Medicinal plants and drugs

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30. Frangula alnus – Alder buckthorn (Black alder). It is a shrub or a smaller tree. Buds are naked. Leaves are oblong obcordate and have entire margins, flowers are pentamerous and hermaphrodite. The drupe is purple-black, reddish when unripe. See Picture 30a. It is easily mistaken for common buckthorn (Rhamnus catharticus), but the buds of the latter are covered with scales, leaf margins are serrate, flowers are tetramerous, the drupe is black. See Picture 30b.

Drug: the bark (Frangulae cortex). It is harvested in early spring, before sap circulation starts. The bark is greyish brown on the outside but if scraped, it becomes brownish red because of the anthraquinone. On the bark, there are light grey lenticels in parallel lines. Before use, it has to be dried and stored for a year or baked because the fresh bark is purgative due to rhamnustoxin.

Alder Buckthorn charcoal is prized in the manufacture of gunpwder. It grows on swamps and damp places, usually on moist heaths and damp open woods, preferring a lime-free soil. The bark contains anthra-glycoside, bitter materials, tannic acid, enzime, sugar, chrysophanic acid, and frangulin. Frangulin breaks down to emodin glycoside. The drug is contained in the bark of thicker branches that are more than one year old. The substance contained in the young bark is vomitive but it breaks down when stored, or heated to 100 °C.

- It is a laxative, abstergent and anthelmintic; it is primarily used to treat intestinal problems.

- It is a stomachic and a digestant; it is a common ingredient in weight-loss teas.

- It is a febrifuge.

- Its tea is used in treating haemorrhoids, but also liver, bile and spleen troubles.

3.2.1. Test questions

16. The fruits of which rose species must not be harvested and why?

17. What is the difference between hawthorn and blackthorn when blooming?

18. Where is common houseleek harvested?

19. What parts of blackcurrant are drugs?

20. Describe the family of legumes (Fabaceae).

21. The flowers of which leguminous plants are pink or purple/lilac?

22. Which leguminous plant has a coumarin fragrance?

23. The legume of which leguminous plant is lomented between the seeds?

24. If consumed, the green shoots of which leguminous plant can cause death in animals?

25. How would you differentiate between liquorice and wild liquorice?

26. What are our cultivated bean types, and what colour is their flower?

27. What is the special characteristic of the flower of willow herb?

28. Red-sepaled evening primrose is named after which of its parts?

29. Why do leaves of the rue family (and of common rue) have pellucid spots?

30. What parts of horse chestnut are harvested? Is the red-flowered tree harvestable for drugs?

31. Compare alder buckthorn and common buckthorn.

Umbelliferae (Apiaceae) – The carrot or parsley family. K 5 C 5 A 5 G (), perigynous ovary position. They are herbaceous plants with a great pulvinus and usually alternately pinnate compound leaves. The flowers are nearly always aggregated in terminal umbels and are actinomorphic and hermaphroditic. At the edges of the umbel, flowers are often bigger and staminate or infertile. The umbel inflorescence is specially characterised by the number, shape and presence or non-presence of involucral bracts and invulucels. The fruit is a so-called non-fleshy schizocarp of two mericarps, each with a single seed;they separate at maturity and are dispersed by wind. Important characteristics for identification are their shape, ribbing and size. Mericarps have five main ribs and often four side ribs; ribs are sometimes winged, sometimes spiny. The pericarp contains oil canals.

3.3. 3. From Garden chervil to Common marsh mallow

31. Anthriscus cerefolium – Garden chervil. It is a herbaceous annual plant with short germination time. It grows up to 20-70 cm tall and is strongly ramified at the base. Leaves are tripinnately divided, thin, lacy, glabrous, with a light anise fragrance. Lower leaves are petiolate, upper ones are sessile. The inflorescence is a compound umbel, flowers are tiny and white. It blooms late April, early May. The fruit is a black schizocarp that separates to two thin mericarps; it has an anise fragrance. See Picture 31.

Drug: the flowering stem (Cerefolii herba), and the fruit (Cerefolii fructus). The herba and the fructus both contain essential oils the main ingredient of which is methyl chavicole. The herba also contains flavonoid glycosides, mineral and bitter materials.

It contains essential oils. Its fresh spring leaves are used in salads.

- Its tea is used for bladder problems, respiratory and digestive troubles.

