The Pharmacy in your Garden – The Hidden Medicinal History of Your Favorite Plants
Medicinal Uses of Common Edibles, Herbs and Flowers
I use these notes to teach and design a medicinal garden with our fourth grade students who are studying their unit “Mysteries to Medicine” in their Language Arts program. Have fun with this but just for informational use only please!!!! NEVER USE ANY PLANT AS A MEDICINAL WITHOUT CONSULTING YOUR PHYSICIAN!
Did you know….
– Fossil records show that the human use of plants as medicine dates back 60,000 years ago (solecki et al., 1975)
- Plants and their derivatives represent of 50% of all drugs in clinical use
- 3.5 – 4 BILLION of the global population rely on plants for drugs (Farnsworth, 1988)
- Nearly 95% of plants used in traditional medicines are collected from forests and other natural sources.
- Almost half of the 25 top selling pharmaceuticals were either natural product or their derivatives (O’Neill, 1993)
Achillea milleflium, Yarrow: Used by the Micmac Indians who drank it with warm milk to treat upper respiratory infections. Modern researchers find good experimental evidence for yarrow’s use as an anti-inflammatory agent and possibly as an astringent.
Alcea rosea, Hollyhock: The flowers are used in the treatment of respiratory and inflammatory ailments and the root extracts to produce marshmallow sweets.
Allium sativum, Garlic: Used for centuries for medicinal purposes, Louis Pasteur described its antibacterial properties in 1858. Tons of garlic was used in WWI in field dressings to prevent infection. It has been found effective in lowering blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and in boosting the immune system. Garlic is a natural pesticide against mosquito larvae.
Allium schoenoprasum, Chives: In traditional folk medicine chives were eaten to treat and purge intestinal parasites, enhance the immune system, stimulate digestion and treat anemia.
Allium tuberosum, Garlic Chives: In Chinese herbal medicine, garlic chives have been used to treat fatigue, control excessive bleeding, and as an antidote for ingested poisons. The leaves and bulbs are applied to insect bites, cuts, and wounds, while the seeds are used to treat kidney, liver, and digestive system problems.
NOTE: Garlic and scallions, along with onions, leeks, chives and shallots, are rich in flavonols, substances in plants that have been shown to have anti-tumor effects. New research from China confirms that eating vegetables from the allium group can reduce the risk of prostate cancer.
Anethum graveolens “Fernleaf”, Dill: Dill is recorded as a medicinal plant for at least 5,000 years in the writings of the Egyptians. Oil extracted from the seeds is made into potions and given to colicky babies. Adults take the preparation to relieve indigestion.
Anthemis nobilis, Roman Chamomile: Used for the relief of gasric distress. Peter Rabbit’s mother treated Peter with chamomile tea to alleviate the distress that followed the overindulgence in Mr. McGregor’s vegetable garden.
Aquilegia canadensis, Columbine: Used as an astringent, analgesic, and a diuretic. American Indians used crushed seeds to relieve headaches.
Asarum europeaum, European Ginger: In the past, it was used as an emetic, but it is obsolete because of toxicity. Used by American Indians in the form of a root tea to treat respiratory, cardiac and “female” ailments. Asarum canadense, a close relative, contains aristocholic acid, an anti-tumor compound.
Ascleplus incarnata, Butterfly Weed: Primarily used to treat respiratory disorders.
Borago officinalis, Borage: The ancient Greek naturalist Pliny said that borage “maketh a man merry and joyful.” Dioscorides, the first century Greek physician, mentioned the use of borage to ‘comfort the heart, purge melancholy and quiet the lunatic person.’ Also jaundice, sore throat and rheumatism. The edible flowers taste a bit like cucumbers. Just remove the stamen/pistil and sepal. A great companion plant too! Heavy re-seeder though. CAUTIONARY NOTE FOR MEDICINAL USE: Similar to comfrey, borage leaves contain potentially liver- toxic and carcinogenic pyrrolizidine alka- loids. Risk may outweigh benefits for internal use. Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service MF-2608 May 2004
Brassica oleracea Common Name: Kale and Collard Greens Family: Brassicaceae: Kale and collards are highly nutritious. A cup of cooked kale contains over 300% of the daily requirement for vitamins K and A. In addition, it provides over 9% of the daily requirement for vitamins B6 and C, calcium, copper, and manganese, and dietary fiber. Kales in the variety acephala supply significantly higher amounts of calcium, magnesium, potassium, and manganese, than kales from the fimbriata variety. In addition, any cup of kale contains 2.5 grams of well-balanced, almost complete protein. Each cup has only 36 calories. A cup of cooked collard greens provides over 300% of the daily requirement for vitamins A and K. It contains over 25% of the daily requirements for dietary folate, vitamin C, calcium, and manganese, over 10% of iron, magnesium, vitamin B6, and riboflavin, and 4 grams of well-balanced, almost complete protein. Each cup has 49 calories.
