An introduction to the healing properties of plants
by PU Chien. Posted on June 10, 2012, Sunday
NATURE has provided many medicinal plants, some of which can be included in the home garden. In fact there may already be plants growing in your garden with healing properties but you just do not realise it. Have you ever noticed how your cat or dog instinctively knows that certain plants, which we may consider weeds, can actually heal their illnesses?
Herbs are used in many cultures the world over. In Europe, apothecaries used herbal ingredients in medicines. Traditional Chinese medicines have used herbal ingredients for thousands of years. They include the use of herbs for the treatment of broken bones, which has proven to be more effective and speedy compared to conventional western medical treatment.
Today even modern western medicine tends to use active ingredients from plants. Phytochemicals can be synthesised and compounded or transformed to make pharmaceuticals. An example is digoxin from digitalis plants for treating cardiac disease and as an anti-arrhythmic agent.
Let us examine some common medicinal or herbal plants and their uses.
Aloe vera – this a succulent but hardy plant that can tolerate neglect. Though a slow grower, it can eventually reach two feet in height. It is valuable for the treatment of burns and scrapes, as well as insect bites. The sap is not only used for lotions and cosmetics but also for refreshing drinks.
Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) – the leaves are used to lower cholesterol and to treat kidney and urinary tract ailments.
Arnica (Arnica Montana) – used as an anti-inflammatory and in osteoarthritis treatment.
Asthma weed (Euphorbia hirta) – in Asia it is used to treat bronchic asthma and laryngeal spasms. In the Philippines it is also used in dengue fever treatment.
Astragalus (Astragalus propinquus) – Chinese medicine uses this to strengthen the immune system from hepatitis and as an adjunctive therapy in cancer.
Bitter gourd (Momordica charantia) – an agent for reducing the blood glucose level.
Bitter orange (Citrus x aurantium) – the Chinese and Amazonian natives use this for nausea, indigestion and constipation.
Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) – used to treat urinary tract ailments and as an antioxidant.
Chilli (Capsicum annum) – known locally as chilli padi, it can be used for the treatment of cold, fever, diarrhoea and to relieve pain.
Chilli (Capsicum frutescens) – its active ingredient called capsaicin is used in commercial pain relief ointments in western medicine. The low incidences of heart attacks among Thais is said to be related to capsaicin’s fibrinolytic action (dissolving blood clots).
Celery (Apium graveolens) – this vegetable works as a diuretic.
Cinchona (Quina) – the bark of this group of trees contains alkaloids that can be used to treat malaria.
Clove (Syzygium aromaticum) – it is used for stomach upset and as an expectorant.
Coffee senna (Cassia occidentalis) – this has many roles including as an internal and external anti-microbial treatment, for liver disorders, intestinal worms and parasites and as an immune system stimulant.
Evening primrose (Oenothera spp) – the oil has been used since 1930 for eczema, as an anti-inflammatory as well as hormonal treatment in women.
Garlic (Allium sativum) – widely used as an antibiotic and for cardiovascular disease.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) – used to treat nausea.
Gingko (Gingko biloba) – the leaf extract is used for asthma, bronchitis, fatigue and tinnitus treatment.
Ginseng (Panax ginseng and Panax quinquefolius) – this has been used to boost health for thousands of years in Asia.
Grape (Vitis vinifera) – the leaves and fruit have been used medicinally since the time of the ancient Greeks.
Guava (Psidium guajava) – studies have been conducted on its properties for the treatment of gastrointestinal ailments such as acute infectious diarrhoea.
Lavender (L angustifolia) – traditionally used as an antiseptic and to aid mental health.
Lemon (Citrus x limon) – has a long history in Chinese and Indian cultural treatments for colds and coughs as well as sore throats.
Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) – over 2,000 years of history in food and medicine.
Neem (Azadirachta indica) – used for de-worming, malaria, rheumatism and skin infections. Known in Indian villages as the dispensary tree.
Opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) – the plant source of morphine for pain relief, particularly for terminally ill patients.
Papaya (Carica papaya) – used for the treatment of wounds.
Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) – used to relieve nausea, indigestion and common colds.
Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and related species – 400 years history in cold and flu cures.
Rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis) – used medicinally as an essential oil to improve cognitive performance and mood improvement.
Tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) – this oil is used by Aborigines in Australia as an antibacterial or anti-fungus agent. Also used to treat pimples and insect bites.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) – known as a treatment for bronchitis and coughs as well as an anti-spasmodic expectorant.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) – a yellow-coloured spice for Indian curries, which has long been used in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine to aid digestion and liver function, to relieve arthritis pain and as a menstruation regulator.
White willow (Salix alba) – this plant is the source of salicylic acid, a chemical related to aspirin.
I hope this gives you an idea of how useful plants can be. Happy gardening. Do send me an email for details.