Medicinal plants and drugs

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2. Pinus sylvestris – Scots pine: Its bark is greyish on the lower trunk and brick red or brownish red on the upper trunk; there are two leaves in a fascicle (dimorphic foliage). The bark of its closest relative, European black pine (Pinus nigra), is greyish black on the upper trunk too. The leaves of Scots pine are shorter, 4-5 (10) cm long and greyish green, while the needles of black pine are much longer (8-17 cm), and dark green. It has been widely planted. See Pictures 2a, 2b.

Drug: early spring burgeoning terminal buds are collected (Pini turio), but fresh tips of branches and needles are used to extract essential oil (Aetheroleum pini silvestris). On the surface of wounds in the bark, pine trees secrete oleoresin from which volatile fractions are separated by steam distillation (Aetheroleum terebinthinae rectificatum). The remaining substance is solid pine resin (Colophonium), called rosin or colophony. The tree is also used to make tar by destructive distillation under pyrolisis (Pix liquida).

It is one of our native tree species that grows wild and is also cultivated. It grows only at the bottom of the Bakony Mountains and in Western Trans-Danubia. Its essential oil contains monoterpenes, alpha and beta pinene, and bornyl acetat as its main component. Components of the resin are non-volatile diterpenes and lignans. Its tar contains phenol.

- The watery extract of so-called sprouts and pine essential oil are expectorants and have anti-bacterial effects in the respiratory tract.

- For inhalation, dwarf pine (Pinus mugo) oil is better than Scots pine oil. In treating tracheitis, pine-oil based ointments and creams are suitable for external application.

Pine oils may provoke an allergic reaction. This may be caused by the carene contained in it, as well as by the peroxides that form during storage. Pine resin is the basis for adhesives of adhesive tapes and bandages.

Cupressaceae – Cypress species, Juniperoideae sub-family

Leaves and cone scales are scale-shaped, arranged in decussate pairs or in decussate whirls. In the Juniperus species triple needle-leaves may occur. They are dioecious.

3. Juniperus communis – Juniper: Juniper is an evergreen shrub with a woody stem, its leaves are needle-like, very hard, sharp, stiff and prickly, 8-20 mm long, and stand in whorls of three. The insignificant unisexual flowers form on two year-old shoots. It has three ovules; cone-scales thicken and fuse to form so-called berry-like seed cones. This is a transitory form towards angiosperms, because young cones are still open and mature ones are already closed. This is the only evergreen plant of the Great Hungarian Plain. See Pictures 3a, 3b.

Drug: the pseudo-fruit, the berry-like cone usually ripens slowly, in two (three) years, therefore the green cones are not collected, only the bluish ones (Juniperi fructus or Juniperi bacca). Its essential oil is extracted by steam distillation (Aetheroleum juniperi), and juniper tar (Pix juniperi) is also a drug.

Since it grows mostly in natural reserves, it seems reasonable to spread it in less valuable areas.

It is the most resistant evergreen species, its wood is dense and strong and keeps its pleasant scent even after crafting. In older times it was often planted by the entrance in order to keep witches off. It is used to make spirits (borovicka), gin and to flavour Martini. It is also a spice, and it is used to produce medicinal tar. Its active ingredients are the essential oil thujone, the glycoside juniperin, flavonoid glycosides, inverted sugar, tannic resin, gum, wax, pectin, terpineol and sabinol.

- It is a diuretic, it dilutes kidney and bile stones, disinfects the urinary tract but may irritate the kidneys, therefore it is to be avoided in case of any kidney problem.

- It is an appetizer an a digestive, it relieves heartburn, but overdoses may cause diarrhoea.

- It has a general anti-inflammatory effect; its volatile oil can be rubbed locally to treat rheumatism, gout, joint pain.

- It lowers blood-pressure and is used to treat stagnating heart failure.

- It stimulates menstruation, uterine contractions, and may provoke faster birth.

- Its resin is effective for eczema and psoriasis, its oil is a fragrance used in cosmetics.

- One or two drops of it taken with sugar is a remedy for bronchitis. Applied in steaming may be effective for TBC.

Pregnant women should avoid using it. If overdosed, protein and blood may appear in the urine and it may wash out potassium from the body. It can be applied for a period of maximum six weeks. It provokes an allergic reaction in the third of those having hey-fever. Its oil can be poisonous and even lethal, causing paralysis of respiration. Its oil is not suitable for alcoholic bathing or drinking, such uses are forbidden.