Collard greens contain 771 micrograms of vitamin A and 34.6 milligrams of vitamin C per 1-cup serving. These antioxidants help to lower the risk of oxidative stress on your cells, which is cell damage that can occur when your nutrient intake is low and when toxic chemicals and environmental pollutants enter your body. Collards also contain 5 grams of fiber per cup and can support the health of your digestive system when consumed regularly. Chop collard greens into small, even pieces to ensure that they cook evenly. Steam collards for 10 minutes or less to retain their nutrients and season them with peppers, chopped onions and your favorite herbs and spices. http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/
Calendula officinalis, Pot Marigold: Traditionally, the flowers were used to impart a yellow color to cheese. Anti-inflammatory and antibiotic (bacteria, fungi and viruses) properties are responsible for the antiseptic healing effect when preparations of this plant are applied to skin wounds and burns.
Chamomilia recutita or Matricaria recutita, German Chamomile: The medicinal use of chamomile dates back thousands of years to the ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks. Treats chest colds, sore throats, abcesses, gingivites, skin problems such as psoriasis, minor first degree burns, ulcerative colitis, stomach ulcers. Tea made from the dried flowers is used to treat a large variety of ailments. In experiments. the essential oil is found to be anti-fungal, anti-allergenic and anti-inflammatory.
Cynara cardunculus, Artichoke:
Artichoke has been shown to be a natural remedy which improve various digestive health disorders, shown to significantly lowered blood ldl cholesterol levels, prevent heart disease and atherosclerosis – plaque problems, enhance detoxification reactions, as well as protect the liver from damage.
Dianthus anatolicus, Dianthus: Used in Chinese and European herbal medicine for a large number of conditions including cardiac, urinary, nervous and gastrointestinal. Preparations made from the flower, leaves and stems but not the roots. Flower preparations are markedly diuretic.
Foeniculum vulgare, Fennel: A Mediterranean native, it is used to relieve bloating and is also a diurectic. Fennel Teas, or Fennel Water have been used throughout history to break up kidney stones, quiet hiccups, prevent nausea, aid digestion, prevent gout, purify the liver, reverse alcohol damage to the liver, and treat jaundice. For babies, it is said to to relieve colic and flatulence, and to expel worms. Research is being done to see if it may be effective when used along with conventional treatments in prostate cancer.
Nepeta cataria, Catnip: Catnip is a hallucinogen in cats but not in humans. It acts as an antispasmodic and relieving flatulence.
Ocimum basilicum, Sweet Basil: Eating its leaves was prescribed by the first century Greek physician Dioscorides to relieve the pain of a scorpion’s sting. The ancient Romans used it to alleviate flatulence. Applied externally, it is an insect repellent.
Papaver somniferum, Poppy: By 300 BCE, opium was being used by the Arabs, Greeks and Romans as a sedative and soporific. Morphine was isolated in 1803 by a German pharmacist. Morphine was the first plant alkaloid ever to be isolated. Heroin, a further refinement of morphine, is so addictive that its use is forbidden even as a medication. There are forty opium alkaloids in all; two of them are codeine and Papaverine. Codeine is a cough suppressant and a mild analgesic often combined with aspirin. Papaverine is a muscle relaxant used for gastrointestinal spasm and respiratory spasm triggered by asthma. (Obviously when teaching this to school kids, I tend to focus on the cough suppressant and analgesic qualities as well as the ethno-botanical use )
Ricinus cummunis ‘rubra’, Castor Bean Plant: Only the oil of the castor bean plant is non-toxic. Castor bean oil has a number of medicinal uses including laxative, purgative, cathartic and demulcent.The seeds of castor bean plant are very poisonous to people, animals and insects – just one milligram of ricin (one of the main toxic proteins in the plant) can kill an adult. It acts by inhibiting protein synthesis. Its property as a protein synthesis inhibitor is the theory behind its trials in cancer therapy.
Rosmarinus officinalis, Rosemary: “Rosemary that’s for remembrance” Shakespeare. It is a symbol of fidelity between lovers. For centuries it has been used in bridal bouquets to make the statement that the bride will never forget the family she is leaving. It has been buried with the deceased and used in funeral bouquets to signify that the deceased member will never be forgotten by members of his or her family. In ancient Greece, students wore sprigs of this herb in their hair while they studied. Rosemary is believed to stimulate cerebral circulation thereby improving concentration and memory. Strong aromatherapy qualities, it is used in organic skin tonics and masques for its effectiveness as a toner and disinfectant. The leaves contain a volatile oil used in the perfume industry.
