Medicinal plants and drugs



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16. Rosa canina – Dog rose. In Hungary, collectible wild hips are known under this single name, although botanists divide this very polymorphic species into six main collectible species and 26 closely related smaller species. They are tall shrubs with sharp, spine-hooked prickles. The compound leaves are imparipinnate, glabrous, glandular or pilose, the stipule is fused with the petiole. Flowers have a pleasant scent, petals are white, pale pink or purplish. The hairy achenes are sunk into the fleshy receptacle-cup, which is the accessory fruit. The fruit of the harvested species is orange-red. See Picture 16. Small, stoloniferous shrubs and protected mountain species with lopping yellowish-red hips are not to be harvested.

Drug: the dried whole hip (Cynosbati pseudofructus cum seminibus), and the halved, dried receptacle without the achenes, hairs, and stalks (Cynosbati fructus sine semine). Between 1965-1975, nearly 200 thousand young dog rose shrubs were planted in Hungary in the lower level of shelter belts along roadsides, watercourses and in closed plantations. Besides its high vitamin C level, it contains vitamins B1, B2 and P, as well as karotinoids, organic acids and pectin.

Apart from the few examples mentioned above, wild growing and cultivated species are all useful. It is used to make syrup, tea, marmalade, sauce, soup, wine, brandy, and vermouth.

- It is used in the treatment of nephralgia and cystalgia (kidney and bladder disorders).

- It is a remedy of bilious and liver problems, enteritis, and of loss of appetite.

- It is a mild laxative, and is recommended for patients with diabetes. The hips are soaked in lukewarm water, sometimes cut in halves to ease the process. In this case the tiny hairs around the seeds also soak out, which may irritate the digestive tract (villi) and cause diarrhoea.

- In case of bronchitis, cold, flu and feverish states the tea is a refrigerant.

- It is recommended for hypertonia.

Nephritic patients should not consume it in great quantities. If dried, the hips lose 45-90 % of their vitamin C content. If the hips come in contact with iron, their vitamin C level is also reduced because iron-oxide breaks it down. Therefore, stainless steel should be used. The level of vitamin C is highest in the semi-mature hips. (The level of vitamin C is up to ten times higher than that of lemon, i.e. around 0.5-1 percent, and it also contains 10-20% sugar, l0% pectin, 3% malic acid, citric acid, iron, magnesium, calcium, essential oils, fatty acids, tannin, vitamins A, B, K and P.) The fruit of the fragrant roses may cause an allergic reaction. The so-called Japanese rose can also be used. When collecting petals of garden roses, the purple ones have to be collected separately, the other colours can be mixed. The infusion is used.

- In case of recession of the gums and tonsillitis, its tea is recommended as a gargling liquid.

- For patients with enteritis, its tea is recommended.

- Its tea is a freshener; petals are used to aromatise tobacco leaves.

Prunoideae: K 5 C 5 A 10+10+10 or 10+5+5 G1. The fruit is a drupe.

17. Prunus spinosa – Blackthorn. It is a thorny shrub, growing to 1-2 meters tall. The mature branches are blackish grey, younger ones are brownish. Leaves are 2-3 cm long and oval, with a serrated margin. The white flowers bloom before frondescence. The fruit is a 1 cm long blue-black drupe with green flesh, covered with waxy bloom. It is an undemanding, hardy species, grows practically everywhere, in forest fringes, balks, plotsides. See Pictures 17a, 17b.

Drug: the flower (Pruni spinosae flos); the fruit is also used (Pruni spinosae fructus)

The full-bloomed flower and the mature fruit of this thorny shrub is collected. The active ingredients of the flower and the fruit are amygdalin, tannins and salts.

- The infusion of the flowers is a mild laxative, diuretic, alterative, stomachic and fat burner.

- It is used in treating hypertonia.

- The infusion of the fruits is a remedy for enteritis but in larger doses it may cause constipation.

- It has beneficial effects on nephralgia and cystalgia (kidney and bladder disorders).

The unripe fruit is pickled like olive or can be used to make a salad with lemon.

Crassulaceae – The orpine family. Crassulaceae are herbaceous and succulent plants with no stipules.