Berberidaceae – The barberry family. 3+3, or K3+3 C3+3 A3+3 G1. The species include trees, shrubs and herbaceous perennial plants; flowers are generally produced in racemes.

4. Berberis vulgaris – European barberry is a shrub with thorny shoots. Its roots are brown on the outside and bright yellow on the inside; the inside of shoots and twigs is also yellow. The leaves grow in clusters of 2-5; they are small, oval or obovate, with a serrated margin; they are cuneate, and the stipules at the base of the petiole are modified into sharp three-branched thorns. Flowers are bell-shaped, fragrant and yellow, produced on long panicles, with six sepals and six petals in alternating whorls of three. Its fruit is a small berry 5-10 mm long, long and narrow, ripening red, with two seeds.

Drug: its apeduncular ripened fruit (Berberidis fructus), thinner branches of its root (Berberidis radix), and the bark of the bigger roots (Berberidis radicis cortex). See Pictures 4a, 4b.

The berry is sour but edible, it is used to make jam and syrup. It is the alternate host of wheat rust fungus (Puccinia graminis), and for this reason farmers were made cut the shrubs growing in the fields at the beginning of the last century. Its active ingredients are berberine, mainly contained in the roots, and dextrose, levulose, pectin and malic acid, contained in the fruits.

- It is a mild laxative, used to treat enteritis and lack of appetite.

- It is useful for patients with problems of the stomach, intestines, liver and bile.

- It is a freshener and a corroborant, and it relieves headache.

- The leaves and bark can be used in treating loose teeth and gingivitis.

Ranunculaceae – the Buttercup family. They are mostly herbaceous plants, the parted leaves are alternately arranged and have no stipules. The flower is zygomorphic (Aconitum, Delphinium, Consolida), the perianth is brightly coloured.

5. Consolida regalis – Forking larkspur. The calyx is bright azure blue or bluish, rarely white, with five uneven spurred lobes. The calyx consists of a single spur with three lobes, pointing toward the back. The fruit is a short (ca. 1 cm), brown, glabrous follicle. The leaves are 2-3 times divided. The stem (as well as the leaves) is pubescent or almost glabrous, and very branched at the top. It is a common field weed, especially in crops of cereals. See Picture 5a.

Drug: The flowers (Consolidae regalis flos, Delphinii consolidae flos). Eastern larkspur is also a herb, its drug is the flower (Calcatrippae flos), and the plant itself (Calcatrippae herba). Consolida species contain strong diterpene alkaloids, as well as anthocyanins and flavonoids.

- Its infusion is a mild laxative and a vasodilator.

- It can be used externally as an eye compress.

It is often added to herbal tea mixtures for decorative effect. Nowadays only the flower of the Eastern larkspur (Consolida orientalis) is in demand. The plant is tall, with a usually non-branched stem, its dark blue or purple flower is bigger than that of forking larkspur, its fruit is 20-24 mm long, black and hairy. It is common in fields, primarily in crop cereals. See Picture 5b.

Aristolochiaceae – the Birthwort family. In Hungary, only herbaceous species occur. The flower is a homogeneous perianth, with the number 3 dominating, the pistil and the stamens form a single barrel shaped column.

6. Asarum europaeum – Hazelwort, Asarabacca, Europaean wild ginger. The black purple perianth is three-lobed and is lying on the ground, under the leaves. It is pollinated by snails. Branches of its stolons are two-leaved. The leaves are reniform or rounded, heart-shaped, entire, coriaceous, glossy on the upper surface. See Picture 6a, 6b.

Drug: The plant is collected with the root and leaves (Asari herba cum radice). It is highly poisonous, therefore not a home remedy. Its active ingredients are essential oils, flavonoid glycosides, citric acid, tannic acid, asarit and asarin.

- It is used to produce anti-asthma drops.

Rosaceae – the Rose family. Rosaceae can be trees, shrubs or herbaceous plants, often with compound leaves with stipules. Flowers are actinomorphic (i.e. radially symmetrical), with the number 5 (or its multiples) dominating. They generally have five sepals and five tepals; stamens and pistils differ in number according to the subfamilies. The fruits can be solitary or aggregate and come in many varieties: follicles, capsules, nuts, drupes and accessory fruits like the pome of an apple or the hip of a rose.

Pomoideae subfamily: K 5 C 5 A 10+5+5 G (5-2), the ovary position is inferior or perigynous.