- It is a natural antioxidant.

- It improves circulation.

32. Coriandrum sativum – Coriander. It is an annual plant that grows up to varying heights (20-120 cm) and has a heavily ramified stem. The first leaves form a rosette and have long petioles, are round-shaped, three-lobed or parted. Lower leaves are pinnate, leaflets are broad, oval, lobes of the upper leaves are slender and linear. The compound umbel has many flower stalks; flowers are white, pink or lavender, the petals pointing away from the centre of the umbel are longer. The involucre is missing, the involucel is present. The fruit is a distinctively globular, straw-coloured or light brown schizocarp. See Picture 32.

Drug: the ripe schizocarp (Coriandri fructus), and its extracted essential oil (Aetheroleum coriandri). It is native to the eastern Mediterranean, several varieties are cultivated.

The fruit must be harvested ripe (brown). Its essential oils are linalool, geraniol, borneole.

- It is an antispasmodic and a carminative; it increases the production of gastric juice.

33. Petroselinum crispum – Parsley. A biennial plant that grows a yellow-white taproot in the first year and its leaves form a rosette. Leaves are dipinnately or ternately compound, leaflets are divided. In the second year it grows a 70-80 cm tall, ramified stem with compound umbels consisting of yellowish-green flowers. Upper leaves are ternate or pinnate, leaflets are entire and linear. See Picture 33.

Drug: the root (Petroselini radix) and the essential oil (Aetheroleum petroselini).

There exist many superstitious believes connected to the plant. It was believed that whoever eats it before going to battle will die. It used to be planted as a grave-plant, later it was given to the winner of the athletic championship and thus became a symbol of strength instead of death. The essential oil contains apiol, glycoside, colouring, vitamin C and myristicin. The leaves contain high levels of vitamin C but daily intake cannot be covered from it as consumed in larger quantities, it causes dizziness, head noise and headache. The leaf, the seed and the root are drugs.

- Its tea is a diuretic and a kidney tonic; a strong decoction of the root is of great service in kidney gravel and stone; it is effectively used for inflammation of the bladder.

- In case of heart condition, medical advice should be sought before use.

- Because of its diuretic properties, it lowers blood pressure but it must be used with caution because it washes out potassium from the body.

- The Romans already used it as a breath freshener.

- It helps uterine contractions; it was used as a remedy to regulate the menstrual cycle.

- It alleviates allergic symptoms due to its antihistamine effect; in cases of hives and mosquito bite, the leaves were rubbed in.

It contains psoralenes, substances that are mainly responsible for the skin’s photosensitivity, therefore have anti skin cancer effects. It has not yet been proved scientifically but it is worth a try. When harvesting, it may cause skin burns. The decoction of its seeds may be dangerous, it may cause renal bleeding and abortion. It is easy to confuse with fool’s parsley (Anthriscus cynapium), a noxious weed, but the stem of the latter has lavender spots at the base and is hallow.

34. Carum carvi – Caraway. Its annual and biennial varieties are both cultivated. The annual variety is less ramified. The leaves are petiolate, ternately compound, stem leaves sit on membranous sheaths. The inflorescence is an umbel with 5-10 stalks, petals are white, sometimes pink. The biennial variety is common. In the first year, the base leaves and the fleshy root develop. The plant flowers in the second year. See Picture 34.

Drug: the schizocarp fruit (Carvi fructus); the volatile oil extracted from it (Aetheroleum carvi).

It was used to spice rye-bread; it figures on the Eber papyrus. Its use has changed very little from ancient times. Its active ingredients are 3-7% essential oil, which contains d-carvone, d-limonene and carvol; it also contains 10-20% fatty acids, protein, and tannins.

- It is stomachic, carminative, and tonic; carvol and carvone soothe the non-striated muscles of the digestive tract.

- It soothes uterine muscles, alleviates menstrual cramps.

- It is expectorant, galactogogue and bacteriostatic (antiseptic).

- Its oil is a well-known rubbing substance.

- In cases of rheumatic tooth- and headache, heated caraway seed is applied as a bandage.

- It is used to treat renal colic.

- It is an eye remedy when applied as wet steaming or an eye wash.

It is a common home and industrial spice. It is a flavouring agent in the Scandinavian Aquavit and the German Kummel liqueurs. The fresh seeds can be chewed.

