Medicinal plants and drugs



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43. Valeriana officinalis – Valerian. It is a biennial, herbaceous plant. In the first year it grows a rosette, in the second it grows the usually more than 1 m tall stem with the flowers. The leaves are imparipinnately compound (6-12 pairs), leaflets are elliptical, lanceolate, 1-2 cm broad. Lower leaves are petiolate, upper ones are sessile. The inflorescence is a terminal cymose umbel. The perianth is white or pink, flowers have a pleasant scent. Wild species are practically not harvested, the drug is obtained by cultivation. There is no uniquely recognised species, the species is heterogeneous, essential oil content is low. See Pictures 43a, 43b.

Drug: The peeled rhizome and root (Valerianae rhizoma et radix).

Its name may come from the Latin ‘valere’, ‘to be strong’ or ‘healthy’. According to other sources, the plant was named after the Roman physician Valerius. It was held to be an all-heel (it is one of its names). The plant attracts cats and rats. Stories describe that in an effort to rid the town of rats, Pied Piper of Hamelin used both his pipes and the hypnotic power of valerian to mesmerize rats. The smell of cats during mating is similar to that of valerian, which makes it attractive for them. Its active ingredients are 0.1-1% valerian acid, essential oil, sugar, starches.

- It is a tranquilliser and it decreases reflex sensitivity (borneole, isovaleric acid ester).

- It is used for insomnia and overstrain. Barbiturates and alcohol do not influence its effect.

- It reduces blood pressure and mixed with other herbs, heart-hammering (strong palpitation).

- The decoction can be used to benefit in case of gastrospasm and nervous stomach-complaint, and it also reduces anxiety.

- It is a folk remedy for epilepsy.

- It is used as an ingredient in over a hundred tranquillisers and narcotics in Germany.

- It also has anti-tumour effects.

It causes complaints such as headache, dizziness, blurred vision, anxiety, nausea and morning stupor only in very large doses. It has no side-effects, moreover, due to the effect of valepotriates, it boosts mental and physical performance and concentration.

Tiliaceae – The linden family. K 4-5 C 4-5 A 0- G (2-) They are woody plants with entire leaves. The fruit is a one-seeded, indehiscent nutlet. The yellow-white flowers are arranged in a cymose umbel, the bract is fused with the floral axis and serves as a flying mechanism.



44. Tilia cordata – Small-leaved linden (Little leaf linden/lime). The underside of the leaf is green, later bluish-grey and mat; in the axis of the leaf veins vestiture is rusty. The fruit is barely ribbed. It is in flower later than large-leaved linden. See Picture 44a.

Tilia platyphyllos – Large-leaved linden (lime). Leaves are bigger, the underside is glossy and greyish-green; in the leaf veins and in the axis of the leaf veins vestiture is whitish or yellowish. The fruit is often ribbed. It is in flower first. Varieties and hybrids are common. See Picture 44b.

Drug: Flowers of small- and large-leaved linden (Tiliae flos or Tiliae inflorescentia). The flower of silver linden (Tilia tomentosa) is not a drug according to regulations. It flowers the latest; the underside of leaves is silvery and felt-like because of stellate hairs. Branches are upright and erect.

The wood is white and soft and is excellent to make instruments and chests. It is a food of Aphids and erineum leaf mites. Prefers humid, fresh air. Earlier it rarely figured in descriptions, the Germans called it lovers’ tree; it was a symbol of love, yearning, tenderness and song.

Hybrids are common. The flowers, the membranous stipules and the leaves are harvested. Its active ingredients are 0.l% essential oil (contains farnesol), mucilage, tannin, hesperidin flavonoid glycoside, saponin and sugar.

- Its infusion is consumed in case of cold as a diaphoretic and antitussive, and also with a footbath to prevent flu.

- It is alterative and diuretic; it alleviates rheumatic complaints.

- It is a neurotonic, a stomachic, and a cardiac tonic, therefore long-term use is contra-indicated.

- It is used as a skin-care and a gargle.

- Its powdered charcoal is an effective anti-emetic and antispasmodic. It is also used to make talcum and tooth-powder.

The leaf-drug is less effective and is used as a tea substitute. After the fruit appears, it is not suitable for harvesting. Blooming order is as follows: first the large-leaved lime is in flower, then small-leaved lime, and finally silver lime. The bract of silver lime is stellate, rougher to the touch, not with five, but ten petals; it has no medicinal uses, only industrial ones.

Malvaceae – The mallows family. K (5) C 5 A() G (3-) Herbaceous plants with lobed or cleft leaves. Bracts are often fused to form an outer calyx. The stamens are united into a tube surrounding the style. The fruit is a so-called cheese, which is a follicular fruit, a schizocarp or a dehiscent capsule.