7. Sorbus aucuparia – Mountain ash, Rowantree. The leaves are imparipinnate, the leaflets are lanceolate, acute, with a coarsely serrated margin. The tiny, white flowers are produced in large racemose corymbs. The fruit is a berry-like bright red pome, with an astringent, sweetish taste. See Pictuere 7a, 7b.

Drug: the ripe fruit (Sorbi fructus). It has to be picked from the raceme and dried until hard. Its flower and leaf are also used.

It grows in mountains, oak-yards, pine-forests and scrubs. It is grown as an ornamental tree. Its wood is hard, dense and dark brown, easy to carve and turn. It can tolerate atmospheric pollution, it is melliferous and not soil-sensitive. The fruit, called Rowan berry, is used to make jam, jelly and alcoholic beverages. It contains high amounts of Vitamin C. Due to its sorbose content, it is suitable for diabetics. The bark is used for tanning. Its active ingredients are sorbic acid, sorbit, malic acid, tannin, pectin, carotene and Vitamin C; the seeds contain amygdalin.

- The fruits are used to make jam, syrop, fruit juice and spirits.

- The concoction of the dried berries is used for kidney stone and urinary infections.

- The infusion made of the flowers is a mild laxative and diuretic.

- The infusion made of the leaves can be a tea substitute.

8. Crataegus monogyna – Common hawthorn, Single-seeded hawthorn. See Pictures 8a, 8b.9. C. laevigata – English hawthorn. See Pictures 9a, 9b. They are thorny shrubs or smaller trees. The leaves of the single seeded hawthorn are unevenly, deeply lobed. It has a single style. The leaves of the English hawthorn are only shallowly lobed on the upper third. Pistils and nutlets 2 (-3); the fruit is long, the stipule is scutatiform, not butterfly-shaped. Both of them have several subspecies and numerous hybrids. The inflorescence is a cymose corymb with dense white flowers. The sepal of English hawthorn is hairy on both sides, that of the single-seeded one is hairy only on the outside. The accessory fruit is a red, globoid pome.

Drug: the tip of the flowery, leafy shoot (Crategi summitas) and the fruit (Crategi fructus). It flowers in May-June, the crude drug should be collected at the beginning of flowering. Fruits should be collected in full ripening, when already red but not soft.

The effects of English hawthorn and the similar single-seeded hawthorn are almost identical. Their wood is hard and resistant, they were used to make walking sticks and rake handles; and also to make charcoal. Its old French name, “bonnet de nuit”, or night cap refers to its calming effects. Its cut hedges are practically untraversable, it has very few pests. It is used to make a heart tonic. The flowers, leaves and fruits all contain the active ingredients trimethylamine and quercitrine, and the fruits also contain crataegus acid.

- It is used to treat heart conditions; it expands the coronary arteries, lowers blood-pressure, eliminates arrhytmia, reduces arteriosclerosis and cholesterol deposits.

- It is a cardiac restorative and a neurotonic. It is an excellent remedy for heart muscle debility, boosting the capacity of the prostrate heart.

- It is useful for overstressed, exhausted, overtaxed patients.

It has only long-term, delayed effects, therefore in case of vascular spasm, nitro-glycerine has to be administered. Even its long-term use has no side-effects. In Germany, nearly 40 pharmaceutical drugs contain its active ingredients.

Rosoideae – The rose subfamily: K5 C5 A  G 

The outer (or false) calyx is frequent (Potentilla, Fragaria). It actually consists of bracts, giving the impression that there are ten sepals.

10. Rubus idaeus – Raspberry (Europaean red raspberry). It is a 1-1,5 m tall fruit plant with a cylindrical stem covered with dark red spines. It has large compound leaves with 5, sometimes 7 leaflets, and 3 on the flowering shoots. The upper side of the leaflets is smooth, the down side is whitish and tomentose. The inflorescence consists of short racemes, the fruit is an aggregate fruit of numerous drupelets. See Picture 10.

Drug: the leaf (Rubi idei folium), but the fruit is also used. Leaves are collected from May until September.

Raspberry also grows wildly on mountains; it contains tannins (gallotannin) and flavonoids. The fruit is rich in Vitamin C, but its contents of pro-vitamins B and A, potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium and phosphor are also considerable; the latter can effectively reduce fever.

- In case of diabetes mellitus, it can be a tea substitute; in trials it was shown to reduce blood glucose levels.

- It is a diaphoretic and an alterative (blood-purifier).