35. Pimpinella anisum – Anis. It is an annual plant that grows to 30-70 cm tall, with a cylindrical, slightly pilose and linearly sulcate stem. The lower leaves are cordate-orbicular and serrate. The middle leaves are pinnately compound, the upper ones are laciniate. The inflorescence is a compound umbel, umbels have 7-15 flower stalks, involucres are mostly missing. Flowers are bright green or whitish. The fruit is an oval or inverted pear-shaped, greenish-brown schizocarp, with traces of two pistils on the top. The fruit is ribbed, with short setae, the mericarps do not separate easily. Two varieties are cultivated, one has smaller and darker seeds, the other has brighter and bigger seeds, but the latter has lower essential oil content in Hungary. See Picture 35.

Drug: the fruit (Anisi fructus) and the essential oil (Aetheroleum anisi).

It is a popular spice, also used to make antitussant syrup and candy. The Greeks flavoured their famous anis liqueur, ouzo, with anis. The fruit can be confused with the seed of the poisonous hemlock (Conium maculatum), but the schizocarp fruits of the latter are glabrous. Its active ingredients are 2-5 % anethole, essential oil, fatty acids, salts and 20% protein.

- It is an antitussive; creosole and alpha pinene act as expectorants in cases of bronchitis, asthma and tracheitis.

- Anethole is stomachic, tonic, digestive and carminative.

- It stimulates bile secretion.

- It freshens the breath and is useful in tonsillitis.

- Dianethole and photoanethole have an observed estrogenic effect, which may be responsible for the galactogogue effect. Assimilated in the breast milk, it soothes the baby.

- Oestrogen can help in the after-treatment of prostate cancer, but at the same time it can cause thoracic tumor, migraine and abnormal blood coagulation.

- It helped liver cell regeneration in trials; it was used to treat liver infection and icing liver.

Caution is required, pregnant women should avoid taking it. It can cause nausea in greater quantities.

36. Foeniculum vulgare – Fennel. It is an evergreen perennial herbaceous plant that grows up to 1.5-2 m tall. The stem is cylindrical, glabrous, waxy, white in the inside, very ramified. Leaves are multiply pinnately compound, finely divided, bright grey or bluish-green. The basis of the petiole is inflated and rugose. Flowers are tiny and yellow. Involucres are missing. The umbel is flat and many-stalked. The fruit is a 6-10 mm long, greenish or brownish cylindrical schyzocarp that tapers off at the top. It is cultivated but grows wild in many parts of the world. It is native to Southern Europe and the shores of the Mediterranean. It yields a good crop only in the first two years. See Picture 36.

Drug: the fruit (Foeniculi fructus) and the essential oil (Aetheroleum foeniculi).

Its essential oil, called transanethole, is assimilated in the breast milk.

- It is an expectorant, antispasmodic, appetiser, digestive.

- It is a diuretic and it reduces the risk of formation of renal stones.

- It is used to treat sore throat and is an effective tooth and mouth wash.

37. Anethum graveolens – Dill. It is an annual, herbaceous plant that grows up to 40-150 cm tall, with a finely sulcate, usually non-ramified stem. Leaves are 3-4 times pinnatisect, leaflets are thin, cuneate and thread-like. Lower leaves are petiolate, upper ones are sessile. Flowers are tiny, bright yellow, the inflorescence is big, many-stalked, can be even 20 cm in diameter. The fruit is an oval, dark brown schyzocarp that ripens unevenly. It can be cultivated anywhere, it does not grow wild but can escape. For oil extraction, the whole plant after flowering is best. Growing season is short. See Picture 37.

Drug: The herb above ground before bolting (Anethi herba) and the ripe seed (Anethi fructus). An essential oil is distilled by steaming from the parts above ground at waxy ripening of the fruits and from ripe seeds (Aetheroleum anethi herbae, Aetheroleum anethi fructus).

It was found in Egyptian tombs. It was known as Dioscorides’s herb. It is also a spice herb and a condiment in sour preserves. Its active ingredients are essential oils, apiole, d-carvone, myristicin, d-limonene and d-alpha phellandrene. Seeds, leaves and the 25-40 cm long plant can be harvested before bolting.

- It is stomachic, carminative, digestive and antibilious.

- The essential oil contained in the seeds prevents noxious bacteria from proliferating in the digestive tract, therefore it prevents diarrhoea.

