Medicinal plants and drugs



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67. Atropa bella-donna – Belladonna (Deadly Nightshade). It is a perennial, herbaceous plant with a ramified rhizome. Several erect stems (1-2 m) develop from the caput of the rhizome, which are pilose on the upper part. Leaves are large, orbicular or ovate, acute, attenuate, and entire. Its bell-shaped, tyrian purple or violet flowers sit alone on long peduncles. At maturation, the five-lobed calyx spreads out in a star-like form around the black, globular berry. It is harvested in Hungary but can be cultivated as well. See Picture 67.

Drug: leaves harvested at flowering (Belladonnae folium); the dried root (Belladonnae radix), sometimes the seed is also used (Belladonnae semen). It is available only in pharmacies.

Its main active substance is the strongly poisonous alkaloid atropine. It is used by the pharmaceutical industry. It cannot be applied as a home remedy due to its poisonous effects.

- Belladonna-based medicines are antispasmodic and analgesic.

- Leaves are used to make anti-asthma fumigators or cigarettes.

68. Hyoscyamus niger – Henbane. It is an annual or biennial, hardly ramified plant with a thick, cylindrical tap-root (10 cm) and a medium-sized (30-100 cm), hollow, erect stem; the plant is villous, covered with sticky-glandular hairs. Leaves are oval, with lobed or undulate edges, upper leaves are sessile, lower ones have winged petioles. Flowers are big (2-2.5 cm), dirty-yellowish with purple veins, purple-violet in the throat, and have a short peduncle. The fruit is a 1.5-2 cm long brown, funnel-shaped capsule with a prominent cover. See Picture 68.

Drug: the leaves harvested when the plant is in full flower (Hyoscyami folium); seeds are also harvested (Hyoscyami semen); the root is also a well-known drug (Hyoscyami radix).

Basal and stem leaves are harvested; its active substance hyoscyamine transforms into atropine.

- It is psychotic and analgesic. In the past belladonna-soaked cotton was put on aching teeth.

- Asthmatic whooping coughs are alleviated with fumigants or cigarettes made of belladonna.

- Belladonna oil was rubbed on rheumatic parts; it was also used for tremor of the elderly.

It is very toxic! Bromine has replaced the use of henbane.

69. Capsicum annuum – Sweet pepper. It is an annual plant with sensitive, shallow roots. The stem is 20-50 cm tall and ramified. The oval, acute leaves are arranged alternately. The white caulescent flowers are borne in the axils of upper leaves. The fruit is an inflated berry of varied shapes and colours. In therapeutics, the dark red fruits of the hot Capsicum annuum convar. longum (chilli) varieties are used without the peduncle. See Picture 69.

Drug: the mature fruit (Capsici fructus) and its tincture (Tinctura capsici).

It is native to southern North America and northern South America and was brought to Europe by Columbus.

It contains hot substances like capsaicin, capsicine, and capsantin; its other active ingredients include vitamins C, A, and B, rutin and essential oil.

- It is an appetitive and a digestant; it stimulates saliva and gastric juice production; it is also a diuretic and a diaphoretic.

- As a bactericide, it can be used to treat diarrhoea but it should not be applied to wounds as it causes a burning pain.

- Its alcoholic tincture is used as a rubbing to alleviate arthritic and muscle pain.

- It is used to treat rheumatism, gout, and twinge; it is added to anti-hair loss hair-lotions.

- It is a real analgesic as it disturbs the functioning of the pain-transmitter compound.

- It alleviates pains caused by viral shingles and diabetic pedialgia.

- It can help lower blood cholesterol levels.

- It improves resistance to infections.

In contact with the skin, it can cause burns when cut. It can be washed off with vinegar water.

70. Datura stramonium – Thorn apple (Jimson weed, Datura). It is an annual, vigorous, usually glabrous plant with a thick, hollow, branching (pseudo-dichotomous) stem (30-120 cm). Leaves are oval, acute, unevenly dentate and petiolate; they easily fade away; leaf arrangement is alternate. Flowers are white, big (6-7.5 cm), long-tubed, trumpet-shaped, pleated, single. It blooms at night and closes the next night. The fruit is a septicidal capsule that opens with four teeth; it is big (3-5 cm long), oval or globular. It is harvested but it can be cultivated; in Germany there exist several improved species. See Picture 70.

Drug: leaves (Stramonii folium), more rarely the ripe seeds (Stramonii semen).