18. Sempervivum tectorum – Common houseleek (Jove’s beard, Jupiter’s eye). It is an evergreen succulent plant which is 5-8 cm tall, but grows up to 20-25 cm when flowering. The root is stoloniferous. The flat, fleshy, pale green sessile leaves form a basal rosette and are 5-15 cm long. Leaf-tips are red-brown, the leaves are smooth with short, strong hairs on the edges. The stalk is densely glandular. The leaves on the stalk are oval, ending in a delicate apex. The inflorescence grows from the centre of the rosette; it is very branched and is usually arranged in a cymose umbel. Flowers are dense, sepals are lanceolate, petals are floccose on the underside, hairy or glandular on the edges; the surface is bright red with purple-red stripes, and yellow along the midrib. They are monocarpic, i.e. plants will die after they flower. See Picture 18.

Drug: Leaves of mature plants (Sempervivi tectori herba, Sedi magni herba). It is an unofficial drug.

It is a protected plant which is cultivated and also grows wild. Leaves of the cultivated plant are used. Houseleek has not yet been sufficiently researched. Its active ingredients are isocitric acid, citric acid, malic acid, malonic aid, asparagine acid, caffeic acid and chlorogenic acid. It also contains flavonoids, tannins, mucous secretion and vitamin C.

- The leaves are anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. They are used in first-aid to treat smaller injuries and inflammations. Its crushed out juice is put on burns, cuts, insect bites, as well as on oral and facial inflammations and inflammation of the middle ear. It is not mentioned in descriptions, but it has excellent analgesic properties in treating injuries if the leaf is skinned on one side and kept on the wound. The analgesic effect is not durable, it ceases after removing the leaf, therefore it has to be fixed and repeatedly changed.

- The infusion is consumed to treat sore throat, bronchitis, bruises and aphtas of the mouth.

Grossulariaceae – The currant family. Shrubs with a G2 peryginous ovary position; the fruit is a berry, the flower is small, yellow-green and has five stamens.



19. Ribes nigrum – Blackcurrant. Elder branches are yellowish or greenish brown, one-year old canes are pale, slightly pubescent. Leaves are oval, 3-5 lobed, hairy on the underside and have an aromatic scent. The inflorescence is a pendulous raceme with 10-18 flowers. The perianth on the pentamerous flower is green, sepals are lilac. It flowers early, in April. The fruit is a black berry. It has no medicinal plant species, cultivated species are collected. See Picture 19.

Drug: the leaf (Ribis nigri folium) and the fruit (Ribis nigri fructus).

Its active ingredients are rutin, tannins, and vitamin C in high levels.

- The infusion of the leaves is a diuretic and is used to treat bladder and kidney problems.

- It lowers blood pressure and is a valuable remedy in treating respiratory diseases.

- It alleviates rheumatism and arthritis. Rheumatic pain is already reduced after 4-6 weeks.

The berry is used to make syrup. It contains more vitamin C than the citrus family; the dried berry is an ingredient in teas to treat kidney trouble.

Fabaceae (Papilionaceae, Leguminosae) – The legume (pea or bean) family. They are trees or herbaceous plants. Flowers have a specialised structure, called vexillary flower. The two bottom petals that enclose the whirl of stamens are fused together at the apex (remaining free at the base), forming a boat-like structure called the keel (carina). The two adjacent petals, the wings (ala), surround the two bottom petals; the upper petal, called the banner (vexillum), is large and envelops the rest of the petals in bud. K 5 C 5 A (5+5) or (9) +1 G 1.

The stamens are always ten in number and their filaments can be fused in various configurations, often in a group of nine stamens plus one separate stamen; this is called a diadelphous formation. The fruit is a legume, which develops from one carpel. The legume usually dehisces (opens along a seam) on two sides. Sometimes the legume does not open up but spirals and breaks up into loments, or is scrolled, or is reduced to one seed. The bacteria called Rhizobia live in their roots and take nitrogen gas out of the air and convert it to a form of nitrogen that is usable to the host plant. Fertilizers are increasingly expensive, therefore nitrogen-fixing tree and shrub species are gaining importance.

20. Ononis spinosa – Spiny rest-harrow. It is a 35-70 cm tall, perennial plant, a spiny sub-shrub with a multi-head rhizome. It grows on meadows and infertile calcareous grasslands. Lower leaflets are trifoliate, upper ones are simple. Young shoots are floccose and have two lines of hair up the stem; mature shoots are smooth. The dark pink flowers are borne one by one in the axils of bracts, united in a loose pseudo-raceme. See Picture 20.

Drug: the root and the rhizome (Ononidis radix). The flowering stem is also harvested but it is not an official drug. When harvesting, the antler-like root head has to be removed. Its active ingredients are saponins (onocerin), isoflavonoids (ononin), triphenylarsine and flavonols (rutin, kaempferol).