45. Althaea officinalis – Common marsh mallow. It is a ramose perennial plant with a bulky rhizome and a tall, erect stem thickly covered with tomentose, grey hairs. Leaves are also tomentose, 3-5 lobed, with just slightly lobed, serrate tops. Flowers are white or pale pink, the outer calyx has 6-9 sepals, stamens are purplish. The round back of the mericarps is stellate. See Picture 45.

Drug: the root (Althaeae radix) and the leaves (Althaeae folium), which is harvested before, or right at the beginning of blooming.

Its use was already mentioned in a five thousand year-old old Egyptian papyrus. It can be cultivated. The meaning of the Greek word ‘althein’ is ‘to heal’. It came to be neglected from time to time out of mistake, because it was cooked, which it SHOULD NOT have been. It has to be soaked in cold water for eight hours, and then consumed warm. The root contains 30% mucilage, 30-40% starch, aspargin, sugar, pectin, tannin, lecithin and fatty acid.

- It is used as a mucous investment material in catarrhal diseases of the trachea and the digestive organs, mainly in paediatrics.

- It is very effective in treating coughs, hoarseness and asthma. In tea mixtures it has to be soaked separately and added to the rest of the tea after it cooled down. If it is not packed separately in the tea mixture, the packing is unprofessional because if it is cooked or boiled together with the other herbs, marsh mellow looses its medicinal effect.

- It is used to make medicinal candy.

- It is an abirritant in cases of diarrhoea and enuresis.

- The decoction of the flowers makes an effective eye-poultice.

3.3.1. Test questions

32. Describe the carrot (or parsley) family.

33. The inflorescence of which umbellate herbs is white or pink?

34. List those umbellate medicinal herbs that have an anise scent.

35. Which umbellate herbs grow leaves in the first year and a flowery stem in the second?

36. The drug of which umbellate herbs is the flowery stem besides the flower?

37. The root and rhizome of which umbellate plants are drugs?

38. Which plant is easy to mix with hemlock, and what is its special characteristic?

39. Which part of the poisonous water hemlock can be mistaken for a harvestable part of a medicinal plant?

40. The petiole of which plant is inflated: lovage, or garden angelica?

41. Sweet woodruff and yellow bedstraw both have white flowers and a square stem. Which one is true?

42. Which of the two have more leaflets in the whorls: sweet woodruff or yellow bedstraw?

43. What are the consequences if unripe elder berries get mixed to ripe ones?

44. What does the latin name of valerian refer to?

45. Of lime species, which one has leaves with a silvery grey underside?

46. Which lime species blooms first and which one blooms last?

47. Which plant of the mallows family is thickly covered with tomentose, grey hairs?

3.4. 4. From Dwarf mallow to Summer savory



46. Malva neglecta – Dwarf mallow (Common mallow, Cheeseplant). It is an annual, thickly branched, ascendant plant. It is scabrous, pilose or pubescent. Leaves are long-stalked, very inconspicuously and broadly lobed. The petiole is hirsute and glandular. Petals are pale pink or bluish and 1 cm long. The three outer sepals are almost linear and hairy. Petals are deeply emarginate, 2-3 times longer than the calyx. Mericarps are smooth on the back. See Picture 46a.

Drug: the leaves (Malvae folium), but it can be added to leaves of other mallow species. The most important active ingredient in the drug is mucilage, but it contains tannin, too.

The leaves have to be harvested with a short petiole.

- It is antitussive and expectorant.

- Its infusion is used as a gargle for sore throat and as a mouth-wash.

Malva sylvestris – High mallow (Large-flowered mallow). It is a biennial or a perennial, thickly branched, scabrous and setiferous plant with a growth habit which can be straight or decumbent. Leaves have 5 (7) shallow lobes, upper leaves are slightly more deeply lobed. The three outer sepals are linear and lanceolate. Petals are reddish-purple, 1.5-3 cm long, with dark veins, the petal base is hairy. Mericarps are glabrous or hairy and have two lines of indentations on the back. See Picture 46b.

Drug: the leaves (Malvae folium) and the flower (Malvae sylvestris flos, Malvae flos). Flowers contain a natural dye similar to anthocyane, called malvin glycoside.

Linaceae – The linseed family K5 C5 A5- G (5). They are herbaceous plants with regular five lobed flowers; the fruit is a capsule.

