Tag Archives: medicinal plants

Friday Fellow: Yerba Mate

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Christmas is in a few days and a plant that is always associated to this time of the year in Europe is the holly Ilex aquifolium. I was about to make it today’s Friday Fellow, but then I thought: why not a less popular but much cooler relative?

So let’s welcome Ilex paraguariensis, the yerba mate!

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Detail of a branch of yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis). Photo by Leandro Kibisz.*

The yerba mate is a shrub or tree that can grow up to 15 meters in height and is found in several forest fosrmations of South America, especially along the Paraguay and Paraná rivers. The leaves are oval and have a dark green color and a slightly serrated margin. The flowers are mall and lack petals and the fruits are red as in its European cousin.

The leaves of yerba mate are used for the preparation of a traditional beverage called mate in both Spanish and Portuguese, and also as chimarrão in Portuguese. It is traditionally consumed in Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay and Southern Brazil, as well as in some areas of Bolivia and Chile. The consumption of mate started with the guarani people and later  spread to the Tupi and to the European colonizers and is currently associated with the gaucho culture in South America.

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A man drinking mate. Photo by Aslam Singh.**

The leaves of yerba mate are rich in caffeine and polyphenols, thus having stimulant, diuretic and antioxidant properties. The beverage seems to be able to help in weight loss by reducing the absorption of lipids and can also reduz the risk os several types of cancer. However, there are some evidence connecting the consumption of mate with increased risk of some cancers as well, such as oral and esophageal cancer. This risk, however, may be more related to the temperature of the beverage than the plant itself, so try not to drink it too hot!

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References:

Heck, C. I.; De Mejia, E. G. Yerba Mate Tea (Ilex paraguariensis): A Comprehensive Review on Chemistry, Health Implications, and Technological Considerations. Journal of Food Science, 72(9):R138–R151. DOI: 10.1111/j.1750-3841.2007.00535.x

Wikipedia. Yerba mate. Available at < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yerba_mate >. Access on December 17, 2017.

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Friday Fellow: Chinese Magnolia Vine

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Coming from the forests of Northern China, Korea and Eastern Russia, our newest fellow is a woody vine called Schisandra chinensis and populary known as Chinese magnolia vine.

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The beautiful red fruits of the Chinese magnolia vine. Photo by Vladimir Kosolapov.*

Used in Chinese traditional medicine, the plant is considered one of the 50 fundamental herbs. The part of the plant most commonly used are the berries, which are known as magnolia berries or five-flavor-fruits. The second name is a translation of the Chinese name, 五味子 (wǔwèizi), because the berry is said to contain all five basic Chinese flavors: salty, sweet, sour, spicy and bitter. An infusion prepared with the dried fruits is called omija tea or omija-cha, from the Korean name of the fruits.

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A cup of omija tea. Photo by Raheel Shahid.**

The traditional uses of the Chinese magnolia vine included the treatment of disorders related mainly to the sexual organs. Several current studies by laboratory trials indicated that the plant has a large number of beneficial properties, including antioxidant properties and the ability to increase endurance, working ability, accuracy of movements and mental ability. It also seems to be useful in the treatment of several diseases and disorders, especially inflamatory ones, such as sinusitis, otitis, neuritis, dermatitis and gastritis, as well as on some infectious diseases such as influenza and pneumonia, among many other conditions.

I’m certainly interested in trying a cup of omija tea. What about you? Have you ever had the chance?

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References:

Panossian, A.; Wikman, G. (2008) Pharmacology of Schisandra chinensis Bail.: An overview of Russian research and uses in medicine. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 118(2): 183-212. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jep.2008.04.020

Wikipedia. Schisandra chinensis. Available at < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schisandra_chinensis >. Access on October 31, 2017.

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Friday Fellow: Spiked Pepper

by Piter Kehoma Boll

A relative of the famous black pepper from India that is used as a spice worldwide, today’s fellow, the spiked pepper Piper aduncum, comes from South America, where it is also called by other names such as matico and higuillo de hoja menuda.

Growing as a small tree or shrub, the spiked pepper is widespread throughout the continent, being found in both the Atlantic and the Amazonian forests. Having a peppery odor as other peppers, it can be used as a substitute of them while preparing food, but its main uses are medicinal.

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Close up of a branch of Piper aduncum showing the inflorescences. Photo by João Medeiros.*

It is classically used by local populations as an antiseptic applied directly on open wounds and also as an infusion or paste to treat gastrointestinal disorders and problems of the genital organs. Laboratory studies using extracts from the plant concluded that it has antibacterial and moluscidal properties, thus having the potential to be used as both an antiseptic and a pesticide against mollusks.

Outside of South America, the spiked pepper became a problematic invasive species in several islands of the Pacific, such as New Guinea and Fiji. In Papua-New Guinea, it has become so common that it was incorporated in the culture of local people, who use it as a wood source and as a medicine and pesticide.

