixed with coconut or sesame oil and this lotion is applied to the swollen area. A decoction of the leaves and flowers is given to remedy fever, stomach pains and dysentery, while a decoction of the roots, leaves, flowers and fruit is given for chest complaints such as coughs and bronchitis.
  When the leaves are boiled in water, the liquid is used to bathe babies, and the boiled leaves are also applied externally for beriberi which is a deficiency of thiamin (vitamin B1). A decoction of the young shoots kills parasites too, and it is believed that if you chew the root and then swallow the resulting saliva, this is good for heart problems.
  Clinical trials have shown that extracts from the plant have antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties (Lunesa C.Pinzon et al. “Isolation and characterization of antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and chemopreventive flavones of Premna odorata Blanco” Journal of Medicinal Plants Research, Vol.5 (13) pp2729-2735, 4th July 2011). It has potential in cancer treatment too but the study concludes with the sentiment that more research is needed to ascertain how the tree and its extracts can be used for the benefit of patients.

Friday, February 24, 2012

WALL OR COMMON GERMANDER, NO LONGER RECOMMENDED FOR INTERNAL USE: HISTORY OF USES OF WALL GERMANDER


WALL OR COMMON GERMANDER, TEUCRIUM CHAMAEDRYS 
Wall Germander is native to Europe and the Mediterranean region. It grows to about a foot high and wide, and is an evergreen shrub, naturalized in Britain because it was widely cultivated for medicinal purposes. It is a member of the mint family, (Labiatae or Lamiaceae family) and as such is related to marjoram, basil, Holy basil, oregano, savory, thyme, lavender, lemon balm, bugle, motherwort, self-heal, cat nip, the chaste tree, ground ivy, Jupiter’s sage and hyssop, among many other plants.
  It was used in Elizabethan and Jacobean knot gardens and planted as an ornamental. Bees love this plant and will ignore others and go to it in a herb garden. It usually has pink through to pale purple flowers, although these can be white, but this is rare.
  It has been found to cause hepatitis and jaundice so its use is not recommended. However in the past it was used as a diuretic for gout and as a diaphoretic (promoter of sweat in fevers); it was also used in tonic wines and as a stimulant, with the leaves generally being used, although the whole herb can be collected in July when the flowers are still blooming, and dried for later use.
  Germander is believed to be a corruption of chamaedrys, which means ground oak- so named because the leaves look like those of an oak tree. (Chamai means ground and drys oak in Greek.) The genus name, Teucrium is thought to refer to King Teucer of Troy, who was famed as an archer. One of the uses of the leaves is in an infusion to heal wounds as these have astringent qualities. This infusion can also be used as a mouth wash for bleeding gums, and was once used as an antidote to snake bites.
  The leaves have been used to flavour vermouths, and bitters, as well as liqueurs, and it has also been used in much the same ways medicinally as the bitter herb, horehound.
  It is said that King Charles V the Holy Roman Emperor was cured of gout after taking a treatment involving germander for 60 days. Today the plant is mixed with wild celery (Apium graveolens) and meadowsweet and Guaiacum officinale to treat rheumatoid arthritis.
  In one trial it exhibited analgesic (pain-relieving) and anti-inflammatory properties (“Analgesic and Anti-inflammatory Activity of Teucrium chamaedrys Leaves Aqueous Extract in Male Rats” Ali Pourmatabbed et al. Iranian Journal of Basic Medical Sciences Vol.13 (3) pp119-125, summer 2010.)
  Culpeper, writing in the 17th century has this to say of the plant:-
  “Government and virtues. It is a most prevalent herb of Mercury, and strengthens the brain and apprehension exceedingly when weak, and relieves them when drooping. This taken with honey (saith Dioscorides) is a remedy for coughs, hardness of the spleen and difficulty of urine, and helps those that are fallen into a dropsy, especially at the beginning of the disease, a decoction being made thereof when it is green, and drank. It also brings down women's courses, and expels the dead child. It is most effectual against the poison of all serpents, being drank in wine, and the bruised herb outwardly applied; used with honey, it cleanses old and foul ulcers; and made into an oil, and the eyes anointed therewith, takes away the dimness and moistness. It is likewise good for the pains in the sides and cramps. The decoction thereof taken for four days together, drives away and cures both tertain and quartan agues. It is also good against all diseases of the brain, as continual head-ache, falling-sickness, melancholy, drowsiness and dullness of the spirits, convulsions and palsies. A dram of the seed taken in powder purges by urine, and is good against the yellow jaundice. The juice of the leaves dropped into the ears kills the worms in them. The tops thereof, when they are in flowers, steeped twenty-four hours in a drought of white wine, and drank, kills the worms in the belly.”

