Medicinal plants and drugs

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106. Primula veris – Cowslip. It is a herbaceous perennial plant that is in flower in April. Its rhizome (approx. 10 cm) is oblique, brown and consists of nodes and short, thick internodes. Leaves are arranged in a rosette and they are oblong-oval, have a long, winged petiole, their surface is rugose, they are pilose on the underside and have crenate margins. The scape is 15-25 cm long, leafless, bearing a simple umbel on top; there are 1 cm long bracts at the base of peduncles. Flowers are nutant and yellow, the calyx is slightly inflated. Its oblong capsule dehisces with teeth and surrounded by the remaining calyx. It is mostly collected but cultivation is viable, although it does not like arable conditions. See Picture 106.

Drug: the leaves (Primulae folium) and flowers (Primulae flos). The pharmacopoeia mentions the roots too (Primulae radix et rhizoma). All of its parts, but especially the roots, contain triterpenoid saponins and phenolic glycosides (primverin, primulaverin). The flowers mostly contain flavonoids, carotenes and essential oil.

- It is blended in herb mixtures to treat bronchitis, tracheitis and asthmatic whooping coughs.

- In folk medicine it was used as a diuretic and tranquilizer.

- It is used for colouring and marking tea mixtures.

Polygonaceae – The knotweed family. P 3,4,5,6 A3+3 v. 4+4 G (2-4). They are herbaceous plants with simple alternate leaves, the stems have swollen nodes. The stipules that are pierced by the stem are united in a membranous sheath (ochrea). Flowers are perfect or imperfect. The perianth is simple, coloured or green. The perianth is reddish in the genus Polygonum and greenish in the genus Rumex, which are both wind-pollinated. Stamens are fused with the perianth base, the fruit is a one-seeded (mononuclear) nutlet.

107. Rheum palmatum – Chinese rhubarb (Turkey rhubarb). It is a perennial tall (1-2 m) plant with a herbaceous cylindrical stem. The rhizome is taproot-like, 3-6 cm diameter. In the first two years it only grows a rosette and in the third year it develops the peduncle. Leaves are large lobed (3-5) and scabrous. Lobes are acute and dentate. Flowers are tiny, whitish-pink, they are borne in a large terminal inflorescence. The inflorescence is not diverging, lateral branches are almost parallel to the main axis. The fruit is a three-edged winged nutlet with perianth. Leaves of the other species, Rheum officinale – Medicinal rhubarb – are broader than their length, their surface is not scabrous, they are slightly floccose on the underside, flowers are greenish. Both species are in flower in May-June. See Pictures 107a, 107b.

Drug: the unbarked rhizome (Rhei rhizoma, elsewhere specified as Rhei radix).

It is native to the Chinese mountains and the Middle-East. The ancient Chinese herb was already mentioned by Marco Polo. Leaves are poisonous, the stem is cooked as a compote, and the rhizome is a medicinal herb. It has a bitter taste and colours the saliva to yellow. It can grow up to 3 m tall. Its active ingredients are anthraquinones, tannin glycoside, anthra-glycoside, tannins, pectin, resin, oxalic acid, gum and fat.

- In small doses it stops diarrhoea, in larger doses it is a laxative, used in constipation. This effect is due to the anthraquinone which should only be used as a last resort when other methods have failed.

- It harmonizes digestion, stops heartburn and is a common home remedy of lack of appetite.

- Its tincture made with wine is effective in treating spleen and liver complaints.

- It stimulates uterine contractions and induces menstruation.

The leaf-base contains poisonous oxalic acid, which causes a burning sensation in the mouth and throat. Pregnant or lactating women and patients suffering from intestinal diseases or ulcer should not use it. It is used to make syrup, tincture and medicinal wine. The petioles can be eaten fresh as vegetables, and it can be cooked as a tasty jam, stewed fruit or vegetable dish.

Cannabaceae – The hemp family. ♂ P (5) A 5 ♀ P (5) G (2). They are herbaceous plants with no milky latex, flowers are dioecious, borne in a dense cymose inflorescence. The fruit is a nutlet.