47. Linum usitatissimum – Linseed (Common flax). It is an annual, 40-50 cm tall, linear or ramified, waxy, glaucous green plant with a cylindrical stem. Leaves are sessile, thin, lanceolate, acute, 1-3 veined with entire margins. The blue, white or pink flowers are five-lobed and have long pedicels; they are arranged in a compound corymb with a scorpioid cyme. The fruit is a dry, globose capsule with ten septa. See Picture 47.

Drug: the seed (Lini semen), the flour of the ground seeds (Lini semina farina, Placenta lini) and the oil extracted from the seeds (Oleum lini).

It is cultivated for its fibre and for its oil. The seed of the linseed cultivated for its oil is more valuable. Its active ingredients are fatty acids, such as linoleic and linolenic acid. Mucilage is also important, such as galacturon acid and mannuronic acid. Furthermore it contains vitamin F, protein, lecithin, bitter materials and some cyanogene glycoside.

- In case of enteritis, the seeds are soaked in lukewarm water to coat the intestinal walls and reduce irritation with the resultant mucous liquid.

- The entire seeds taken with abundant water are used as a laxative.

- Crushed seeds make a useful poultice in the treatment of ulceration and abscesses.

- The mucous liquid was used to curl hair in the past.

- The oil-cake remaining after oil extraction was ground and used as a poultice on inflamed parts.

- In case of arteriosclerosis, linseed-oil is very useful; it reduces blood cholesterol levels. It prevents cardiovascular diseases.

- The oil, due to its vitamin F content, is used to treat dry skin; it is also effective in cases of acne and eczema. Injuries and inflammations cure faster.

- It is antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal. It is effective against herpes, herpes-zoster (shingles), and psoriasis.

- It is used to treat kidney stone; it prevents the formation of the stones. It is helpful in treating hormonal disorders.

- It alleviates fatigue, nervous lethargy and itchiness.

- It can be used as an auxiliary treatment in Parkinson and Alzheimer disease.

- It is a valuable remedy for menstrual complaints as it regulates uterine function. It is also recommended in case of infertility.

Euphorbiaceae – the Spurge family. Flowers are unisexual, the perianth is often missing or it is a simple five-lobed sepaloid perianth (Ricinus). The stamen is -1, the pistil is fused of three petals, the ovary is hypogynous with 3 septicidal capsules. The capsular fruit has three cells, each of which splits open at maturity into separate parts.



48. Ricinus communis – Castor oil plant (Castorbean). It is a tropical, tree-sized plant which is grown in Hungary as an annual. The bulky, cylindrical and hollow stem grows up to 1.5-3 m tall. Leaves are alternate and big with long petioles. The diameter of lower leaves can be 1 m. Leaves are palmatipartite with 7-11 loments which are acute. They are dark green, reddish, bluish pruinose, glossy or waxy. It is monoecious. The yellow male flowers are at the bottom of the inflorescence, branched in a tree-like form, while the reddish female flowers are situated in the upper part. The capsule has three seeds and is softly spined. The big bean-shaped, greyish brown, marbled seeds are highly poisonous. It is recommended that the female flowers of plants cultivated as ornamentals be removed so that children cannot ingest them. See Picture 48.

Drug: the cold-pressed and clarified oil extracted from the seeds (Oleum ricini). The toxic principle is water-soluble so is not found in the oil.

It is a fast growing, popular ornamental plant cultivated in many places. The seeds contain fatty acids such as ricinoleic acid, oleic acid, stearic acid and linoleic acid. Its poisonous materials are the alkaloid ricinine and the protein ricin.

- It is chiefly known for its laxative effects. It is regularly used to clear the digestive tract in cases of poisoning. It should be avoided in chronic constipation and impaction of the bowel.

- It should not be used on pregnant women and babies, or only with great caution.

- It is prescribed in cases of dysentery and enteritis in paediatrics.

- It is used by the cosmetics industry and in dermatology to make hair lotions.

- Its oil has industrial uses as a fine lubricant and a cup grease.

Gentianaceae – The Gentian family. They are herbaceous plants with entire, alternate leaves and hermaphrodite flowers. The fruit is a capsule.

49. Centaurium erythraea (C. minus) – Common centaury (Feverwort). It is an annual plant with an erect, square stem, growing up to 10-40 cm tall, ramified only in the upper part. The lower leaves are obovate, upper ones are elliptical or lanceolate with entire margins; leaf arrangement is decussate. The pink petals are fused, flowers are borne in a relatively dense cymose umbel. The calyx is half as long as the corolla tube, teeth are lanceolate. See Picture 49. The related lesser centaury (Centaurium pulchellum) is smaller, ramified from the bottom up, and unsuitable for medicinal purposes.