- For patients suffering from bladder problems, it is recommended to drink two litres of the infusion to leach the system. When taken in the evening, raspberry leaf tea reduces nocturia without any side-effects.

- Due to its restringent effects, it can reduce diarrhoea as well as appendicitis. It is successfully applied for strong menstruation and is very useful for pregnant women as it reduces nausea, prevents abortion and relaxes muscles of the uterus.

- Due to its Vitamin A content, raspberry is a natural remedy of the eye; it is useful in treating defects of eyesight and nyctalopia (night-blindness). Its luteolin strengthens ocular veins.

- Its luteolin and Vitamin C reduce nose- and gum-bleeding, as well as menstrual bleeding.

- It is a diuretic and a detoxifier; it has beneficial effects for the kidney and the bladder.

- The biotine in raspberry softens the hair and the skin (it is used in cosmetics).

- Thick raspberry syrup relieves sore throat. One sip is enough to coat the inflamed mycoderm and alleviate the burning pain caused by drying out. In fact every treatment that produces a coating of the mycoderm and prevents its drying out is similarly effective. Unfortunately honey dissolves too quickly and rice gruel is usually not at hand. This treatment is important because soar throat is not always accompanied by fever and the body can cope with the inflammation by itself, it is not necessary to take prescription drugs, especially antibiotics. If the soreness of the throat is relieved, the patient will feel much better.

Raspberry replaced blackberry since 1940. In the US, it is an ingredient of many herbal teas. It does not endanger the foetus. It is an exceptional plant, the tannin of its roots has anti-cancer properties, but since tannins are said to have both carcinogenic and anticancer effects, consult your doctor before using it.

11. Fragaria vesca – Wild strawberry. The rhizome is branched into longer, slender stolons that root at the nodes. Its trifoliate, hairy leaves are arranged in rosettes and have coarsely serrate margins. See Picture 11.

Drug: the leaf, with the 3 cm long petiole (Fragariae folium).

It is a popular and widely used berry fruit, its active ingredients are tannin and flavonoids.

- Strawberry leaf tea is has beneficial effects on diabetes and enteritis, and it is a diaphoretic.

- Applied as a mask or taken as a tea, the leaves purify the skin and effectively reduce chancres; they strengthen the hair and the bones.

- It is a palatable black tea substitute. Its fruit can be useful in weight loss diets and also reduces blood cholesterol levels.

- The fruit is an ancient remedy of arthritis, rheumatism, as well as a diuretic and a detoxifier.

- It boosts the immune system, its antioxidants have anticancer effects, and it can be used to treat herpes.

- It has beneficial effects on metabolic disorders and on the nervous system.

12. Potentilla (Argentina) anserina – Goosegrass (Common silverweed, Silverweed cinquefoil). It is a perennial plant with a rhizome and stolons. The compound leaves are imparipinnate and crenate into bigger and smaller leaflets. The underside (sometimes the upper side too) of the leaves is covered with white, silky hairs. At the end of the long peduncles there is a yellow flower, with 1 cm long petals. The fruit is a cluster of dry achenes. See Picture 12.

Drug: The basal leaves and the flowery stem are collected, the drug is the whole stem above the ground with the flower (Anserinae herba). It should be collected only in fields and near inhabited areas, not at gooseponds. It contains tannins, primarily ellagitannines. It contains the flavonoids quercetin and tiliroside, but it also accumulates proanthocyanidins.

- The decoction is useful in the treatment of enteritis, diarrhoea, gastric and intestinal ulcer.

- Its tannic acid content is effective internally against gastric and intestinal bleeding; in case of haemorrhoids it should be applied externally as a sitting bath.

13. Geum urbanum – Wood avens (Bennet’s root, Old man’s whiskers). It is a perennial plant with a rhizome from which the basal leaves develop. The apical leaf is longer and broader, with 3-5 lobes. Leaves are interruptedly pinnate, i. e., greater and smaller leaflets alternate. Stem leaves are stupuled. There is a single flower both at the end of the main stem and the side stems. It has a double calyx, sepals are visibly situated between the petals. The fruit is a cluster of achenes with the styles on them. See Picture 13.

Drug: the rhizome and the secondary roots developing from it (Gei rhizoma). The rhizome is 3-7 cm long, reddish, rarely purplish in the inside. It contains a lot of tannins and the alkaloid gein (geoside), which was discovered in this plant.