108. Humulus lupulus – Hop. It is a perennial dioecious climbing plant with a 5-10 m tall, dextrorse stem. The rhizome is 10-20 cm in diameter and 20-40 cm long, depending on the plant’s age. Shoots are usually hexagonal, as wide as a quill, with rows of bicuspid climbing thorns on the edges. Foliage leaves are decussate and of varied shapes, palmatipartite with 3-5 (rarely 7) lobes, large, dark green, scabrous on the surface due to tiny, rigid hairs. After deflorescence, female flowers are transformed into typical hop cones. The lower part of the concave side of pistillate scales is covered with lupulin glandular trichomes. It is collected in the wild and is also cultivated. Cultivated varieties have three main types: red, green and hybrid hops. It can be cultivated only with a proper supporting wall which needs large investments (6-7 m tall columns and drawn wires). Recently crop area has been rather reduced. See Picture 108.

Drug: the dichasial spike (Lupuli strobuli), and the essential oil extracted from the cone and the inflorescence Aetheroleum humuli).

Sumerians made beer out of 40 percent of their cereals but it was a sweet-type of beer. Henry VIII banned hop from breweries. Pliny recommended it as a spring vegetable. Its active ingredients are bitter materials, resins, such as hop bitter acids like humulone (4-12 %) and lupulone (4-6 %), tannins, essential oils (0.5-2 %), such as mircene, humulene and beta- caryophyllene. Resinous lupuline is accumulated in the glandular hairs.

- Due to its tranquilizing effects, lupuline decreases the sexual drive. Women taking hop may cease to menstruate. The fresh drug contains compounds similar to the female sexual hormone oestrogen, which changes the menstrual cycle and can be helpful in the critical age (climax).

- It contains anti-androgenous hormones, which suspend the effect of the male hormone (androgen), thus diminishing the sexual drive (anaphrodisiacum); it is effective in sexual neurosis.

- It stabilizes heart function and is helpful in treating insomnia.

- Besides it being a digestant, humulone and lupuline are antibacterial, helpful in preventing infections. According to one study it is effective against tuberculosis bacteria, which was also held ancient Chinese traditional medicine.

- It is tranquilliser, mildly somniferous, it calms fast pulse and relaxes non-striated muscles.

- It is helpful in treating gastric ulcer and complaints of the gall-bladder; it is a strong diuretic.

- It is an essential ingredient in brewing beer and was added to the bread dough. The fresh shoots were mixed to pancake batter.

Pregnant women and patients suffering from breast cancer should not use the herb. As side effects it may further cause skin rashes, somnolence, perspiration, vomiting, slowing of the pulse.

Urticaceae – The nettle family. P 2 + 2 v. 5 A 2 + 2 G (2). Herbaceous plants with decussate or alternate leaves and mono- or dioecious flowers with a green perianth. Flowers are born in leaf axils or in scorpioid cymes with a short peduncle. The fruit is a nutlet or a drupe.

109. Urtica dioica – Stinging nettle (Common nettle). It is a perennial stoloniferous, large, bushy plant. Its square stem is hollow, the plant is covered with simple and stinging hairs. Its decussate leaves are oblong-oval, petiolate, roughly serrate, the final tooth is much bigger than the rest. Leaf stipules are narrow and free. The leaf-base is cordate or rounded. It is usually dioecious. Flowers are borne in spikes in leaf axils. Male flower spikes are erect with short side branches, female flower spikes have longer side branches and are pendent. See Picture 109a. The other species, Urtica urens – Annual Nettle, Dwarf Nettle, Small nettle – is also a medicinal herb. It is an annual, erect, small- or middle-sized plant, fully covered with stinging hairs with a square stem. Its decussate leaves are oval or elliptical, petiolate, roughly serrate. The plant is monoecious. Its tiny green flowers are borne in mixed spikes in leaf axils. See Picture 109b.

Drug: the leaves of stinging nettle (Urticae folium), its stem (Urticae herba), its roots (Urticae radix), rarely its fruit (Urticae fructus).

Sheets woven of nettle were found in graves of the Bronze Age; its weave is said to be as strong as canvas. Contemporaries of Hippocrates used nettle leaves externally to treat snakebite and scorpion sting and internally as an antidote of plant poisonings. It is a very common, perennial plant. The leaves and roots are collected, but busy roads are to be avoided because harmful materials contained in the escape-gas are absorbed by it. Its active ingredients are acetylcholin, tannic acid, glycoside, resin, formic acid, acetic acid, serotonin and histamine.

- It is a remedy of rheumatism and gout as due to its alterative and diuretic effects, it cleanses harmful uric acids. According to the Germans, the effect is not strong but beneficial on the long term.

- Dishes made of fresh nettle leaves is recommended for diabetic patients.