Drug:the flowering stem (Centaurii herba).

It is a protected plant which is cultivated in Marocco, Bulgaria and in ex-Yugoslav countries. It is an essential ingredient of bitters; it is used in cheep beers as a hop-substitute. The meaning of Centaurium in Greek is centaur. In Greek mythology, its wound-healing properties were discovered by the centaur Chiron. Its tea effectively heals wounds. Its active ingredients are 3% bitter glycoside called erytaurin, wax, resin, a bitter material called gentiopicrin, erythrocentaurine, nicotinic acid, and oleanolic acid.

- It stimulates the appetite and strengthens the digestive function; it cures the deficiency of peristalsis, increases gastric juice production and improves gastric disorders. It is a carminative and stops heart-burn.

- It improves bile function. It is used in treating liver complaints and stones.

- It is an alterative and an ingredient of tea mixtures for anaemia.

- It is beneficial for patients with haemorrhoids; its tea cures some skin problems.

- It is one of the best stomach herbs; it is effective for gastric ulcer and alleviates fullness.

- It is recommended for the elderly as a tonic to boost vitality.

Boraginaceae – The borage (forget-me-not) family. K (5) C (5) +A 5 G (2). Herbaceous plants with entire leaves, usually with scabrous hair. The flower is actynomorphic, but species at the end of the family can be zygomorphic. Flowers are arranged in simple or compound helicoid cymes. The fruit consists of four, rarely two nutlets and is embraced by the remaining calyx.



50. Symphytum officinale – Comfrey (Blackwort). It is a bulky, ramified plant, with a ± erect rhizome. The stem is erect and hollow and winged from the alternate leaves on. The whole plant is robust. Lower leaves are lanceolate-ovate, acute, attenuate and large. Upper leaves are sessile and decurrent. The whole plant is scabrous due to uncinate hairs. Flowers are violet, bluish or white (the flower of the tuberous variety that grows in forests is yellow), the perianth is cylindrical and bell-shaped, lobes (5) are quite short and bend outwards. Nutlets are smooth, glossy and black, with a ring-shaped edge at the bottom. See Picture 50.

Drug: the rhizome and the root (Symphyti rhizoma et radix). Sometimes the leaves are also sold.

Pliny described a kind of plaster made of boiled comfrey to fix broken bones as the pulp becomes hard and plaster-like. It is a perennial weed that grows on damp localities. Its active ingredients are cynoglossin alkaloid, consolidine, resin, silicon dioxide, 8-l0% tannin, choline, inulin, rosmarine acid, asparagin and gum.

- It is used for digestive complaints; its effect on respiratory diseases has not been proved.

- It was used in cases of gastric and intestinal ulcers. It is a useful gargle.

- It strengthens the bones; it helps heal broken bones and accelerates the formation of scars.

- The ointment is a useful remedy for phlebitis and bruises.

- It is an excellent remedy to treat slow-healing sore wounds because it contains a substance called allantoin, a cell proliferant that speeds up the healing process and has a proven anti-inflammatory effect. The root is reported to be more effective in such cases, but the infusion of the leaves is also excellent. The leaves have to be finely cut and put in boiling water. They should be soaked until cool; the strained leaves should be put on wounds. It does not matter if they stick to the wound. The treatment should be repeated 2-3 times a day because when dried, the uncinate hairs irritate the wound. In cases of deep wounds and ulcers caution is advised because it is so effective that the wound may be scarred before deeper layers are healed.

It is not absorbed through the skin. It is hazardous because its compound pirrolyzidine is hepatoxic and carcinogene. That is why it was banned in Canada. It was reported to cause liver damage only in large doses and in long-term use (2 year long feeding tests); the recommended dose never caused any trouble. The plant is still very valued elsewhere.

According to a cancer expert, its health hazards are no greater than those of a cup of tea or a peanut butter sandwich. Eating a mushroom or drinking half a glass of soda or millilitres of beer or wine involve the same danger. Comfrey-based pepsin tablets and capsules contain 200 doses, therefore they should be avoided. People with past alcohol problems and liver and cancer patients should avoid using it; medical advice should be sought before application.



51. Pulmonaria officinalis – Lungwort. It is a perennial plant with a brown rhizome. The flowery stem develops in early spring, before basal leaves. Stem leaves are smaller, acute, ovate and sessile. The leaves that winter over develop in summer. They have long petioles and are wide elliptical, pointed with white or pale green patches. Leaves are covered with tiny hairs and longer stiff hairs. The perianth is reddish, or blue or purplish later on. The fruit consists of four nutlets. See Picture 51.