- It is used in herbal mixtures for kidney and bladder troubles and rheumatism.

21. Melilotus officinalis – Yellow sweet clover (Melilot, Field melilot, Yellow melilot, Ribbed melilot). It is an annual or a wintering biennial plant. Its branched stem can be 1-2 m tall, it is usually smooth or slightly hairy. It has a strong, sweet coumarin fragrance and yellow flowers. Leaves are trifoliate and petiolate, the petiole of the middle leaflet is longer. Leaflets of the upper leaves are cuneate-lanceolate, long and sharply dentate. Flowers are arranged in a long raceme. The legume is glabrous, transversally venated, usually with one (three) seeds. Stipules are intact and lanceolate. It grows on roadsides, grasslands and fallows. See Picture 21.

Drug: the flowering plant (40 cm) (Meliloti herba), rarely the picked flowers (Meliloti flos).

It is a biennial plant that grows on abandoned fields. The flower drug is mainly used to aromatise tobacco. Its active ingredients are coumarin and dihydrocoumarin (melilotine).

- The plant drug, or the 40 cm long, more tender shoots harvested when flowering, is used to make tea for troubles of the stomach, intestines and respiratory organs.

- Its poultice is applied to boils, chancres and phlebitis (varicose veins).

22. Galega officinalis – Goat’s rue, French lilac. It is a herbaceous perennial plant with a thick rhizome and a ramose stem. Leaves are compound and imparipinnate with a short petiole, leaflets are ovate-lanceolate, slightly hairy on the underside. The many-flowered racemes are born in the axils; the light-purple or white flowers have long stalks. The lobes of the sepals are awl-shaped. The legume is 2-4 cm long, cylindrical, slightly lomented between the seeds. See Picture 22.

Drug: the flowering plant above the ground (Galegae herba). Its active ingredients are primarily the alkaloids guanidine, galegin and hydroxigalegin.

- The infusion is a galactogogue, it is a regular ingredient of mixtures for breastfeeding mothers.

- It lowers blood glucose levels; people with diabetes can drink a tea mixture of goat’s rue, blue-berry and dried bean-pods instead of water.

- It is a diaphoretic, it boosts lipid metabolism.

In Holland and Switzerland it is mixed into animal feed to increase milk yield, but in case of sheep it caused death.



23. Robinia pseudoacacia – Black locust. It is native to the United States, but the tree is widely known and spread. Compound leaves are imparipinnate, leaflets are oval. Stipules are modified into thorns. Flowers are white, fragrant, born in pendulous racemes. The green shoots are poisonous, they caused troubles and even death in horses. See Picture 23.

Drug: the flowers picked from the raceme in early flowering (Robiniae flos, or Acaciae flos).

It was introduced into Europe around 1600 and into Hungary in 1710. Mature trees can grow up to 25 m tall. It freely suckers from roots near the surface; its wood is highly valued. Black locust is a major honey plant with fragrant flowers. Flowers have to be harvested fresh, dropped flowers are useless. Its active ingredients are the glycosides robinin and acaciin, robigenin, camphor, essential oil, heliotropin, and linalool.

- It is an antitussive, diaphoretic; it is added to tea mixtures to enhance flavour.

- A mild laxative and diuretic.

- It reduces the production of gastric acid.

The decoction of the bark can be used in the treatment of gastric and intestinal ulcer but the bark and the seeds can be highly poisonous. Toxalbumins damage the veins and haematocytes, precipitate (agglutination) and dissolve (haemolysis) blood globules; they also affect cell division. Robin and phasin are contained in the bark and in smaller amounts in the seeds. Robin breaks down when heated. The glycosides robinin and akaciin in the flowers mildly irritate the central nervous system. The wood contains yellow dye. The essential oils and aromatic substances contained in the flowers are used by the food and cosmetics industry.

24. Glycyrrhiza glabra – Liquorice. It is a perennial shrub with a thick rhizome that grows up to 1-2 m tall. The leaf arrangement is alternate, leaves are imparipinnate compounds, the tip of leaflets is emarginate. The underside of leaves is covered with oil glandulae, making them sticky to the touch. The inflorescence is a loose raceme, purple to pale whitish blue flowers are borne in the axils. The legume is ± oblong and smooth. Leaflets of the related species wild liquorice (Glycyrrhiza echinata) are acuate, flowers are borne in ball-shaped or elongated capitula, the pod is covered with red spikes. See Picture 24.