Salvia officinalis, Sage: Salvia, is derived from the Latin salvere, “to be saved”, in reference to the curative properties of the plant. Sage has numerous traditional medicinal uses as an astringent, as an antiseptic, as a carminative and as an estrogenic. Its antiseptic qualities make it an effective gargle for inflammations of the mouth, tongue or throat. The leaves applied to an aching tooth will often relieve the pain. It is an important domestic herbal remedy for disorders of the digestive system.
Solanum lycopersicum, Tomatoes: According to the National Cancer Institute, there is now enough data to show that people who consume large amounts of tomatoes and tomato products have a significantly decreased risk for prostate, lung, and stomach cancer. There is some evidence that people who consume a lot of tomatoes may also have a lower risk of pancreatic, colorectal, esophageal, oral, breast, and cervical cancers.
We do not know for sure how or why tomatoes help against cancers. The consensus seems to be that lycopenes, bioflavonoids that are closely related to beta carotene, present in tomatoes are the natural cancer-fighting agents responsible. Cooking releases the fat-soluble lycopenes from the fruits’ cells. In fact, cooking tomatoes rather than eating them raw has been shown to more than double the effectiveness of the lycopene tomatoes contain. A small amount of added oil, such as that in pizza or tomato sauce, intensifies the protective effect.
Numerous other potentially beneficial compounds are present in tomatoes, and, conceivably, complex interactions among multiple components may contribute to the anticancer properties of tomatoes.
According to Dr. Giovannucci of Harvard Medical School who has done extensive studies on the beneficial effects of tomatoes, “with the consistently lower risk of a variety of cancers that is associated with higher consumption of tomatoes and tomato-based products adds further credence to the current dietary recommendations to increase fruit and vegetable consumption for people with cancer or as a preventive mechanism.”
Taraxacum officinale, Dandelion: Used primarily in Eastern European traditional medicine. It is used primarily as a diuretic but also taken internally to treat arthritis and gastro-intestinal disorders. It is applied externally to treat eczema and other skin conditions. It is eaten raw in “spring salads” and cooked as a vegetable when the plants are very young before flowering. The root of the dandelion has shown researchers at the University of Windsor, Canada that it may help fight skin cancer. In a 2010 study on skin cancer cells grown in the laboratory, scientists demonstrated that a dandelion root extract causes malignant melanoma cells to die — without causing any damage to healthy cells. (see article listed below)
Thymus citriodorus, Lemon Thyme: Used to make pediatric oral preparations that are tasty and sweet to relieve an “upset tummy”. It is also in ointments and in “sleep pillows”.
Thymus vulgaris, Thyme: It was used in the Middle Ages as a treatment of epilepsy and depression. In 1975, a German pharmacist discovered that the plant’s essential oil, thymol, was a powerful disinfectant topically and an antibiotic/antifungal agent when taken orally. It is an antispasmodic and an anti-tussive used effectively in cough syrups to raise sputum and relieve coughing.
Tropaelum majus, Nasturtium: A native of Peru, it is a culinary as well as a medicinal herb that is used in Andean Indian herbal medicine. All parts of the plant possess an antibiotic quality and vitamin C. Taken internally, it stimulates coughing and reduces phlegm production. Applied externally, it is antiseptic.
Vaccinium angustifolium syn V. myrtilloides, Lowbush blueberry: The Chippewa Indians used the flowers to treat psychosis. The fruit contains anthocyanosides. These chemical compounds are very powerful antioxidants that are very effective in the prevention of heart disease and cancer.
Viola tricolor, Johnny-jump-up or Heartease: From this plant a bitter tea is made that is taken internally for lung disorders and is applied externally for skin diseases. The tea is an expectorant and a diuretic. Its other common name, Heartease, refers to a romantic notion that it provides comfort and consolation to separated lovers. In the nineteenth century, the juice of the plant constituted the main ingredient of love potions.
University of Maryland Medical Center – Complementary and Alternative Medicine: http://www.umm.edu/altmed/
Helpful Links & Articles:
Medicinal Plants for the Southwest - New Mexico State University
Forest Farming:Medicinal Plants – University of Kentucky
FoodHero.org – Oregon State University
Cancer Fighting Foods - The Cancer Cure Foundation
Dandelion: Eat Your Weeds – Making Melanoma Self-Destruct – Washington Post, Health & Science Spring 2011