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Medicine from Plants: On Traditional and Homeopathic Remedies

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There is a lot of interest in natural and home remedies out there nowadays, and for good reason.  Modern medicine and pharmaceutical drugs work wonders, and Science is constantly making advancements in the treatment of many issues.  However, they have their shortcomings, and when applied so narrowly as to treat symptoms rather than the person it has limited effect. 

Folks are beginning to remember that there was (and still is) a more holistic approach to healthcare prior to the development of the modern pharmaceutical industry.  That many modern medicines are based off natural sources and are highly effective due to this.   In many cases, herbal homeopathic remedies are still the best treatment.  Especially when it comes to aroma therapy where the power of plant essential oils diffused into the air and soothing herbal teas provide comfort and can even affect our emotional state.   

For millennia, people have been actively searching in nature for cures to their ailments and maintain wellbeing.  All over the world, and in every habitat, there are plants that can help!  This is because plants have been developing for much longer, and through evolution have developed the ability to fight off their own ailments.  Plants (and other lifeforms) produce what are called secondary metabolites, or phytochemicals which are utilized through specialized mechanisms in the plants to protect them or otherwise give them an edge over the elements thrown at them by nature.  Humanity has been taking advantage of this fact for thousands of years (mostly through trial and error).

Over time, many cultures have developed systems of medicine: Ayurvedic, Iranian, Traditional Chinese Medicine {T.C.M.}, Several groups of Tribal Native American and African Medicine, And European Traditional Medicine which is just called Traditional Medicine {T.M.} in the west, among others.  These systems have varying philosophical bases, but the key feature of all of them is their holistic nature, as well as a mental/spiritual connection to bodily health.  There are clearly effective remedies from each of them that have been scientifically proven, many of which have been studied heavily, elucidating the world of organic chemistry and engendering the world of pharmaceuticals and medicines been developed from them.

That having been said.  These purified “medicines” are often too narrow in their approach, because through scientific testing of the “active” ingredients and observations made under the guise of the mentality that is only one substance that makes a specific remedy effective; we have lost track of the synergy created by the mixture of herbals, and the psychological/spiritual factors of the application.  It is often difficult to blend spiritualism with medicine and science and have it work for everyone.  Also, some of the effects of natural remedies tend to be hard to measure scientifically, and therefore are outside the realm of western medicine.   These factors create a duality in our minds that separate traditional medicine from the doctor and the hospital.  When in fact they should all be used holistically to maintain the health of our bodies and souls.

The problem is that when we get sick, we don’t want to think we just want what works, and we want it to work yesterday.  So, we go out buy everything that might help and ignore the fact that we are just treating the symptoms.  When we should have been maintaining good health via balancing diet and exercise, and working in natural supplements, and nutraceuticals to keep all the systems of our bodies working correctly, and our immune system strong.  Being thoughtful of the weather and other factors that might make us sick, and like a plant, systemically load ourselves with the phytochemicals that boost our immunity or create a physical barrier.  Then, if the symptoms of an ailment are too much to bear, or we cannot determine what is wrong, seek out professional medical help (preferably help with a working knowledge of modern and traditional medicines), then utilize herbal remedies like (Echinacea-Goldenseal tincture, or Chrysanthemum tea with honey), and nutraceuticals (like Elder, Aronia or Goji berry concentrates).  And if all else fails, or an organism with the evolutionary edge (like the flu or something comes along then go for hardcore pharmaceuticals.

In our opinion, Pharmacology is not an effective approach for psychological disorders and the side effects of the drugs and misuse just cause broader issues in society.  However, there are preparations, remedies, and ceremonies in traditional medicine of many different cultures that have to ability to clear the mind (both therapeutically and pharmacologically) and center the spirit, but they are generally highly relative to those cultures and often require the assistance of an actual practitioner/shaman to be utilized correctly.

Developing and understanding of natural medicine can become an easy and cheap way to solve simple ailments, without involving the healthcare system or a box store.  Developing a deeper understanding with modern science and technology may lead us to solve the worst diseases with plant-based medicines. We should not just throw our traditional medicine, nor should we completely distrust modern innovations (like vaccines) based on ideology, but we should educate ourselves to the point where we feel comfortable and believe in what we do with our health.

So, don’t ditch the doctor, but do investigate natural remedies you can make yourself!

Here are a few species we have been studying, growing, and developing remedies from here at Wine Creek Farm:

Echinacea:(E. purpurea, E. paradoxa, E. simulata):  Native perennials. There is evidence dating back 400 years that shows native American use of the leaves to treat wounds and infections.  The name comes from the Greek echinos for hedgehog.  Echinacea is a potent Immunostimulant and adaptogen, and is used in synergy with St. John’s Wort, and Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) to shorten colds and the flu, as well as to treat hay fever and infections.  Phytochemistry contributing to efficacy:  polysaccharides, alkyamide, glycoproteins, and echinoside.

St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum): Has a reputation with magic and has been used for centuries in Europe to gain power over evil spirits, and ceremoniously, in funeral/burial rituals to ward off evil spirits.  The name originates from the Greek Hyper– (over) and ekion (apparition).  Legend has it that the plant sprung up from St. John the Baptist’s blood when he was beheaded!   H. perforatum is known to have anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, blood purifying, sedative, and diuretic properties.  It is also known to stimulate digestion, can be used as an astringent as well as expectorant, to cure hemorrhages, and other skin aliments (i.e. burns, wounds, eczema), taken as medicine for cramps and irritability (for those who experience those symptoms periodically).