Due to its high toxicity, it MUST NOT be used as a home remedy. Its active substance is mainly hyoscyamine but it also contains scopolamine and atropine.

- It is antispasmodic and analgesic.

- Dature “cigarettes” are used to alleviate and treat cough and asthmatic complaints; it is also used to make fumigator powder.

Scrophulariaceae – The figwort family. K (5) C (5) A 2,4,5 G (2). They are herbaceous plants with decussate or whorled leaves. Flowers are varied and zygomorphic, which is hardly visible in the first few species of the family. The seemingly actinomorphic (with radial symmetry) plants still have five stamens which are reduced at first to four, then to two. The corolla is strongly or less bilabiate, more or less closed (personate or masked flower), sometimes spurred. The fruit is usually a capsule.



71. Verbascum phlomoides – Woolly mullein (Orange mullein). It is a biennial, vigorous, floccose-tomentose plant with an erect, quincangular stem (in the first year it only grows a basal rosette). Leaves are elliptic, wide oval, attenuate, sessile on the stem or shortly attenuate at the most. Flowers are borne in clusters making up a bulky, simple spike. The corolla is yellow, big (3-5 cm), stamens are white lanate (the two lower stamens are glabrous), the pistil is gradually bulkier toward the top. It is in flower from June to August. The fruit is a wide oval, two-celled,  globular capsule. See Picture 71 a.

It has several related species, among others the flowers of Verbascum densiflorum – dense-flowered mullein – are also harvested. Here stem leaves are decurrent until the next leaf on the stem and have almost entire margins. The corolla of Verbascum thapsus – Great (or Common) mullein – is smaller (1.5-2.2 cm), the pistil is fibrous, claviform at the end, thickly, yellowy tomentose. Verbascum speciosum – Showy mullein – has smaller flowers, spikes are arranged in a dense, large thyrse, each stamen is white-lanate.

Drug: the corolla of woolly mullein and dense-flowered mullein, without the calyx (Verbasci flos), but related species are also used as drugs, except for species with purple petals and stamens and tiny flowers. Lately drug-containing leaves are also in demand (Verbasci folium).

Because of its shape, Verbascum species and varieties are sometimes called “candlestick”. Cooked in olive oil, the so-called “royal oil” was used to treat wounds. It was also used in illegal fishing: its concoction poured in water caused damage to the fish’ gill (saponin in particular), making them drown in their own element. Only the corolla is harvested. Its active ingredients include saponin, hesperidin, mucilage, essential oil, natural dyes and glycosides.

- It is an expectorant, helpful in colds as it alleviates irritation of the throat.

- It is diaphoretic, diuretic and alterative.

- Due to its astringent properties, it can heal haemorrhoids; it is used to treat diarrhoea.

- Nowadays the chemical industry uses it to make protective shampoo for blond hair.

- It was shown to prevent the growth of tuberculosis bacteria in laboratory trials.

72. Linaria vulgaris – Common toadflax (Yellow toadflax). It is a perennial, stoloniferous, green, glabrous plant of medium size. The narrow, linear leaves are alternately arranged, entire and acute. The corolla is pale yellow, bilabiate and spurred. Flowers are arranged in terminal racemes. The pedicel and the calyx have glandular margins. Lobes of the calyx are acute, the margins are not whitish. The capsule is  elliptic, oval, cca 1 cm long. It is a common weed that grows on roadsides, in lawns and waste-lands. See Picture 72.

Drug: the flowery stem above ground (Linariae herba).

In the flowering stem there is linarin and pectolinarin flavonoid glycoside.

- Its tea is a strong laxative and a diuretic; it is effective in treating inflammation of the bilious tracts.



73. Digitalis lanata – Woolly foxglove (Grecian foxglove). In the first year it grows lanceolate, glossy, attenuate, 15-30 cm long basal leaves. By the time of flowering they die. The 80-120 cm tall stem is grown in the second year, with alternately arranged, oblong-lanceolate, acute, sessile leaves. The inflorescence is a dense, terminal raceme, with thimble-shaped white flowers that are light brown due to their brown veins. The peduncle, bracts and calyx are lanate. Flowering begins in early June. The fruit is a capsule that dehisces by two teeth. It is a sporadic, protected plant. It is cultivated, there are two qualified varieties. See Picture 73.

Drug: the dried leaves (Digitalis lanatae folium). Basal leaves contain the most of it.