Thursday, February 23, 2012

WOOD ANEMONE, FLEETING STAR OF THE WOODS: HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF WOOD ANEMONES


WOOD ANEMONES, ANEMONE NEMOROSA
Wood anemones as you might expect are found in woods and shady places. Like Tickle Me and wood sorrel, they close their flowers at the hint of rain and close at night, so that they are protected from dew. They are sometimes referred to as wood crowfoot as they are members of the buttercup or Ranunculaceae family of plants. As such they are related to the Lesser Celandine, marsh marigolds, black cohosh, and goldenseal.
  The whole plant contains protoanemonin which can cause skin and gastrointestinal irritation, although this turns to harmless anemonin when it is heated or dried. The plant is indigenous to most of Europe and western Asia. It can grow to around a foot in height but is usually around 8 inches high.
  It is called windflower as ‘anemone’ comes from the Greek anemos which means wind, so Pliny writes about it as the windflower, believing that the flowers only opened when the March winds blew.
  Its leaves have been used as a counter-irritant to rheumatic pains as stinking hellebore, another relative and of course stinging nettles. All above ground parts of the wood anemone have been used in previous times in folk medicine in Europe, for gout, headaches, some fevers and menstrual problems.
  It has something of a sinister reputation historically, although it is not known why this is unless it caused death when people ate the root or ingested other parts of the raw plant. The ancient Egyptians used it as a symbol of sickness, and the Chinese called it the “Flower of Death.” The Romans, on the other hand, would pick it to ward off fever.
  Culpeper says that the root may be chewed, but the fresh root will cause burning and mouth ulcers. This is what he has to write about it: -
Government and virtues. It is under the dominion of Mars, being supposed to be a kind of crow-foot. The leaves provoke the terms mightily, being boiled and the decoction drunk. The body being bathed with the decoction of them cures the leprosy. The leaves being stamped, and the juice snuffed up the nose, purges the head greatly: so doth the root being chewed in the mouth, for it causeth much spitting; and brings away many watery and phlegmatic humours, and is therefore excellent for the lethargy. And when all is done, let physicians say what they please, all the pills in the dispensatory purge not the head like to hot things held in the mouth: being made into an ointment, and the eye-lids anointed therewith, it helps inflammations of the eyes, whereby it is palpable that every stronger draweth its weaker light; the same ointment is exceeding good to cleanse malignant and corroding ulcers.”
  It is wise to remember that Culpeper was writing his Complete Herball in the 17th century, and the wood anemone is now known to have harmful side effects; it is best left in its habitat - or you might upset the fairies, who are said to sleep in the centre of the flowers at night when they close the curtains tightly for protection from the elements.
The wood anemone has been the subject of many poems, this sonnet by John Clare (1793 – 1864)
“The wood anemone through dead oak leaves
And in the thickest woods now blooms anew,
And where the green briar and the bramble weaves
Thick clumps o'green, anemones thicker grew,
And weeping flowers in thousands pearled in dew
People the woods and brakes, hid hollows there,
White, yellow and purple-hued the wide wood through.
What pretty drooping weeping flowers they are:
The clipt-frilled leaves, the slender stalk they bear
On which the drooping flower hangs weeping dew,
How beautiful through April time and May
The woods look, filled with wild anemone;
And every little spinney now looks gay
With flowers mid brushwood and the huge oak tree.”

and this poem by Emily Dickinson:

“Summer for thee, grant I may be
When Summer days are flown!
Thy music still, when Whipporwill
And Oriole -- are done!

For thee to bloom, I'll skip the tomb
And row my blossoms o'er!
Pray gather me --
Anemone --
Thy flower -- forevermore!”
  These poems are only two examples of the wood anemone’s appearances in poetry.

  

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

AFRICAN TULIP TREE - ONE WITH MANY USES: HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF THE AFRICAN TULIP TREE


AFRICAN TULIP TREE, SPATHODEA CAMPANULATA 
The African tulip tree is a fast growing evergreen which can reach heights of 35 metres. It is known as the fountain tree, Uganda Flame tree, the Nandi or Nile Flame tree, and the Squirt tree, among other names. It is indigenous to tropical Africa, although it is grown ornamentally in many countries with tropical climates around the world.
  It is the only member of the genus Spathodea but is a member of the Bignoniaceae family which makes it a relative of the Sausage tree (Kigellia Africana) and the trumpet vine (ishq pechaan bail). It has a flowering period of between five and six months, and produces edible seeds with transparent wings. It is used as a boundary fence and living hedge and the flowers yield a dye which varies in shades but which can be used to dye silk.
  It is called the Squirt tree because the flower buds contain a watery liquid which children utilize by piecing the buds and using them as water pistols. The hard central part of the fruit has a more sinister use however, as it contains a poisonous substance which is used on hunters’ arrows to kill prey. It can be used in coffee plantations to provide shade for the young plants.
  The timber from the tree is soft and used to make carvings and drums, but the tree has many medicinal applications, most of which have been supported by medical research. A decoction of the bark is astringent and used as a laxative as well as for cases of dysentery and for other gastro-intestinal problems. A decoction of the bark and leaves is used as a lotion for inflamed skin and on rashes. The flowers can be applied directly onto wounds, as can the bruised leaves which have mild pain-killing and anti-inflammatory properties. Both the bark and leaves have been found to have antiseptic actions.
  An infusion of the leaves is used for urethral infections, and the dried and pulverized or even the fresh inner bark is applied to oozing ulcers. The tree also has UV absorbing properties and could be utilized as a cheap sunscreen.
  Studies have found that the stem bark can lower blood sugar levels and so the traditional use of the bark for diabetes sufferers seems to have been borne out. (Journal of Phytotherapy Research, 1993 Vol. 7 (1) pp 64-69 Niyonzima, G. et al. Hypoglycaemic Activity of Spathodea campanulata stem bark decoction in mice.”) Extracts of the bark, leaves and roots have also been used to combat malaria and HIV and have antimicrobial and antifungal properties.
  It would appear that many of the traditional folk medicine uses of this tree have their basis in scientific theory.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