- It is used to effect against insomnia; it was shown to lower high blood pressure in trials.

- It is used in sitting baths to treat diseases of the urinary tract.

- In case of bad breath, it is recommended that a few seeds be chewed to freshen breath.

Its English name, dill, has its origin in the Old German dilla, which means ‘to pacify’, ‘to calm’. It can cause skin rash in case of sensitivity.

38. Angelica archangelica – Garden angelica (Holy ghost, Wild celery). It is a biennial, herbaceous, tall (1,5-2 m) plant. In the first year the root is 20-30 cm long, 5-6 cm wide, basal leaves are big, dark green, bipinnate. The slightly ribbed flower-stalk develops in the second year. The basis of the petiole is inflated. The involucre is missing, the calyx is definitely five-lobed. The compound umbel is globular that can reach 20-30 cm in diameter, with yellow flowers. The fruit is bright yellow-brown. It is cultivated, sometimes it escapes. See Picture 38.

Drug: the dried rhizome and the root (Archangelicae rhizoma et radix), rarely the leaves and the fruit (Angelicae folium et fructus). The oil is extracted by steam distillation (Aetheroleum angelicae radix). In some countries its tincture is also an official drug (Tinctura angelicae).

It was a magic plant, the only one that was never used by witches. It was recommended as an anti-plague medicine to a monk by an angel in a dream, and indeed it worked. Active ingredients are 0.5-1% essential oil, angelic acid, phellandrene, pinene, cimole, malic acid, valeric acid, salts, bitter substances, wax, mucilage, tannin, pectin and 23 kinds of sugar.

- It is a useful remedy in cases of respiratory ailments, flu, bronchitis, and asthma. It is also an expectorant, it relaxes the trachea.

- It stimulates digestion, soothes the intestines, prevents heart-burn, lack of appetite and gastritis, and it is also a carminative.

- It is effective against arthritis; its alcoholic tincture is a rubbing liquid for rheumatism.

- It increases the number of red blood cells in case of anaemia; it is also a coagulant.

- It improves liver function.

Young leaves are used to make salad and vegetable dishes, the fleshy petiole can be consumed with sugar. The fruit is added to different teas for bilous, nervous, gastric and intestinal problems. It is used by the cosmetics, sugar and liqueur industry. It can cause phitodermatitis. It was used to induce abortion but such an effect has never been proved. It contains psoralene, a carcinogenic, and angelica lactone, which is anti-cancerous. The fresh root is poisonous but it is harmless when dried. It is easily confused with the fleshy, bulky rhizome of the highly poisonous water hemlock (Cicuta virosa), which is divided into hollows like a cabinet.

39. Levisticum officinale – Lovage. It is a tall (1.5-2 m), erect annual plant with a taproot. The root is greyish or yellow-brown, with a white pith. The hollow, dark green stem is developed in the second year, the leaves are pinnately or bipinnately compound, leaflets are big, cuneate, rhomboid-oval. Upper leaves are smaller and only simply pinnate. The hermaphrodite flowers are yellow, arranged in a compound umbel with 8-15 flower stalks. The fruit is a flat, yellow-brown schyzocarp with three protruding ribs on the back. It is native to South and West Asia. It is cultivated in southern Hungary, occasionally it escapes. See Picture 39.

Drug: The rhizome and the root (Levistici rhizoma et radix), and the essential oil extracted from the plant (Aetheroleum levistici). The leaves and fruits are used both as a drug and a spice (Levistici folium et fructus).

Essential oil is present in the whole plant, 70% of which is a phthalide; it also contains terpineol, carvacrol, eugenol and sesquiterpens. Coumarins and organic acids are accumulated in the root.

- The root is diuretic and carminative.

- It is also used by the liqueur and canning industry.

Rubiaceae – The madder (coffee or bedstraw) family. K (4,5,8) C (4,5,8) A 4-5- G (), rarely (1-). In Hungary they are all herbaceous plants with seemingly whorled, entire leaves. Whorls consist of opposite leaves and interpetiolar stipules. Flowers are generally actinomorphic. The calyx has usually 4-5 sepals which are often reduced. Petals are 3-6 lobed, with just as many stamens that are fused with the corolla tube. The fruit is a dry nut or capsule, drupe or berry-like.