- It helps in treating gastro-enteritis, ulcer, gastro-intestinal haemorrhage and haemorrhages.

- It cleanses the kidney by removing urinary sand and alleviates inflammation of the bladder.

- It alleviates symptoms of hey-fever and asthma.

- Its tea is useful in treating high blood pressure and stagnating heart failure, but medical supervision is necessary as potassium is washed out of the body. During the treatment potassium-rich foods are recommended.

- Women suffering from menstrual cramps should drink its tea the day before menstruation.

- It is effective in treatingpsilosis, dandruff, greasy hair, also skin rashes and pubescent acne.

- Its chlorophyll is a natural dye, used in the liqueur, sugar and food industries.

It should not be taken by pregnant women as it caused uterine contractions in rabbit. Its stings can be treated with rumex, soapy wash, hidrocortizone ointment or antihistamin medicine. The Latin word ‘uro’ means to burn. The sting of a Javan nettle species (U. urentissima) can be felt for a year. Nettle increases aroma content of spice plants and accelerates compost breakdown.

Betulaceae – The birch family. ♂ P 2+2 A 2+2 v. 4 ♀ P 2+2 G (). They are woody plants with entire leaves. Male flowers form small catkins. Female flowers are borne in catkins or budlike clusters in bract axils. The fruit is a nut situated at the base of lignescent scales.

110. Betula pendula – Silver birch. It grows fast but it cannot grow in the shade. It is a 10-20 m tall monoecious tree. The foliage is scant (the area under its shade is fairly bright, compared to e.g. pines), when mature, its branches are pendent, its bark is white. The white colour is due to betulin. Its scattered, brown buds are shiny and sticky. Its leaves have long petioles and are cuneate, apiculate, rhomboid, spotted due to wax-glands and glabrous. The margins are twice serrate. Male flowers bloom during frondescence and are already formed in autumn, overwintering freely. Its cylindrical aggregate fruits fall apart. See Picture 110.

Drug: the leaves harvested in June (Betulae folium), which preserved their green colour even after drying. The tar made of its trunk is also used as a drug (Pix betulae).

Its wood is hard and strong but notlasting enough. In the North, it is used to make tiles, skis, parquet; it is an excellent firewood. Its sticks are used to make brooms, the bark is a roof material. Its sap is sweet, with lots of sugar, and is used to make alcohol. Its active ingredients are betuloresinic acid, essential oil; the bark contains betuline, betula camphor, saponin, tannin, resin and bitter material.

- It is a diuretic, it is helpful in treating oedemas due to heart, liver and kidney problems. It is used to treat kidney and bladder complaints. It reduces protein secretion in the urine and does not irritate the kidney. It is taken for stone problems to cleanse uric acid, purin.

- It is a diaphoretic. In folk medicine the patient was wrapped in fresh leaves and a blanket.

- The sap flowing from the incised bark in spring is beneficial in case of arteriosclerosis and relieves symptoms of gout.

- The decoction made of fresh leaves and bark is helpful in treating chronic skin diseases.

- It is used to make shampoo; it is an excellent hair-care.

Birch resin is important in preparing furs in Russia. It also has an insect repellent effect. The tree grows fast but its life span is short. Its bark peels off in a belt-like way. It prefers sunshine. In Slavo-Germanic mythology birch is a magic medicine.

Fagaceae – the beech family. P 4-8 A 4-20 G () or (). They are usually monoecious and deciduous trees, with entire or pinnatipartite leaves. Male flowers are borne in catkins or capitula. The number of tepals and stamens varies. Female flowers are solitary (Quercus), double or triple. The fruit is an acorn surrounded by a cupule, which is an axial structure and is either ringlike Quercus) or quadrifid (Fagus).

111. Quercus robur – Pedunculate oak. It is a large, deciduous tree. Leaves are diffused, sessile or short-petioled, pinnatilobed, glabrous or stellate on the underside, especially along the veins. The leaf base is cordate-auriculate. Male flowers form a 2-4 cm long ament, female flowers (1-5) are borne on a short axis in leaf axils. Fruits have peduncles. See Picture 111a. A related species is Quercus petraea – Sessile oak –, the petiole of which is 1-3 cm long and leaves are covered with tiny stellate hairs on the underside. Fruits are sessile or have a very long peduncle. See Picture 111b.