It is a biennial plant, basal leaves are harvested at the end of the first year, in September. Its active ingredients are steroid saponins, sapogenines, lanatozid glycoside; its aglicon is called digoxigenin, which is used to treat heart problems (Digoxin, Isolanid, Neoadigan, etc.). It is only used by the pharmaceutical industry, it is NOT a home remedy.

- In cases of overdose, symptoms of poisoning may occur, such as low pulse, nausea, and defective vision. It is very dangerous because its active ingredients can accumulate in the body.

Plantaginaceae – The plantain family. K 4 C (4) A 4 G (1-2). They are herbaceous plants with actinomorphic, tetramerous flowers which are either perfect or imperfect. The tiny flowers are arranged in a spike, they are wind pollinated (anemophilous), petals are membrane-like. The capsule fruit dehisces in the middle (circumscissile capsule).

74. Plantago lanceolata – Ribwort plantain. It is a perennial plant with a short rhizome, a rosette and long scapes. Leaves are oblong, narrow-lanceolate, glabrous or pilose, finely and scarcely serrate, attenuate and 15-20 cm long. Leaves are acute and 3-5 veined. At the end of each long scape, there is one simple spike, the shape of which varies from oval-globular to oblong-cylindrical. The spike is much shorter than the scape. The perianth is white. See Picture 74a. It is mentioned that the drug of Plantago altissima – tall plantain – is equal to that of ribwort plantain. The two plants are similar but tall plantain is taller, its stem is 30-60 cm tall, but it can grow up to 1 m tall, its leaves are 10-30 cm long, 5-7 veined, 2-4 cm broad.

Drug: the leaves (Plantaginis lanceolatae folium). Leaves of wild varieties are harvested from May until September.



Plantago maior – Broadleaf plantain (Greater plantain). It is a perennial, 10-15 cm tall plant with a short rhizome, a rosette and long scapes. Leaves are oval, petiolate, cordate or rounded, they are finely and scarcely serrate, usually glabrous. There can be several scapes on a single base. The spike is only half as long as the scape. Spikes are interrupted at the bottom. The perianth is yellowish-white, stamens are not purple (stamens of the similar but not petiolate, hairy leaved and non-medicinal P. media – meadow plantain – are purple). See Picture 74b.

Drug: the leaves (Plantaginis majoris folium). It is rarely in demand.

It is used to make medicinal candy and syrup. Leaves are harvested. Its active ingredients are inverted emulsin, potassium salts, acubin, mucilage, tannic acid and bactericide.

- It is an expectorant, an antitussive and an anti-asthmatic (primarily ribwort plantain).

- It is an alterative.

- Fresh young leaves are used to heal wounds. Mosquito, horse-fly, bee and wasp bites have to be rubbed with the fresh leaves. It usually takes some time to take effect.

- It is effective in cases of heartburn, liver and bile complaints.

- It is used to treat boils, abscesses and other skin diseases; it is also helpful in cases of leg sores, bedsores, and haemorrhoids.

- It has bactericidal effects and can be helpful in cases of dog-bite as it prevents sepsis.

- Its special area of treatment is bladder atony and incontinence. It is recommended for children and young mothers having problems after childbirth. Especially broadleaf plantain strengthens vesical muscles and the whole bladder.

- Its fresh sap is used as an eye-poultice or an ear-drop.

- In case of diarrhoea the tea made of its seeds can be given to children.

- Its tea is recommended to prevent stones.

Papaveraceae – The poppy family. K 2 C 2+2 A  G (-2). They are herbaceous plants with latex tubes; the latex is white (Papaver) or orange. Flowers are actinomorphic and tend to have full petals. The fruit is a 2-3-5 celled seed capsule (Papaver) that dehisces at maturity to release the seeds through pores (poricidal), or a cylindrical capsule (Chelidonium).

75. Chelidonium majus – Greater celandine. It is a perennial, ramified, tall (30-110 cm), loose plant with a bulky rhizome, covered with sparse, projecting hairs. The stem base is hirsute. Leaves are bright green, pinnate and lobed, pinnatifid or roughly crenate. The latex is typically orange, medicinal, dark brown when dried. The yellow flowers are arranged by 3-8 in a loose cymose umbel. There are two pale yellow, caducous sepals. The capsule is narrow, long, one-celled, cylindrical, dehiscing from bottom up by two teeth. It is collected but is easily reproducible. There is a growing demand for its cultivation. See Picture 75.

Drug: the flowering stem above ground (Chelidonii herba) and the rhizome (Chelidonii radix).