40. Galium odoratum, Asperula odorata – Sweet woodruff. It is a perennial herbaceous, creeping plant with a cylindrical rhizome. The stem is square, 10-30 cm long, smooth, glossy and glabrous. Verticillasters are 6-9 lobed, leaves are lanceolate, glabrous, ciliate. The inflorescence is a terminal cyme, with long pedicels and strongly scented white flowers. The calyx is insignificant, the corolla is 1-5 mm in diameter. It blooms at the end of May. It grows in deciduous forests, mainly beech-groves; it is sporadic in the Great Hungarian Plane. See Picture 40.

Drug: the stem with the flowers (Asperulae odoratae herba). The drug contains coumarin glycosides, irridoid glycosides, gallic acid and tannins.

- It is a mild sedative in cases of abdominal pains, insomnia, and heart troubles.

- It is a detoxifier, alterative, and diuretic; it is used to treat liver and bile complaints.

- It contains antibacterial substances. It is a diaphoretic.

The leaves are used as flavouring in tobacco, wine drinks (jorums), and cheese. Mainly due to its coumarin content, it enhances the noxious effects of alcohol, causing headache and dizziness.

41. Galium verum – Yellow bedstraw (Lady’s bedstraw). It is a perennial, stoloniferous plant growing up to 30-100 cm tall with a square, glabrous or short haired stem. After flowering, the stem lies on the ground. The leaves are narrow, linear, placed 8-12 in a whorl. The tiny yellow flowers are arranged in a dense cymose umbel, the corolla is 2-3 mm diameter, the four round lobes are aristate. The flowers are in bloom in July-August, the fruit consists of two parts (a nutlet divided in two, or a cremocarp). It is a very common plant in Hungary. See Picture 41.

Drug: the stem with the flower (Galii veri herba). The most important of its flavonoid glycosides is quercetin, but it also contains irridoid glycosides, tannins, and cheese-rennet enzymes.

It has become less widely used as a remedy.

- Its tea is used to treat renal, bilious and liver complaints, as well as respiratory diseases.

Caprifoliaceae – The elder family. K (5) C (5) A 5 G () . They are trees and shrubs.

42. Sambucus nigra – Common elder (Golden elder). It is a 3-6 m tall shrub, first-year branches are green, the bark of older branches is grey and lenticellate. Leaves are opposite and imparipinnately compound. The inflorescence is a 10-25 cm diameter flat, cymose umbel. Flowers are yellow-white, the yellow stamens are fused to the base of the corolla tube. The fruit is a bright black berry-like drupe (baccacetum). See Picture 42.

Drug: the flower (Sambuci flos), the leaves and the ripe fruit (Sambuci folium et fructus).

Its wood is yellowish-white, hard, resistant and suitable to make inlays. The inside of the branches is used in microscopic sections. It grows on weedy areas and dumping grounds. It is called mother Holle’s home in German fables, it is held to protect the house and the backyard. It prefers half-shade. No special active ingredients have been found in the plant; it contains glycosides, essential oil, flavonoids (rutin, quercetin, sambucin), mucilage, tannins. The leaves accumulate tannins and sambunigrin glycoside. Flowers and leaves are harvested to make tea.

- Its tea is used as a remedy for coughs, asthma, and colds. It is diaphoretic and febrifuge.

- The tea made of its leaves is used to treat rheumatism, gout and metabolic diseases.

- It is laxative and diuretic; it is an excellent irrigator in case of kidney troubles.

- It is recommended for skin diseases and as a gargle; it activates self-healing mechanisms.

A decoction of the bark yields a black dye and is used as a stain. The leaves are used to impart a green colouring, the fruits a blue, purple and violet colouring. The drug has to be dried in a single layer so that flowers do not break. Fresh flowers are used to make syrup or are soaked in wine. Berries are used to add colour to wine and flavour to spirits. The leaves, seeds and unripe fruits can cause poisoning. There is sambunigrin cianogene glycoside present in the plant from which hydrocyanic acid evolves. The fruit is a vomitive in great quantities and can cause strong stomach complaints. The poisonous material breaks down in heat.

Valerianaceae – The valerian family. K 5 C (3-5) A 4-1 G (). Flowers are zygomorphic and dioecious, and they can be either perfect (bisexual) or imperfect (unisexual).In the case of valerian, seven combinations occur.

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