Drug: The root, rhizome and stolon of Glycyrrhiza glabra var. glandulifera (Liquiritiae rhizoma et radix). Since it has become more rare, mainly cultivated specimens are harvested. Its main active ingredients are the saponin glycyrrhizin, a compound that is fifty times sweeter than sucrose. Its flavonoid content is also important (liquiritine, isoliquiritine).

- It is analgesic, expectorant, antitussive. It is helpful in cases of coughs and cold.

- It is an ingredient of laxative tea mixtures and a remedy of kidney and bladder troubles.

- It relieves gastric ulcer, it is anti-inflammatory and epithelizer, as well as alterative.

Its watery essence was used to make the so-called “Pontefract-cake”. It is used to flavour and colour medicines and to make candy, ale and tobacco sauce.



25. Phaseolus vulgaris – Common bean. It is a highly variable species, with variable heights. Bush varieties, running and pole varieties that form long vines are also cultivated. Leaves are trifoliate, the central leaflet is cordate. Three-five flowers form a loose raceme; petals differ in colour according to varieties from white to cream and red. The fruit is a long legume that opens up when dried. See Picture 25.

Drug: the legume without the seeds (Phaseoli legumen, Phaseoli pericarpium, Phaseoli fructus sine semine). The legume contains trigonellin, choline, silica acid, chrome, phosphor and potassium.

- The decoction of the dry, empty pod is a remedy against bladder and kidney problems.

- It is used to treat rheumatism, gout and diabetes. Consumption of bean pod tea may reduce blood sugar and acetone levels. One cup of the following tea mixture may substitute 3-5 units of insulin. Ingredients: bean pod, linseed, blue berry leaves; use six tablespoonfuls of the mixture for 1 litre of water and cook for three hours.

Onagraceae (Oenotheraceae) – The willow herb or evening primrose family. K 2-4 C 2-4 v. 0 A 2,4,8 G ( ), perigynous ovary position. They are herbaceous plants, the flower is sometimes zygomorphic, the fruit is a denticidal capsule (it opens with four teeth).

26. Epilobium parviflorum - Willow herb. It is a perennial, stoloniferous plant with an erect, cylindrical stem. It is tomentose or floccose at the lower parts. The stem leaves are ovalate-lanceolate or oblong, usually with a round leaf base, + sessile, densely denticulate and tomentose. Petals are pale red or lilac, the stigma is erect and four-lobed, with eight stamens. Ovary position is inferior; the cylindrical capsule opens with four teeth. It flowers in June-July. See Picture 26.

Drug: the stem above the ground (Epilobii herba). It is often mixed with stems of other small-flowered species. Its active ingredients are beta-sitosterol and its derivatives, flavonoids (kaempferol, quercetin), tannins (galotannins).

- It is a useful remedy in prostate enlargement and prostatitis; in an advanced stage, it slows down the evolution of symptoms. Beneficial effects have not fully been substantiated.

- According to Maria Treben, it is effective against prostate cancer.

- Prolonged use may cause stomach and intestinal problems.

27. Oenothera erythrosepala – Red-sepaled evening primrose. It is a biennial plant, the taproot grows deep. The plant is 1-2 m tall, ribbed at the base and of reddish colour. The base leaves are produced in a tight rosette, they are long, obcordate, often with reddish margins. Stem leaves are long, lanceolate and apiculate, covered with fine hairs; they have short petioles. The 4-5 cm long flowers are tetramerous, yellow, sepals are red and hairy. The plant’s characteristic trait is its elongated calyx and the corolla tube. The 3-5 cm long capsule is reddish brown when mature. See Picture 27a. The species is native to North-America, it was introduced to Europe in the 17th century where new species were formed. It is a cultivated plant, in the wild it grows mainly around Budapest, in the Vértes Mountain and around Lake Balaton. From among wild species Oenothera biennis – common evening primrose – is the most common. Its distinctive features are the 2-3 cm long petals and the green sepals and young axis of the inflorescence. See Picture 27b.

Drug: the ripened seeds (Oenothera semen) and the fatty acid extracted from them (Oleum oenotheri). In Hungary, it is not officially listed as a drug but German literature treats red-sepaled and common evening primrose as medicinal plants. In England, the plant was held to be “the king’s cure-all”.

Originally, common evening primrose probably spread from South America northward and it was brought to Europe from North America. Nowadays it grows freely on wastelands and watersides. The main ingredients of its oil are linoleic acid, gamma-linolenic acid, and vitamin F. When taking the oil, some harmful substances may be produced; in order to counteract them, it is advised to take some antioxidants (vitamins C, E, selenium) at the same time.