- Its alcoholic tincture is a mouth wash in dentistry to treat toothache, abscess in the mouth, stomatitis, gingivitis, and plaque.

- Applied internally, it is used to alleviate diarrhoea, enteritis and bowel infections.

- It is useful for elderly patients with indigestion and chronic colitis.

- It has been shown to have beneficial effects on neurosis and night sweat.

- The root is used as an ingredient in making liqueurs.

14. Filipendula ulmaria – Meadow sweet (Mead wort). It is a perennial herb with an angular, almost horizontal rhizome. The stem is simple or ramified at the top. Leaves are interruptedly pinnate in pairs of 2-5, the stipules are big, heart-shaped and serrate, usually 3-5 lobed. The tiny flowers are arranged on a cymose umbel, the fruit is an achene. It grows commonly in damp meadows, fens, marshes, wet swamps, wet woods, and wet rock ledges.

Drug: the flowery stem (Filipendulae herba) and the flower (Spireae flos). Occasionally the root is also collected (Spireae radix), in autumn or early spring. See Picture 14a, 14b.

The name ‘aspirin’ is derived from the plant’s old Latin name (Spirea ulmaria). Due to its almond smell, it was used as an air-freshener in the past. It can be cultivated in half-shady areas. From the tall perennial plant, only the upper part (40 cm) has to be collected with the flowers and leaves. The active ingredients present in this medicinal plant are essential oils, flavonoids, phenolic glycosides, salicylic acid, and tannins. The rhizome contains gaulterin.

- It is a fever reliever and a painkiller; it has lesser effects than the pharmaceutical drug.

- It reduces the blood-sugar level; it has diaphoretic and diuretic effects.

- It is used to prevent the formation of blood-clots (thrombi) that may cause heart-attack.

- The herb is a valuable medicine in the treatment of diarrhoea, indeed it is considered almost specific in the treatment of children’s diarrhoea.

Unlike the extracted aspirin, meadow sweet does not cause stomach-ache because the combination of its constituents acts to protect the inner lining of the stomach and intestines. In children under 16 with cold, flu or chicken-pox (varicella), aspirin was reported to cause Reye’s syndrome that can be fatal, whilst meadow sweet was not.

15. Agrimonia eupatoria – Common agrimony (Sticklewort). It is a perennial herbaceous plant with a rhizome. The stem is erect and pilose (covered with soft hairs). Stem leaves are interruptedly pinnately compound, leaflets are sessile with serrate margins. The inflorescence is a terminal spike. The fruit is accessory; the usually single achene sits in a receptacle; when mature, it bends down, and the uncinate (hooked), whorled spines at the apex of the fruit harden. See Picture 15.

Drug: the flowering stem with the leaves (Agrimoniae herba), which may contain the herba of another species. Young plant parts should be harvested, i.e., the upper 50 cm long part with the flowers. The active ingredients present in this plant are the tannin katechin, ellagic acid, gallotannin, and some quercitrine, flavonoid glycosides, silica acid, citric acid, and tartaric acid.

- It is used to treat gastritis and enteritis.

- It regulates liver and bile activity, the tea alleviates bile-stone complaints.

- In case of nephralgia (kidney trouble) and incontinence, a decoction made with red wine (4-10 gramms of drug in 2,5 dl of wine) should be applied.

- It is an excellent throat gargle to relieve throat pains and to decrease inflammations. It is used as a cold application in case of tonsillitis.

3.1.1. Test questions

Please give the Latin names of all plants and drugs when answering each question, even if not explicitly required.

1. How would you separate poisonous and medicinal horsetail species?

2. What are the main differences between Scots pine and European black pine?

3. When are the berry-like seed cones of juniper harvested?

4. Which parts of European barberry are drugs? What colour is the inside of its woody parts?

5. Which larkspur species are collected and where do they grow?

6. What are the characteristic traits of the flower and leaves of hazelwort?

7. Describe trees and shrubs of the Rosacea family.

8. How would you separate the two hawthorn species?

9. What is the difference between the fruits of mountain ash and hawthorn?

10. What are the characteristic properties of raspberry leaves?

11. Which medicinal plants of the Rosacea family spread with stolons?

12. What is the difference between the leaves of wild strawberry and common silverweed?

13. Which plants have white flowers in the family of Rosacea?

14. What is the difference between the flowers and inflorescence of wood avens and agrimony?

15. From the old latin name of which plant does the name ‘aspirin’ come from?

3.2. 2. From Dog rose to Alder buckthorn

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