It flowers until sparrows move to South. It was used in the past to make “the philosophers’ stone”. Its active ingredients are chelidonin, protoberberine, and some twenty kinds of alkaloids (6-18%) in the latex. Chelidonin is similar to papaverin, and sanguinarin to strichnin. It also contains natural dyes, resin, protease and fatty acids in the seed.

- It is added to mixtures for gastro-enteritis. It is used by the industry, but not in pure form.

- It is a helpful remedy of bile and liver complaints; it is antispasmodic and analgesic.

- It inhibits cell division; chelidonin is anti-cancerous.

- In folk medicine, it was used to treat rheumatism and gout.

- Its latex is effective against warts. It takes effect quite slowly; it should be applied on the warts every 3-4 days. In case of smaller warts, one suffusion may be enough; older and bigger warts may have to be treated for six months. The latex of the inflorescence is the most potent.

- Domesticated animals were rubbed with its powder against horse fly-bites.

Its alkaloids are aseptic one by one, but taken together they damage the heart, raise blood pressure and inhibit the central nervous system. The powder is tussive, therefore its use as a home remedy should be supervised by a doctor, except when applied to warts.

3.5.1. Test questions

63. Which plants are used as spices for pizzas and Italian spaghetti sauce?

64. Which members of the mint family are grey-green because of pilosity?

65. Which members of the mint family are specifically spice plants?

66. Which members of the mint family are sub-shrubs and which ones are stoloniferous?

67. Compare curly mint and peppermint.

68. What is the flower of the potato family like? What colour is it?

69. What is the similarity between the fruit of belladonna and sweet pepper, and what is the difference between the capsule of henbane and thorn apple?

70. The root of which of the following plants is harvested: belladonna, henbane, thorn apple?

71. Which members of the potato family are poisonous and which can be home remedies?

72. Which of the plants discussed above contains atropin? Which one’s active substance is transformed into atropin?

73. What is the difference between woolly mullein and dense-flowered mullein?

74. What are the most significant differences between the willowherb and the mullein family?

75. Which member of the figwort family has a spurred perianth and which is ± actinomorphic?

76. Where can woolly foxglove be collected?

77. How are the leaves and inflorescences of ribwort and broadleaf plantain different?

78. For which plantain species can broadleaf plantain be mistaken and how are they different?

79. Which member of the poppy family has yellow latex and which one has white?

3.6. 6. From Corn poppy to Tansy

76. Papaver rhoeas – Corn poppy. It is an annual, medium-sized, usually ramified, hirsute plant of diverse appearance with an erect stem and white latex. Leaves are pinnatipartite, pinnatisect, elliptic-lanceolate, roughly serrate. The large, solitary flowers hang at the end of long peduncles. There are two large, green, caducous sepals. The four petals (2-5 cm long) are bright red with a black spot at the base. The capsule is obovate, the radiate stigma is (6)-10-(18)-lobed and poricid. See Picture 76a.P. dubium – long-headed poppy is quite similar but thinner. It is hirsute on the bottom, pilose on the top. Petals are red, white or purple and smaller (1-3 cm). The pistil is 5-8-lobed. The capsule is oblong, width-length ratio is cca. 1:2-7. See Picture 76b.

Drug: petals of the poppy flower (Rhoeados flos or Papaveris rhoeados flos). Its active ingredients are anthocyanes, the non-poisonous rhoeadine alkaloid, mucilage and rhoeadic acid.

It is a common spring weed.

- Its infusion is used externally as a gargle and an eye-poultice.

- Its tea is a mild sedative and an antitussive.

The petals are often added to tea mixtures for decorative effects.



77. Papaver somniferum – Opium poppy. It is an annual, herbaceous plant with an 18-20 cm long, slightly woody taproot. The stem is 50-150 cm tall depending on the variety, glabrous, sage green, ramified at the top. Basal leaves are long, elliptical, mostly sessile. Stem leaves are alternate, bigger at the bottom near basal leaves, smaller upwards, sessile, amplexicaule, oblong oval-shaped. The main stem and side branches end in solitary flowers; petals are purple, white or red. Petals of the cultivated spring poppy are 6-12 cm long, white with a bright or dark purple spot at the base. The shape and size of capsules and the colour and size of seeds also changes according to the variety, from white to bluish-black. Its cultivation is regulated by specific laws. The capsule contains more than 30 alkaloids (e. g., morphine, codeine, tebaine, papaverine, narcotine, narcotoline, etc.), but the seeds contain practically no alkaloids. Incisions are made on the green capsule to get the white latex – the opium proper –, then it is dried. See Picture 77.

