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Plant Based Medicine

🌱 Discover some of the medicinal benefits of everyday plants below. 🌱

*The information below is for reference only. Ingestion of some plants mentioned can be dangerous and would be unsafe if consumed regardless of the medicinal effect.

Poppy

THE MEDICINE: Opium.

THE YEAR OF DISCOVERY: Nobody knows exactly when opium was discovered, however there is evidence of it being used as early as 2100 BC.

THE MEDICINAL USE: Opium is a substance that has been extracted from the opium poppy for years. Opium is the base for the opioid class of drugs, used mainly as strong painkillers including Morphine, Codeine and Oxycodone.

Willow

THE MEDICINE: Aspirin.

THE YEAR OF DISCOVERY: Willow bark was first used as an analgesic around the year 1934 BC, but in 1897 it was tested and recorded in a lab officially.

THE MEDICINAL USE: Willow bark has been used for several centuries as a pain killer. The active ingredient in the medicine is called salicin. Salicin is used as an anti-inflammatory agent and aspirin is a derivative of this.

Foxglove

THE MEDICINE: Digoxin.

THE YEAR OF DISCOVERY: Digoxin was first isolated from Foxglove in 1930.

THE MEDICINAL USE: Digoxin is sometimes used to help congestive heart failure as well as irregular heart rhythms such as atrial fibrillation. Digoxin can increase the strength of heart muscle contractions, regulate the heart rate and improve cardiac output. If consumed, foxglove can be extremely toxic.

Caffeine

THE MEDICINE: Caffeine.

THE YEAR OF DISCOVERY: Caffeine has been used as a medicinal drug since before records began, however the discovery of the chemical did not officially occur until 1819.

THE MEDICINAL USE: Caffeine is used to improve mental alertness. It is also used in combination with painkillers (e.g. aspirin), to increase the drugs effectiveness. Caffeine is probably best known for being a key component in coffee and tea.

Coca leaf

THE MEDICINE: Cocaine is an alkaloid derivative from coca leaves.

THE YEAR OF DISCOVERY: Cocaine was used as a local anaesthetic throughout the Incan empire of Peru between 1400-1533 CE.

THE MEDICINAL USE: Cocaine hydrochloride solution is used as a topical anaesthetic due to its vasoconstricting properties. Procedures on the upper respiratory tract are the most common sites for use of Cocaine hydrochloride. Cocaine is also a drug which is recreational abused due to its effect of inducing states of euphoria and heightened energy.

Nicotiana tabacum

THE MEDICINE: Nicotine.

THE YEAR OF DISCOVERY: Nicotine has been used as a stimulant for at least 2000 years and was first known to be used in the Americas.

THE MEDICINAL USE: Nicotine is used to as a replacement therapy to reduce withdrawal symptoms when someone stops smoking. Researchers are looking at nicotine and its related chemicals as possible treatments for Parkinson’s disease, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and Alzheimer’s disease.

Belladonna

THE MEDICINE: Atropine.

THE YEAR OF DISCOVERY: Atropine was first isolated in 1833 by scientists researching the effects of the nightshade family.

THE MEDICINAL USE: The chemicals (atropine and scopolamine) in deadly nightshade have medicinal properties. Atropine can reduce muscle spasms and is often used to treat bradycardia (low heart rate) in certain conditions. It is also commonly used to dilate the pupils for eye examinations. Scopolamine which comes from a number of sources, including deadly nightshade, is effective at helping motion sickness (through patches) and reducing body secretion e.g. stomach acid. Scopolamine is more commonly known as Hyoscine.

Autumn crocus

THE MEDICINE: Colchicine.

THE YEAR OF DISCOVERY: Colchicine was first discovered in the leaves of autumn crocus in ancient Egypt for its laxative properties around 1500 BC.

THE MEDICINAL USE: Colchicine is used to help reduce inflammation in gout, and less commonly in an inherited disease called Mediterranean Fever.

Mecuna pruriens (tropical bean)

THE MEDICINE: Levadopa.

THE YEAR OF DISCOVERY: Levadopa came onto the clinical scene in the late 1960s.

THE MEDICINAL USE: Mecuna pruriens contains between 6-9% Levadopa by weight, which is a well-known treatment for Parkinson’s symptoms. Parkinson’s is caused by the impairment of neurones in the brain that use dopamine to communicate. Replacing the dopamine is a key strategy to improving symptoms.

Mayapple

THE MEDICINE: Mayapple contains Podophyllotoxin which is an antimitotic (blocks cell growth by stopping cell division (mitosis).

THE YEAR OF DISCOVERY:In the 1930’s doctors started using Podophyllotoxin for treatment of warts. In 1942 Podophyllotoxin was first published in medical literature.

THE MEDICINAL USE: Podophyllotoxin is the active ingredient in Podofilox, a topical cream used to treat genital warts and molluscum contagiosum.

Cinchona bark

THE MEDICINE: Quinine.

THE YEAR OF DISCOVERY: Quinine was first found in 1820 in Peru. The cinchona bark has been used to help treat Malaria since at least 1632.

THE MEDICINAL USE: Quinine is very toxic and so it’s use has been declining in recent years, but it is still used as an anti-malarial at times. Quinine has also been used for many years to treat nocturnal leg cramps.

Pacific Yew

THE MEDICINE: Taxol.

THE YEAR OF DISCOVERY: 1962 was when the first samples were collected and tested by researchers in the USA.

THE MEDICINAL USE: Taxol is more commonly known as Paclitaxel, a chemotherapy agent used mainly in the treatment of breast and ovarian cancer. It acts as an anti-mitotic, preventing cell division.

Cannabis

THE MEDICINE: THC (tetrahydrocannabinol).

THE YEAR OF DISCOVERY: In 1964 THC was first isolated and then synthesized from the cannabis plant itself.

THE MEDICINAL USE: THC and CBD are the two main cannabinoids. Research is still being done into how THC and CBD can be used effectively within medicine. It would seem there are positive indications that they could be used to help with refractory epilepsy, pain control and regulating behaviour. Due to its effects, the cannabis plant is smoked as a recreational drug.

Cocoa and tea

THE MEDICINE: Theophylline.

THE YEAR OF DISCOVERY: 1977.

THE MEDICINAL USE: Theophylline occurs naturally in black tea at very low levels and in cocoa in even smaller amounts. It is used in medicine to prevent wheezing and chest tightness by relaxing and opening up air passages in the lungs to make breathing easier in conditions such as asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

Madagascan periwinkle

THE MEDICINE: Vincristine and vinblastine.

THE YEAR OF DISCOVERY: 1950’s.

THE MEDICINAL USE: In the 1950’s, it was discovered that the Madagascan periwinkle extract (yielding the chemicals vincristine and vinblastine) decreases the number of white blood cells in the body, which was first seen in mice. It was identified that vincristine and vinblastine could be effective treatments for cancers that involve a growth of white blood cells e.g. Leukaemia.