OREGON GRAPE - STATE FLOWER OF OREGON: HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF OREGON GRAPE


OREGON GRAPE, SOURBERRY, MAHONIA AQUIFOLIUM 
The Oregon grape is the state flower of Oregon State in the US to which it is native. It is also native to northern California, northern Idaho, British Columbia and Washington State. It is a member of the Berberidaceae family, which makes it a relative of the Common barberry, Rasout, and Kashmal or the berberry. It was introduced into Britain as an ornamental in 1823 and has since managed to have naturalized in some parts as a garden escapee.
  This plant can grow to around 3 metres or approximately 9 feet high, and is fast-growing with shiny evergreen leaves which resemble a holly leaf, although the upper sides of these may turn a purple colour in winter. Because of its leaves it is also known as the holly-leaves barberry. It is known by several botanical names too, namely: - Berberis aquifolium, Berberis piperiana, Mahonia piperiana but the generally accepted name is Mahonia aquifolium.  Its flowers are bright yellow and smell a little like honey, and these give way to the fruit which ripens from green to blue-black growing in clusters like small grapes, making them easy to collect. These fruit can have between zero and nine seeds in them.
  The fruit contains quite a lot of vitamin C, making it good for colds and flu, but it tastes rather sour, hence the name sourberry. It is made into juices and jellies and the cooked fruit tastes like blackcurrants. The flowers are edible and can be dipped in tempura batter and fried, used to garnish salads and make a drink which is similar to lemonade. The fruit has a mild laxative action.
  Native Americans used the root for stomach upsets and to stimulate the appetite, as well as for a tonic for general debility. Today it is often used for stomach problems, to aid digestion to help with catarrh and to stimulate the functions of the gallbladder and kidneys. In folk medicine an infusion of the root was used as a remedy for syphilis, while an ointment made from it was used for psoriasis and other skin problems. A gargle made from the root was used to relive a sore throat and an infusion was useful as a wash for bloodshot eyes.
  Various coloured dyes are obtained from the plant ranging from yellow and green through to violet and purple. The plants are sometimes used as a low, living hedge, and sometimes the leafy branches are used for Christmas decorations.
  Berberine an alkaloid found in the rhizome of Oregon grape, (also present in Barberries and Goldenseal and so on) is antibacterial and antimicrobial so useful in cases of dysentery, and can help in trachoma (visual impairment which can cause blindness, particularly in the still-developing world) and different forms of conjunctivitis, and has been found to regulate blood sugar levels, making it helpful for people with Type-2 diabetes. It may also help spatial memory impairment and Alzheimer’s patients according to one study by Feiqi Zhu and Caiyan Qan 2006, published in the Journal of Neuroscience.
  In trials on patients an ointment made from the root extracts of the Oregon grape have proved effective in the long term in the treatment of psoriasis, thus providing scientific evidence for traditional use. Gulliver W.P. and Donsky H.J. concluded their study with these words “several investigators in several countries indicate that Mahonia aquifolium is a safe and effective treatment of patients with mild to moderate psoriasis.” (American Journal of Therapeutics, Vol. 12 (5) September to October: pp.398-406)
  Berberine has also been found to boost the immune system, have anti-dandruff and anti-histamine and anti-bacterial effects as well as being anti-fungal anti-ulcer and immuno-modulatory, stimulating the liver and cleansing the blood thus lowering cholesterol levels.
  Another alkaloid found in the rhizome, berbamine, has been found to have potent anti-tumour effects in vitro and in vivo “Berbamine exhibits potent anti-tumour effects on imatinib-resistant CML cells in vitro and in vivo” Yan-Lin Wei et al. Acta Pharmacologia Sina, 2009,Vol. 30pp. 451-457. Berbamine has also been seen to inhibit the growth of leukaemia cells according to the study “The antiproliferation effects of berbamine on K562 resistant cells by inhibiting NF-kappaB pathway” Wei Y. L. et al. Anatomical Record (Hoboken, N.J.:2009)
  Yet again plants have the potential to benefit our health in a very positive way.
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