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References:

Maia, J., Zohhbi, M., Andrade, E., Santos, A., da Silva, M., Luz, A., & Bastos, C. (1998). Constituents of the essential oil ofPiper aduncum L. growing wild in the Amazon region Flavour and Fragrance Journal, 13 (4), 269-272 DOI: 10.1002/(SICI)1099-1026(1998070)13:43.0.CO;2-A

Orjala, J., Wright, A., Behrends, H., Folkers, G., Sticher, O., Rüegger, H., & Rali, T. (1994). Cytotoxic and Antibacterial Dihydrochalcones from Piper aduncum Journal of Natural Products, 57 (1), 18-26 DOI: 10.1021/np50103a003

Potzernheim, M., Bizzo, H., Silva, J., & Vieira, R. (2012). Chemical characterization of essential oil constituents of four populations of Piper aduncum L. from Distrito Federal, Brazil Biochemical Systematics and Ecology, 42, 25-31 DOI: 10.1016/j.bse.2011.12.025

Siges, T., Hartemink, A., Hebinck, P., & Allen, B. (2005). The Invasive Shrub Piper aduncum and Rural Livelihoods in the Finschhafen Area of Papua New Guinea Human Ecology, 33 (6), 875-893 DOI: 10.1007/s10745-005-8214-7

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Friday Fellow: Mexican Giant Horsetail

by Piter Kehoma Boll

If you are walking through the forest of Central America, you may end up finding something that at first you could think is a group of bamboos, plants growing as a cylindrical segmented stem that can reach up to 7 m in height, as seen in the picture below:

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A group of bamboos? Not exactly. Photo by Alex LomasAlex Lomas.*

Those are not actually bamboos, though, but specimens of the largest species of horsetail that exists today, the Mexican giant horsetail, Equisetum myriochaetum. It can be found growing naturally from Peru to Mexico in areas of fertile soil, especially along water bodies such as streams and swamps.

As other horsetails, the Mexican giant horsetail has an erect and hollow stem with very narrow leaves growing in a whirl around the “joints” of the stem. The leaves are very simple, similar to those of more primitive plants such as the spikemosses and ground pines, but are thought to be a simplification of more complex leaves, as they are more closely related to the complex-leaved ferns.

More than only the largest horsetail in the world, the Mexican giant horsetail is an important medicinal plant in Mexican folk medicine, being used to treat kidney diseases and type 2 diabetes mellitus. And as in many other occasions, laboratory studies confirmed that water extracts from the aerial parts of E. myriochaetum do indeed reduce the blood glucose levels of type 2 diabetic patients without reducing their insulin levels. One more point to traditional medicine.

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ResearchBlogging.orgReferences:

EOL – Encyclopedia of Life. Equisetum myriochaetum. Available at <http://eol.org/pages/6069616/overview&gt;. Access on March 4, 2017.

Revilla, M., Andrade-Cetto, A., Islas, S., & Wiedenfeld, H. (2002). Hypoglycemic effect of Equisetum myriochaetum aerial parts on type 2 diabetic patients Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 81 (1), 117-120 DOI: 10.1016/S0378-8741(02)00053-3

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. Equisetum myriochaetum. Available at <http://www.rbge.org.uk/the-gardens/plant-of-the-month/plant-profiles/equisetum-myriochaetum&gt;. Access on March 4, 2017.

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Friday Fellow: Indian shot

ResearchBlogging.orgby Piter Kehoma Boll

Today’s Friday Fellow may not seem to be such an astonishing plant, but it has its peculiarities, some of them quite interesting.

Commonly known as Indian shot, African arrowroot, purple arrowroot, and many other names, it was called Canna indica by Linnaeus in his work Species Plantarum. In fact, Canna indica is the first plant named in the book, so it could be seen as the first life form to receive a valid binomial name.

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A small-flowered, possibly wild variety of Indian shot. Photo by flickr user peganum.*

Despite being called Indian shot or African arrowroot, this species is actually native from the Americas, especially South America, although it may be found as far north as the southern United States. It is widely cultivated as an ornamental plant and several varieties exist. It is also naturalized in many parts of Europe, Africa, Southeast Asia, and many Pacific islands.

The subterranean rhizomes of the Indian shot are edible and were a food crop cultivated by the original inhabitants of the Americas, although is much less used nowadays. The rhizomes may be eaten raw or baked or cooked. The seeds, which are small, globular and black, are very hard and dense and can even be used as bullets, hence the name Indian shot.

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Seeds and flowers of Canna indica. Photo by Wikimedia user B.navez.*

The Indian shot is sometimes used to remove nutrients from wastewaters, being cultivated in constructed wetlands where the wastewaters are kept for purification. There are also  some studies pointing to its use as an inhibitor of the activity of the protein reverse transcriptase of  HIV.

Isn’t it a nice fellow, after all?

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References:

Cui, L., Ouyang, Y., Lou, Q., Yang, F., Chen, Y., Zhu, W., & Luo, S. (2010). Removal of nutrients from wastewater with Canna indica L. under different vertical-flow constructed wetland conditions Ecological Engineering, 36 (8), 1083-1088 DOI: 10.1016/j.ecoleng.2010.04.026

Wikipedia. Canna indica. Availabe at <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canna_indica&gt;. Access on December 2, 2016.

Woradulayapinij, W., Soonthornchareonnon, N., & Wiwat, C. (2005). In vitro HIV type 1 reverse transcriptase inhibitory activities of Thai medicinal plants and Canna indica L. rhizomes Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 101 (1-3), 84-89 DOI: 10.1016/j.jep.2005.03.030

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