Medicinal plants (1-33)
Some say that nature is being abused and that the environment and man have become sick because of it.
Medicinal plants always need to be handled carefully, because even though they are natural products, they are not necessarily harmless. Indeed, numerous plants have the main powerful assets which can be toxic and even mortal (For example: curare, digitaline, etc.).
Thus, the composition of a plant differs in terms of the region where it grows, the sun, rainfall and sunlight levels. In other words, the same species will have several varieties, and the differences will not exactly be visible to the naked eye even though it will have an identical appearance (Shape, colour, etc.), but these differences may be characterised by their secondary metabolite (This is what helps the plant to survive, reproduce, etc.).
To do this, you need to number the different molecules and establish the chemotype of the plant (Closer to the human genotype). This “identity card” helps to establish the differences between varieties of the same plant and determine its respective properties; the chemotype is therefore interdependent on the environment of the plant.
Shall medication continue to be plant-based in future?
Research on new plants, therefore new molecules, is indispensable for the preparation of treatments against diseases which weaken humans. Thus, ethnobotanists tirelessly travel through mainly the tropical forests in search of curative plants. Apart from samples, they collect precious information from the local population on their ancestral usage of certain plants.
All cultures and civilisations have used plants, here are some examples:
In India, ayurvedic medicine uses plants and yoga.
In China, for several millennia traditional medicine has been using medicinal plants to maintain the yin and yang balance
In Japan, kampo is based on plant preparations
In Africa, healers use medicinal plants in numerous ways with a great deal of efficiency.
In the West, we use phytotherapy.
Phytotherapy is a healing method which uses medicinal plants; the actual origin of the word phytotherapy signifies treatment with plants, currently traditional medicine is based on the absorption or external usage of cataplasma, decoction, infusions, macerations, broth…
Nature is the most extraordinary pharmacy that exists; most medication directly comes from it. Future treatments also depend on this biodiversity, which required hundreds of millions of years of evolution and which modern man is destroying in an irresponsible manner.
Pollution, pesticides, herbicides, ash farming and deforestation have direct and indirect consequences on our health, as we are also destroying what could help to heal us tomorrow.
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Why is most medication plant-based?
It was discovered that in the oldest civilizations, plants were used to treat or relieve certain ailments. These ancestral methods have always existed in most countries. Almost half of the medication that we know of is of vegetable origin, in fact, one could even say that most treatments throughout the world are plant-based.
Plants function through photosynthesis; they particularly absorb carbon dioxide (CO2 is dangerous for people, but indispensable for plants), water, mineral substances from the soil and light to produce oxygen. It doesn’t stop here, they also produce what are commonly called fatty and amino acids and sugar: three components which are also called primary metabolites, as well as specialised metabolites (Flavonoids, saponines, alkaloids..) and have curative properties (From the latin curare, which means to heal).
The term “curative properties”, and not “curative virtues” is used here, although since olden times, according to the beliefs and eras, this type of healing often had magical overtones. A medicinal plant is therefore a plant whose parts are used for healing purposes (Root, leaf, flower …).
They should be used with caution, and their preparation reserved for specialists such as pharmacists, herbalists and other experts, whatever they may be called in terms of the country and culture concerned.
In western countries, only a fraction of medicinal plants is freely sold.
Let’s go back in time...
Throughout the ages, man has recognised the properties of plantes, properties which are curative as well as toxic. 5 millennia ago, the Sumarians were already using plants such as Flax, Thyme, Hemp or even Myrtle.
A little closer to our times, a piece of Egyptian papyrus more than 20 metres long travelled through 35 centuries to reach us. This document is called “Papyrus Ebers” (From the name of its translator, the German Georg Moritz Ebers), and contains some of the oldest known medical treatments. It covers numerous diseases and their treatment, which refers to the use of several hundred plants!
Throughout the world, there are hundreds of thousands of plants, with almost 75% in equatorial and tropical forests, 250 000 have already been described and about 3000 have been scientifically studied. Certain specialists explain that chemistry allows for the reproduction of the main assets of plants, thus enabling improvement of their basic efficiency or on the other hand, reduction of its secondary effects.