Drug: the shiny silvery-green skin bark of both trees (Quercus cortex); the acorn without the cupule is also used (Quercus glandes), as well as the shelled and roasted acorn (Quercus semen tostum).

Oakwood is heavy brown, hard, tough, strong, resistant to decay. The bark is rich in tannins. It is a good wood for furniture and shipbuilding. It grows slowly and has a long life span. It is monoecious. If iron is added to the oak-gall, we get gallic ink. Its active ingredients are tannic acid, which is not a tannin in the bark, starch in the seed, fatty acid, 70% tannin in the gall. The bark, the gall and the acorn are more efficacious, the leaf drug is less so.

- It is astringent in cases of diarrhoeas, gastro-intestinal bleeding, ulcer,pulmonary apoplexy.

- Inflammations should be cured by its poultice, haemorrhoids with its sitting bath.

- It is helpful in treating inflammation of the bladder and tracheitis.

- In gynaecology, in case of a cervical lesionsitting bath and irrigation is recommended.

- Its poultice is recommended for wounds, ulcers, bed-sores, eczema; in powder form it is blended to vulnerary powders because of its aseptic and astringent properties.

- Its poultice should be used for inflammations of the eye and its gargle for sore-throat.

- It is cardiac restorative and a neurotonic, an analeptic tea for the elderly.

- The roasted acorn strengthens the bones.

The acorns were used to make bread in the past. Roasted and ground, it is a good coffee substitute, and is healthier than cocoa. It is an official drug but should not be used without medical supervision.

Juglandaceae – The walnut family. ♂ P 3-5 A 40-3 ♀ P 4 G (2). Trees with alternate, winged leaves, the stipule is usually absent. They are monoecious, male flowers are borne is aments, female flowers in clusters. The fruit is a drupe nut.

112. Juglans regia – Walnut. It is a large tree with silver-grey bark and a loose foliage. Leaves are imparipinnately compound, with 5-9 pairs of leaflets. Leaflets are short-petioled, entire, oblong-oval. It flowers in April-May. See Picture 112.

Drug: the leaves (Juglandis folium) but the unripe fleshy pericarp is also used (Juglandis nucis pericarpium), as well as the partition within the nut (Juglandis nucum dissepimentum).

The plant contains inosite, tannic acid, juglone, essential oil and hydrojuglone.

- The leaves are appetitive; its tea is helpful in treating gastro-enteritis, high blood pressure.

- It is alterative, digestant and anthelmintic.

- Its infusion is helpful in skin rashes, as a sitting bath it is beneficial for haemorrhages, as a shampoo it is an anti-dandruff. It makes the hair and skin softer. It is also a gargle.

- The decoction of the pericarp is used for gastro-enteritis, loss of appetite, and perspiration.

- It is added to digestant bitters: 5 g finely cut almonds and 100 g walnut pericarp should be added to 0.5 litre alcohol; let is soak for eight days.

- It is used to make walnut liqueur: 250 g finely cut green walnut, 1-1 g cinnamon, cloves, ginger, 2 g nutmeg, 5 g balsamina should be added to 0.5 l 80% alcohol and soaked for 2 weeks.

- It is used to make stain and hair oil.

Salicaceae – The willow family. They are dioecious, woody plants, with simple alternate, stipuled leaves; flowers are borne in aments. The inflorescence is simple, it blooms before frondescence. Poplars are wind-pollinated. The fruit is a polynuclear tiny capsule.

113. Populus nigra – Black poplar. It is a large, 20-30 m tall tree. The bark is greyish-greenish white and even when young, that of older trees us dark grey and deeply cracked. Buds are spirally arranged on the shoots, they are cylindrical, apiculate. Leaves are deltoid or rounded triangular and petiolate with slightly serrate margins. See Picture 113.

Drug: the closed bud harvested from black poplars and its hybrids (Populi gemma).

Its wood is soft, pale, light, easily cleavable, slow burning; it is used for making matches. Its twigs were used to make baskets. Its bark is good for tanning and is also a medicine. It is dioecious. Closed buds are harvested, buds harvested after March have no medicinal value. Its active ingredients are salicin, populine, saponin, salipopuline, essential oil, mucilage and resin.

- It is a diuretic, used to treat complaints of the bladder and urinary tract and prostatism.

- It is a mucigoge. Its decoction is helpful in treating bronchitis.

- As a diuretic, it alleviates the symptoms of gait and rheumatism.

- Its ointment is recommended for rashes, inflamed burns, tumours and haemorrhages; the drug is also ahair-restorer and anti-dandruff substance.