Drug: the dried and powdered form of opium (Pulvis opii) and the mature capsule (Papaveris caput maturis).

The capsule used to be thrown away, at present it is a raw material of the pharmaceutical industry. An extraction process of opium from the mature capsule was invented in 1931 by János Kabay at Tiszavasvári, thus making it possible for the industry to process poppy alkaloids in a strictly closed system. It is a food, oil and ornamental plant. According to the Ebers papyrus, ancient Egyptions already knew poppy. Its active ingredients are alkaloids, with a total 0.5-2.5% content. The alkaloid-free seeds contain 40-55% oil and 20-25% protein. Their consumption is completely safe. The dried latex is the opium proper, which is used as an ingredient in pharmaceuticals. Heroin is synthesised from morphine and is a “hard drug”. Heroin and morphine are particularly susceptible to abuse and addiction.

- It is an analgesic and an antispasmodic.

- It is used as an expectorant to relieve coughs and as a fumigator in cases of asthma.

- It is somniferous; it relieves anxiety and fear and it causes euphoria.

It MUST NOT be applied as a home remedy; it may cause liver damage.

Cruciferae (Brassicaceae) – the cabbage family (mustards, mustard flowers, crucifers). K 2+2 C 4 A 2+4 G (2). They are herbaceous plants with flowers arranged in ebracteate racemes or corymbs. The inner whorl of stamens is doubled and longer than the outer one. The fruit is a siliqua (oblong) or silicula (short), dehiscing from the bottom with two teeth. The siliqua is sometimes lomentaceous and undehiscent. Flowers are usually white or yellow.



78. Brassica nigra – Black mustard. It is an annual, tall, ramified plant; its stem is setose at the bottom. Bottom leaves are large, pinnately divided and lyrate, with four big terminal lobes. Upper leaves are much smaller, oval-lanceolate, narrow-lanceolate at the top, attenuate, entire or sparsely dentate, sometimes lobed. The yellow flowers are borne in a racemose corymb, the pod is erect, clinging to the peduncle, square and short-beaked. It flowers in June; the pod matures in July-August. It is a cultivated plant and also a spice plant. See Picture 78.

Drug: the seeds (Sinapis nigrae semen).

White mustard seed is beige, black mustard seed is red-brown. They have similar medicinal properties. Black mustard is not frost tender and tolerates sour soils. Its active ingredients are myrosine, sinigrin, allyl izothiocyanate, sinalbin glycoside, fatty acid, sinapin bitter material.

- It is an intestinal stimulant used in disorders of digestion, constipation and flatulence.

- It is an effective remedy of bile and liver complaints and metabolic diseases.

- It prevents hardening of the arteries; it is an alterative.

- Its essential oil irritates the skin and the mycoderms.

- Mustard pulp is applied externally on painful parts in cases of rheumatism and ischialgia. Probably due to body heat, prussic (hydrocyanic) acid evolves. It is used as an ointment and an alcoholic tincture.



79. Capsella bursa- pastoris – Shepherd’s purse. It is an annual, small to middle-sized plant with a rosette and stellate hairs. The shape of leaves is varied, they can be entire or pinnatifid, pinnatipartite or pinnatisect. Stem leaves are lanceolate, sessile and ausiculate. The white flowers are borne on a long, gradually elongated raceme. The silicula is winged, inverted triangle-shaped, flat or convex. The tiny, oval seeds are yellow. It germinates throughout the year. It is a very common, well-spread weed. See Picture 79.

Drug: the stem of the flowering plant above ground (Bursae pastoris herba).

For long it was thought to be useless. Its active ingredients are cholin, acetylcholin, thyramin alkaloids, tannic acid; the seeds contain mustard oil glycoside and diosmin flavonoid glycoside.

- It affects bleeding of the stomach, intestines and uterus (menstruation) as a coagulant. It can be applied externally on wounds as a first aid. During the first world war when there was shortage of medicine, soldiers were given its tea to stop bleeding.

- To induce labour, it can only be used with medical attendance. Like oxytocin, it induces uterine contractions.

- It is anti-inflammatory, it is a helpful remedy of haemorrhoids.

- Its tea is helpful in treating high blood pressure.

Violaceae – The viola family. K 5 C 5 A 5 G (3). They are herbaceous plants with alternate, stipuled leaves. Flowers are zygomorphic (with bilateral symmetry) because petals are of differing sizes and one of the petals has a spur. The fruit is a capsule.


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