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still provides chemicals used in ophthalmological preparations and in antispasmodics used to treat gastrointestinal disorders
Rauwolfia serpentina, the Indian snakeroot.
- Its active ingredient, reserpine, was the basic constituent of a variety of tranquillisers first used in the 1950s to treat certain types of emotional and mental problems.
- Though reserpine is seldom used today for this purpose its discovery was a breakthrough in the treatment of mental illness. It is also the principal ingredient in a number of modern pharmaceutical preparations for the treatment of hypertension.
- For at least 200 years, traditional Chinese herbal doctors have been prescribing ephedra, or mahuang tea to treat coughs, cold, asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory problems. Its active ingredient, ephedrine, is used today in modern pharmaceutical preparations for asthma and other respiratory problems because it clears the air passages and allows the client to breathe more easily. However, some clients cannot
- use these preparations as ephedrine also makes the heart beat more rapidly and raises blood pressure. Recently, some species of ephedra, which do not contain ephedrine, have been found and asthmatics have been known to experience some relief after drinking tea made from such species – but importantly, without the side effects associated with ephedrine.
Rosy periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus)
A chance discovery in the 1950s revealed the Rosy Periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus) as a potent treatment for cancer. It was its folk reputation as an anti-diabetic that first inspired the research that was to reveal its action on white blood cells. Few wild specimens of the plant remain in its native Madagascar. This plant is now classed as a poison in Australia and the isolated alkaloids can only be used under strict medical supervision.
Aloe vera (Aloe spp.) Today, aloe juice is a popular soothing lotion for sore, burnt, and irritated skin, and is
- now grown commercially in the Caribbean and Africa.
- The succulent aloe plant originated in the island of Socotra, off the horn of Africa, and was valued a purgative by the ancient Greeks, who tried to conquer the island to procure specimens. Other tropical species unique to Socotra are now in danger of extinction before their medical potential can be assessed.
Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium)
Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) is an example of an ancient remedy that modern research has turned into a spectacular medical success. Thorough clinical trials in the late 1970s found that feverfew relieved migraines in an overwhelming majority of cases, and users are now reporting beneficially side effects such as relief from depression, nausea and arthritic pain. Feverfew grows well in both Europe and the USA.
Quinine (Cinchona officinalis)
As the malaria parasite is drugs, quinine (Cinchona officinalis) is again becoming the effective treatment for the disease. The powdered bark of the South American cinchona trees was first imported into Europe in the 17th century when malaria was the world’s number one killer. The Andes remain the main source of the bark, since production in Europe suffered from the boom in synthetic treatments.