Drug: more often the leaves (Pulmonariae folium), rarely the stem (Pulmonariae herba). Its characteristic active ingredient is allantoin but it also contains mucilage and flavonoids (kaempferole and quercetin).

Basal leaves of the mature plant are harvested with a short petiole.

- It is a strong expectorant, so it is an excellent remedy of respiratory diseases; it is primarily used in case of pituitous conditions. It is effective in cases of asthma and hoarse voice.

- It is used as a gargle for soar-throat.

Verbenaceae – the verbena (Vervain) family K (5) C (5) A 2+2 G (2) (4-5). They are herbaceous plants with slightly zygomorphic flowers. The tube of the perianth is long, curled and diadelphous; the fruit usually consists of four nutlets.



52. Verbena officinalis – Common vervain (Verbena). It is an erect perennial plant with a square stem. It is a ramified, medium-sized, scabrous plant (because of tiny hairs). Branch and leaf arrangement is decussate. Leaves are pinnatipartite or pinnatisect, three-lobed, petiolate, the upper ones are sessile and serrate. The tiny, zygomorphic, bilabiate reddish flowers are arranged in spikes; bracts are entire and lanceolate. It is in flower in June-July. See Picture 52.

Drug: the 40 cm long stem harvested when in flower (Verbenae herba).

According to mythology, it grew out of the tears of Isis, the goddess of fertility, who was weeping over the murdered Osiris. It was said to be put on Christ’s wounds too, it was called “the herb of the crucifix”. Druids used it in magic. Its active ingredients are verbenaline glycoside, bitter substance, invertin, emulsin, and tannic acid.

- It is used to treat stomach, liver and bile complaints; it is a mild laxative.

- It is applied as a universal tonic in cases of exhaustion, fatigue, anaemia, and insomnia. It is a sedative; it slows down quick pulse.

- It is antibacterial, analgesic and anti-inflammatory. It mildly alleviates migraine.

- It regulates hyperthyroidism and stimulates digestive processes.

- It alleviates menstrual troubles; it is a galactogogue (increases milk-yield).

- It was used as a gargle and a skin remedy.

- It stimulates uterine and intestinal function; it is counter-indicated for pregnant women.

- It is used to add flavour to pickles.

Its anti-dandruff and emetic effects, its ability to dilute renal stones or induce menstruation have not yet been proved.

Labiatae – The mint family. K (5) C (5) A 2+2 G (2) They are herbaceous plants with opposite or whorled leaves and a square stem. Flowers usually sit in leaf axils and are zygomorphous; the calyx is normally five-lobed or bilabiate. The perianth is also bilabiate but the upper lip can be missing. The upper lip is fused of two petals, the lower lip of three. Of the four stamens, two are longer, two are shorter. The fruit is a nutlet that opens into four segments when ripe. Almost all species of the family are scented due to their essential oil-content.

53. Rosmarinus officinalis – Rosemary. It is a perennial, evergreen, scented sub-shrub that grows up to 0.5-1 m tall. The stem is densely ramified, younger shoots are grey-white, older ones have a scale-like bark. Leaves are linear, non-petiolate, coriaceous, with revolute margins and a grey, floccose underside. The pale blue, pale violet or white flowers grow in leaf axis; the middle lobe of the three-lobed lower lip is large and floppy. Flowers are usually hermaphrodite, sometimes the stamen is vestigial. It is in flower from March until September. See Picture 53.

Drug: the dried and then granulated or ground leaves (Rosmarini folium), and the essential oil (Aetheroleum rosmarini).

In old recipes rosemary leaves were used to keep raw meat fresh and incorrupt. It later became a symbol of love. It is a cultivated evergreen plant the leaves of which are harvested. Its active ingredients are 1-2% essential oil that contains cineole and borneole, as well as tannic acid, nicotinic acid, saponin and bitter materials.

- It is used to prevent food-poisoning; it is an antibacterial, its oil is a strong antioxidant. It is an excellent preservative, often added to meet or fish.

- It is a digester, cholagogue, and it calms the stomach.

- It is antispasmodic; it affects the uterus, but instead of relaxing it, which it should, it may induce abortion in large doses.

- It is an expectorant that dilutes nasal and respiratory mucus.

- To prevent infection, its leaves are ground and put on the fresh wound as it is antibacterial and antifungal. It is an ingredient of anti-inflammatory, analgesic products for articular diseases and muscular rheumatism.

- It is a tonic in case of neurasthenia, as well as a moth-repellent.

- Its oil alleviates gastric, renal and intestinal complaints but caution is required as it can be poisonous.


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