The Key active constituents (hypericin, and hyperforin) of St. John’s wort have been found to have activity on the central nervous system, and (with doctor approval) may be used as an alternative to traditional anti-depressants!  The dried aerial (above ground) portions may be steeped into a tea (1tsp in a half-cup of hot 150℉ water or in a capsule 2-3 times per day).  other methods include topical oils, tinctures, and there are commercial products standardized to .3% hypericin (although the actual plant is much more homeopathic).

It may also speed up the breakdown of barbiturates, increases the effects of sedatives, and lowers the levels of immune suppressing drugs in the body… it is for these, among other, reasons that you should consult a doctor before using it as medicine.

Chamomile:  3 Species of daisy family (Asteraceae) All containing the essential oil chamazulene used in aromatherapy

German Chamomile (false): (Matricaria chamomilla):  one plant we commonly refer to as chamomile and from which chamomile teas are made. The scientific name comes from the Latin word ‘matrix’; German Chamomile has strong antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory constituents and is particularly effective in treating stomach and intestinal cramps (i.e. from P.M.S.)

Roman (true): (Chamaemelum nobile):  Low growing perennial from the Mediterranean. A spiritually uplifting and soothing plant.  The flowers are used medicinally as a tea or topical preparation to calm inflamed skin and to ease arthritis, headaches, sprains and muscle aches. In ancient Rome, Roman Chamomile was used to help soldiers take courage during times of war.  The volatile oil (predominantly Chamazulene) of Roman chamomile is used as a fragrance in soaps, cosmetics, and perfumes; and to flavor cigarette tobacco. The extract is also used in cosmetics and soaps. Teas have been used as a hair tint and conditioner.

St. John’s Chamomile (Anthemis sancti-johannis): Short-lived self-seeding evergreen perennial zones 3-9.  Grows to 18 inches tall and native to the mountains of Bulgaria   It is a gorgeous mounding plant with deeply cut, aromatic, fern-like leaves give rise to multiple stalks crowned by the flattened, golden orange flowers.  Grows excellently on the garden border or in containers.  A fragrant cut flower, the petals are edible and may be used to garnish salads, and the dried flowers are good in potpourri.

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis): Has been used for over 2000 years; Hippocrates first described it, then Dioscorides, and Galen both recommended its aerial portions to be used as a tea to treat insomnia.  The name either comes from the Latin adjectival form of the name Valerius, or it was named for the Roman Emperor Publius Licinius Valerianus.  Valerenic acid is the chief active ingredient, although it works synergistically with other constituents to have sedative, anxiolytic (anti-anxiety), neurological, and cardiovascular properties.  Valerian was widely used up until the advent of potent hypnotic/sedative drugs in the early 20th century. Valerian can be used to treat urinary tract infections, insomnia, anxiety, epilepsy, headaches, heart palpitations, high blood pressure, P.M.S., I.B.S., as well as child behavioral issues.  It is generally consumed mixed into herbal teas or in capsules.

Valerian is grown as a biennial, planted in the spring, and the flowers enjoyed the following summer, then the root is dug in the early fall of the second year.  Alternatively, the leaves and flowers can be enjoyed sparingly throughout the growth.

Tarragon: (Artemisia dracunculoidies):  Quite the interesting scientific name… dracunculoidies is from the Latin meaning “little dragon”!  Tarragon is an interesting herb with a subtle, yet pungent, herbal yet spicy flavor and aroma; works well on fish and in varying amounts on other proteins, as well as in pickles/vinegars, and alcoholic infusions/tinctures.  The dried leaves are a distinctive part of Dijon Mustard. Coumarin is the main essential oil, but trace amounts of temazepam and diazepam make it mildly anxiolytic.

Recognized in texts dating back the 17th and 19th centuries where the distinction, distribution and differences between the French and Russian races (var. stativa and var. inodora respectively) were noted, as well as traditional uses.  Tarragon is widely distributed with humanity from Iran where it is used traditionally in folk medicine as an anticoagulator and antihyperlipidaemic, by eating it in salad and soup; to the Native American use in lotion to heal cuts and slow excessive bleeding in child birth and P.M.S.

The phytochemistry of A. dracunculoidies makes it a prime candidate as the source of pharmaceutical drugs including anti-coagulants, and Benzodiazepines (also containing alkyamide and phenylpropanoids).  Mostly however, its phytochemicals are raw materials requiring either metabolism or laboratory synthesis to become pharmaceutically active.  In many cases it is cheaper to produce the drugs form other non-plant sources.  However, its genetics are known to exhibit polyploidy making it prime for breeding into more potent forms.

Tarragon is by nature a perennial (zones 3-7) and may be grown easily as such in Missouri.

Wormwood (Artemisia absinthii):  The oldest records of its use dates back ancient Egypt 3500 years ago! The Ancient Greeks used extracts of wormwood and wine-soaked wormwood leaves as remedies and drank a wormwood called “absinthites oinos”. Wormwood is also one of the Chief constituents (alongside anise, fennel, angelica, and other herbs) in the modern concoction “Absinthe” which originates in the swiss canton of Neuchatel.  We now know that one constituent of Wormwood: Absinthin indeed does have effects upon the mind and body that induces a euphoric and some say “hallucinogenic” state.  Artemisinin, another phytochemical has recently been discovered to fight malaria!  Never the less, the plant is a great perennial for dry, poor, yet clay-ey sites, and smells interesting.

 

That’s all we have time to cover right now but look forward to more information on the actual remedies that can be made.  We are constantly researching and developing products.  Our direction in the next post covering this topic will be medicines from Missouri native plants!

**All claims come from either online sources, or my own writing published and unpublished and mostly written in college.  Please Contact Josh personally for more information on citing at: joshj.plack@gmail.com


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