|Friday Five: Medicinal Powers of Plants|
|Written by Heleigh Bostwick Friday, 24 June 2011|
We’ve all heard about the pharmacological implications of plants from tropical rain forests, but did you know that many modern day medicines are derived from plants in more temperate climates as well? Some are well known, others are relatively new, and some have been around since ancient times and their use has persisted into the present day leading to the creation of modern medicines.
1. Madagascar Periwinkle (pictured above)
The Madagascar periwinkle (Catharantus roseus), native to the island of Madagascar, but also grown here in the US, is the source of vincristine, a chemotherapy agent used to fight certain cancers including childhood leukemia.
Galanthamine is a chemical that was isolated in the bulbs of snowdrops (Galanthus woronowii), a plant native to the Caucasian Mountains. It is one of the medicines that help slow down the effects of mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease by increasing Acetylcholine, a neurotransmitters in the brain whose levels are significantly decreased in people with this disease.
Although it is no longer used, digitoxin, derived from the dried or fresh leaves and ripe dried seeds of foxglove (Digitalis purpurea, was used for many years to treat heart conditions by strengthening the heart muscle. Foxglove is actually a very poisonous plant and was discontinued because the therapeutic dose and lethal doses were too similar.
4. European Yew
Taxotere is derived from the European yew ((Taxus baccata) and is used in treating breast and other cancer tumors. Yew trees in general have yielded several powerful cancer therapies. Taxol, another anti-cancer therapy) is derived from the bark of the Pacific yew (Taxus brevifolia).
Aspirin is derived from salicylic acid, a substance found in willow (Salix spp.) bark as the source of aspirin. It is said that Ancient Egyptians chewed willow bark to relieve fever and headaches and Greeks used it to combat rheumatic aches and pains.
Photo source: www.nybg.org