- Its carbon powder alleviates heart-burn and is a home remedy of nausea and stomach pains.

- The alcohol tincture of the buds is helpful in treating haematomas, bruises, wounds (twenty buds have to be soaked in 70 g of 70% alcohol).

Liliaceae – The lily family. P 3+3 A 3+3 G (3). Herbaceous, perennial plants with bulbs, corms or rhizomes. Flowers are actinomorphic, rarely zigomorphic. The perianth is a colourful tepal, flowers are solitary or borne in racemes or cymose umbels. The fruit is a capsule or a berry.

114. Allium sativum – Garlic. The stem base is an, aggregate of numerous oblong cloves covered by membranous skin and surrounded by a common whitish tunic. Stem leaves are flat, 4-10 mm wide, carinate, canaliculate on the upper side. The stem is 30-50 cm tall, the top twists around before flowering. The enclosing leaves are much longer than the inflorescence. The inflorescence has few flowers, which are pale pink, often rudimentary, they do not open or are absent, and small sessile bulbs develop in their place. Tepals are white or green, lanceolate, apiculate, flat topped, longer at the stamens. The fruit is a capsule. See Picture 114.

Drug: the fresh garlic (Allii sativi bulbus recens). Its main substance is the sulphureous alliin.

Archeologists found ten thousand year old garlic in caves. It was a daily food of slaves building the pyramids, and the first documented work stoppage took place when the daily ration of garlic was shortened. The Greeks ate it before going to competitions or battles. It is a very strong antibiotic, excellent for treating infectious wounds, amoebic dysentery and tuberculosis. It is efficacious against food poisoning bacteria and influenza virus.

- It is an excellent remedy of sore throat and tonsillitis.

- It is an alterative and an antidote (e.g. in case of lead poisoning).

- It is used in cases of heart complaints, heart attack, and to lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure. It is a cure-all of cardiac problems by preventing blood-clots and thus infarction.

- It lowers blood sugar levels in diabetic patients.

- It is helpful in stroke, arteriosclerosis, vasoconstriction of the legs and weeak-sightedness.

- It increases sexual drive.

- Its anticancer activity has been shown in stomach cancer trials; it is said to prevent leprosy.

- It improves the immune system therefore it may presumably be helpful in treating AIDS.

- According to some beliefs it can stave off snakes.

Daily penicillin doses are 600 thousand-1.2 million units, which is equal to 6-12 cloves of garlic. It can cause skin rashes in sensitive people; it can be absorbed in breastmilk, causing diarrhoea in the baby. Its odour can be neutralised by chewing fresh parsley leaves or fennel seeds.

115. Convallaria majalis – Lily of the valley. It is a perennial plant with a stoloniferous rhizome that runs horizontally. On its apical part there develops two long-petioled, elliptic, apiculate green foliage leaves (10-20 cm long) surrounded by membranous cataphylls. There develops beside them on a slightly square scape 5-10 bell-shaped, white flowers borne on a loose raceme. Perianth teeth are retroflex. The fruit is a globular red beryy, which is orange in the inside; the semen are laterally indented, yellow-brown. See Pictures 115a, 115b.

Drug: foliage leaves (Convallariae folium), and also the flowering stem (Convallariae herba). The flowers (Convallariae flos) or the rhizome (Convallariae rhizoma) are sometimes used, too.

Its leaves are collected in spring. Its active ingredients are cardenolide glycosides like convallatoxin. Several pharmaceutical drugs are produced from it.

- It is used in cases ofcardioneurosis, cardiac insufficiency, coronary artery disease, epilepsy and arteriosclerosis, but strictly under medical supervision.

- In folk medicine its alcoholic tincture was rubbed on rheumatic parts.

Gramineae (Poaceae) – The grass family. They have a hollow, nodular culm with developed internodes. Leaves are usually long, linear, flat, with open sheaths that fit around the stem. At the junction of the blade and sheath there is often a membranous ligule. The inflorescence consists of tiny sub-inflorescences, panicles or ears. The small ears sometimes form a panicle (oat), or a dense, compound spike (wheat). They are wind-pollinated, in the flower there are only three reduced stamens and the pistil is usually feathery. Florets are covered with an exterior lemma and a superior palea, often with an awn. Spikelets (formed of several, often 15-20 florets) are covered by two glumes (which are characteristic traits in identification).

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