Humans have been using medicinal plants for thousands of years. They even play an important role in modern medicine. Here are just a few that are still used to ward off illnesses and treat symptoms.
Quinine is known for creating that bitter taste in tonic water but it is also on the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicines. It’s long been used to treat malaria – though it is no longer recommended as a first-line treatment by the WHO (www.who.int)- and was first isolated from the bark of the cinchona tree in the early 1800s.
The bell-shaped flowers of the yellow cowslip (primula veris) are certainly charming. But this plant is more than just a pretty face. Native to most of Europe and western Asia, it is used as a herbal remedy against asthma and bronchitis.
Wake me up
Guarana, a climbing plant native to the Amazon basin is very common in Brazil where it is enjoyed as a drink. The plant’s small red berries contain caffeine and have become a popular energy supplement. It’s also used for stomach complaints.
The bark of the African cherry (Prunus africana) is something of a miracle worker. Traditional healers in Kenya use it to treat a host of ailments, including malaria, stomach pain and kidney problems. But it is most treasured for its use in prostate cancer treatments.
Ginseng is one of the most popular herbal remedies in the world and the plant’s roots have long been used in Asia and North America to treat various complaints. Often taken as a tea, the Asian variety – which is considered to be more of a stimulant than its American counterpart – is used to boost the immune system and fight fatigue.
Jack of all trades
Vetiver is an extremely versatile grass. Native to India, it’s been used to control erosion, in the production of essential oil, to make bags and mats, as an animal feed and in traditional medicine. The grass has antiseptic properties and is used in creams and soaps to treat acne and sores. Its anti-inflammatory properties have also seen it used in the treatment of gout and arthritis.
The lowly dandelion is full of vitamins and minerals and it’s often used as a diuretic to eliminate unwanted fluid in a person’s body. Initial research also suggests it might improve digestion as well as gall bladder and liver function.