• Philosophy Herbalist

The use of plants as medicines predates written human history. Many of the herbs and spices used by humans to season food also yield useful medicinal compounds.[2][3] The use of herbs and spices in cuisine developed in part as a response to the threat of food-borne pathogens. Studies show that in tropical climates where pathogens are the most abundant, recipes are the most highly spiced. Further, the spices with the most potent antimicrobial activity tend to be selected.[5] In all cultures vegetables are spiced less than meat, presumably because they are more resistant to spoilage.[6] Many of the common weeds that populate human settlements, such as nettle, dandelion and chickweed, also have medicinal properties.

Modern herbal medicinE

Digoxin is a purified cardiac glycosidethat is extracted from the foxglove plant,Digitalis lanata. Digoxin is widely used in the treatment of various heart conditions, namely atrial fibrillationatrial flutter and sometimes heart failure that cannot be controlled by other medication.

The use of herbs to treat disease is almost universal among non-industrialized societies.[49]

Many of the pharmaceuticals currently available to physicians have a long history of use as herbal remedies, including opiumaspirin,digitalis, and quinine. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 80 percent of the population of some Asian and African countries presently use herbal medicine for some aspect of primary health care.[50] Pharmaceuticals are prohibitively expensive for most of the world's population, half of which lives on less than $2 U.S. per day.[49] In comparison, herbal medicines can be grown from seed or gathered from nature for little or no cost.

The use of, and search for, drugs and dietary supplements derived from plants have accelerated in recent years. Pharmacologists,microbiologistsbotanists, and natural-products chemists are combing the Earth for phytochemicals and leads that could be developed for treatment of various diseases. In fact, according to the World Health Organisation, approximately 25% of modern drugs used in the United States have been derived from plants.[51]

Among the 120 active compounds currently isolated from the higher plants and widely used in modern medicine today, 80 percent show a positive correlation between their modern therapeutic use and the traditional use of the plants from which they are derived.[4] More than two thirds of the world's plant species - at least 35,000 of which are estimated to have medicinal value - come from the developing countries.[verification needed] At least 7,000 medical compounds in the modern pharmacopoeia are derived from plants[52] In many medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs) significant variations of plants characteristics have been ascertained with varying soil traits, and the selective recovery and subsequent release in food of certain elements have been demonstrated. Great attention must be paid to choose soil and cropping strategies, to obtain satisfactory yields of high quality and best-priced products, respecting their safety and nutritional value.[53]

Biological background[edit]

The carotenoids in primrose produce bright red, yellow and orange shades. People consuming diets rich in carotenoids from natural foods, such as fruits and vegetables, are healthier and have lower mortality from a number of chronic illnesses

All plants produce chemical compounds as part of their normal metabolic activities. These phytochemicals are divided into (1) primary metabolites such as sugars and fats, which are found in all plants; and (2) secondary metabolites—compounds which are found in a smaller range of plants, serving a more specific function.[54] For example, some secondary metabolites are toxins used to deter predation and others are pheromones used to attract insects for pollination. It is these secondary metabolites and pigments that can have therapeutic actions in humans and which can be refined to produce drugs—examples are inulin from the roots of dahliasquininefrom the cinchonamorphine and codeine from the poppy, and digoxin from the foxglove.[54]

Plants synthesize a bewildering variety of phytochemicals but most are derivatives of a few biochemical motifs:[55]

  • Alkaloids are a class of chemical compounds containing a nitrogen ring. Alkaloids are produced by a large variety of organisms, including bacteria, fungi, plants, and animals, and are part of the group of natural products (also called secondary metabolites). Many alkaloids can be purified from crude extracts by acid-base extraction. Many alkaloids are toxic to other organisms. They often have pharmacological effects and are used as medications, as recreational drugs, or in entheogenic rituals. Examples are the local anesthetic and stimulant cocaine; the psychedelic psilocin; the stimulant caffeine; nicotine; the analgesic morphine; the antibacterial berberine; the anticancer compound vincristine; the antihypertension agent reserpine; the cholinomimeric galatamine; the spasmolysis agent atropine; the vasodilator vincamine; the anti-arhythmia compound quinidine; the anti-asthma therapeutic ephedrine; and the antimalarial drug quinine. Although alkaloids act on a diversity of metabolic systems in humans and other animals, they almost uniformly invoke a bitter taste.
  • Polyphenols (also known as phenolics) are compounds contain phenol rings. The anthocyanins that give grapes their purple color, the isoflavones, the phytoestrogens from soyand the tannins that give tea its astringency are phenolics.
  • Glycosides is a molecule in which a sugar is bound to a non-carbohydrate moiety, usually a small organic molecule. Glycosides play numerous important roles in living organisms. Many plants store chemicals in the form of inactive glycosides. These can be activated by enzyme hydrolysis, which causes the sugar part to be broken off, making the chemical available for use. Many such plant glycosides are used as medications. In animals and humans, poisons are often bound to sugar molecules as part of their elimination from the body. An example is the cyanoglycosides in cherry pits that release toxins only when bitten by a herbivore.
  • Terpenes are a large and diverse class of organic compounds, produced by a variety of plants, particularly conifers, which are often strong smelling and thus may have had a protective function. They are the major components of resin, and of turpentine produced from resin. (The name "terpene" is derived from the word "turpentine"). Terpenes are major biosynthetic building blocks within nearly every living creature. Steroids, for example, are derivatives of the triterpene squalene. When terpenes are modified chemically, such as by oxidation or rearrangement of the carbon skeleton, the resulting compounds are generally referred to as terpenoids. Terpenes and terpenoids are the primary constituents of the essential oils of many types of plants and flowers. Essential oils are used widely as natural flavor additives for food, as fragrances in perfumery, and in traditional and alternative medicines such as aromatherapy. Synthetic variations and derivatives of natural terpenes and terpenoids also greatly expand the variety of aromas used in perfumery and flavors used in food additives. Vitamin A is an example of a terpene. The fragrance of rose and lavender is due to monoterpenes. The carotenoids produce the reds, yellows and oranges of pumpkincorn and tomatoes.

A consortium of plant molecular researchers at Washington State University, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, the National Center for Genome Resources, and theUniversity of Illinois at Chicago began an NIH-sponsored study of over thirty medicinal plant species late 2009. The initial work, to develop a sequence reference for thetranscriptome of each, has led to the development of the Medicinal Plant Transcriptomics Database.


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