- Its antioxidants have anti-cancer effects and boost the immune system.

- Native Americans already used the plant to treat skin problems and injuries; its oil is helpful in cases of eczema.

- It improves blood circulation and lowers blood pressure. It slows down the aging process.

- It is helpful in cases of asthma, flu, and cold. It is beneficial for arthritis.

- It reduces thyroidism, mainly hyperthyroidism.

- It is very helpful in reducing alcohol withdrawal syndrome and symptoms of depression.

- In cases of diabetes it reduces the possibility of complications, primarily nervous damage.

- It reduces symptoms of premenstrual stress syndrome and menstrual cramps.

Rutaceae – The rue or citrus family. K 4,5 C 4,5 A 4+4, 5+5, G 2,4,5. Most species are trees and shrubs with brightly coloured perianth; the flower is usually actinomorphic (radially symmetric), rarely zygomorphic (bilaterally symmetric). Flowers are hermaphroditic or unisexual, the fruit is a capsule or a berry. The leaves and the bark have pellucid glands, a type of oil containing cavities, leaves have therefore pellucid spots.



28. Ruta graveolens – Common rue. It is a 50-80 cm tall, dense, bushy suffrutescent plant with bright yellow roots. Leaf arrangement is alternate, lower leaves are petiolate, pinnately compound, upper ones are sessile and simple. Leaflets are spatulate, bluish-green, slightly fleshy, glandular and spotted, and they have entire margins. The inflorescence is a cymose umbel, flowers are greenish-yellow, tetramerous, sometimes pentamerous, petal margins are dented. The fruit is a four-ribbed, coriaceous capsule covered with glands. See Picture 28.

Drug:the flowering stem (Rutae herba).

Active ingredients are flavonoids, coumarin, essential oil, alkaloids (chinoline, furanochinoline).

- It is a mild antispasmodic and mitigative; it improves bile function.

- It is a remedy for respiratory troubles and heart disease.

- It is used to treat inflammation of the eye and to make the sight both sharp and clear.

When exposed to sunshine, touching the fresh plant can cause severe phyto-photodermatitis. It can cause gastritis and enteritis. It is rarely used as a drug, but rather as an ingredient in tea mixtures for high blood pressure and bilious complaints.

Hippocastanaceae – The horse chestnut family. K 5 C 4-5 A 5-8 G (3). They are trees and shrubs, with palmately compound leaves. Flowers are heteromerous and zygomorphic, with usually seven stamens. The fruit is a capsule, with a fleshy, spiny outer husk.



29. Aesculus hippocastanum – Horse chestnut. It is a deciduous tree which can grow up to 30 m tall. Leaf arrangement is decussate (opposite), the palmately compound leaves are 20 cm or longer. The inflorescence is conical, 20-30 long, erect, with white flowers with a small yellow, then red spot at the base. The fruit isdehiscent when mature. The red-flowered ornamental trees are not suitable for medicinal purposes. See Picture 29.

Drug:the dried bark (Hippocastani cortex), the leaves (Hippocastani folium), and the seeds (Hippocastani semen).

The drugs are not listed in the pharmacopoeia.

Horse chestnut wood is soft, does not crack, the bark is used as a black dye. It is a good silk dye. It prefers damp, humid places; it defoliates in dry weather. It grows quickly. The active ingredient present in the flower, leaf, and seed is aesculin. The bark contains fuercitrin (a saponin substitute) and bitter materials, the seed contains 50% starch, 10-20% saponin, vitamins B, C and K.

- The peeled, roasted and ground seeds are used to treat diarrhoea and enteritis.

- The fluid extracted from the ground fruit is used for stomach ache.

- The bark has febrifuge and stomachic properties.

- The leaves are astringent, therefore helpful in treating enteritis and internal bleeding.

- Applied externally, it is recommended as a face-wash for greasy, spotty skin.

- The flower drug is used for gastric and intestinal spasms and rheumatism.

- It prevents circulatory disturbances and thrombosis; it is used to produce an anti-thrombotic by the pharmaceutical industry.

In rare cases it can cause poisoning, gastritis, enteritis, and haemolysis. Its active ingredient is aescin (saponin), a cyanogene glycoside. It was used to make a sunscreen and to blench freckles.

Rhamnaceae – the buckthorn family. K 4,5 C 4,5 A 4,5 G (). They are shrubs with entire leaves. Flowers are usually small, greenish, the fruit is a drupe with an often fleshy shell.

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