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The Top 5 Plants Used in Medicine

The use of herbal medicines on various ailments has been around for centuries. From one culture to another, plants have been utilised in various different forms and preparations for medicinal purposes.

Many of today’s conventional drugs have their origins in these herbal preparations. But over time, pharmaceutical drugs evolved to include synthetic ingredients in their formulas, many of which produce harmful side effects.

Australians discovering the natural route to wellness

In recent years, more and more Australians are turning to plant-based therapies and holistic wellness as an alternative to conventional medications. Personalised plant-based treatments provide patients with a range of alternative treatment options for chronic conditions and pain management. 

A 2018 survey revealed that a high percentage of Australian adults include alternative therapies and herbal supplements in their health management processes. This was especially true for people dealing with chronic conditions [1].

Top 5 Plants Used in Medicine

The therapeutic ability of medicinal plants lies in their complex chemical nature and the synergistic effects that these compounds create. 

Here’s a list of our 5 favourite plants used in wellness and medicine:

Aloe Vera

Aloe Vera has been found to be effective in the prevention of many skin conditions, as well as helping to soothe and cure digestive ailments such as IBS and the growth of harmful bacteria

Aloe vera has been a health staple for thousands of years. Growing abundantly in tropical climates, it has a long history of popularity for its uses in a wide range of applications. Among these is the use of its clear gel as a topical treatment for skin conditions. 

It has also been found to be effective in the prevention of skin ulcers, and the treatment of burn wounds, post-operative wounds, genital herpes, psoriasis, and chronic wounds [2].

In studies investigating the effects of long-term dietary administration of aloe vera to patients with heart disease and diabetes, marked reductions were observed in their cholesterol, blood glucose, triglycerides, and total lipid levels [3].

Aside from this, consuming aloe vera helps to soothe and cure digestive ailments such as irritable bowel syndrome and the growth of harmful bacteria [4].

Tulsi


Tulsi is an herb extolled for its myriad beneficial effects. It is preeminent in Ayurvedic medicine, one of the world’s oldest approaches to holistic healing. Ayurveda promotes the philosophy that health and wellness can be achieved through a balance between the mind, body, and spirit.

Used primarily as a prevention tool rather than as a cure, tulsi has been found to protect the body from prolonged physical, chemical, and metabolic stress. Through its broad-spectrum antimicrobial activity, it can also contribute to sanitising and wound healing.

Psychological stress that affects memory, cognitive and mood functions is also one of the areas that tulsi can address [5]. Due to its antidepressant properties, it can help support the delicate mind-body balance.

This ability to provide a well-rounded response to stress and contribute to whole-body wellness has earned tulsi the name “a herb for all reasons”.

tulsi

Cannabis


Cannabis

The cannabis plant has certainly created a buzz right from the start – a literal one from the intoxicating effects of marijuana. But in recent years, more research studies have been shifting focus to cannabidiol or CBD, as well as the other cannabinoids of the plant, and investigating their potential therapeutic benefits.

To date, the findings have been quite favourable. For one, medical cannabis has been found to decrease sensitivity to neuropathic pain, as well as pain in fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis [6]. This ability to reduce pain is one of the major reasons why consumers turn to CBD products.

Other studies have also confirmed cannabis’ benefits in improving the body’s self-regulatory processes through its interactions with the endocannabinoid system. 

By serving as support or an additional source of cannabinoids, it can provide relief for many issues related to bodily imbalance. Some of these benefits include a decrease in chemotherapy-induced nausea, reduced seizures in epilepsy, sleep and mood disorders, anxiety and depression, and better management of motor functions [7].

Fenugreek


With roots in traditional Indian and Chinese healing systems, fenugreek is one of the oldest plants used for medicinal purposes. It is a herb used as a spice and supplement, and all the parts of the plant, from seed to roots to twigs and leaves, are useful. Its extracts may also be used in soaps and cosmetics.

Fenugreek is a rich source of antioxidants, iron, fibre, lipids, niacin, and vitamins A, B, C, and D [8]. In medicine, it is known for it’s antidiabetic, hypolipidemic, anti-obesity activity, anticarcinogenic, antioxidant, antifungal, antibacterial and immunological activities [9].

Fenugreek

Ginger


Ginger

For thousands of years, healers in Eastern cultures placed a high value on ginger as both food and medicine. Originating as a tropical plant native to warmer parts of Asia, it has now journeyed to continents all over the world due to its well-renowned benefits.

Medicinally, it is commonly used to ease many types of nausea and vomiting and improve digestive functions. Women also take ginger powder or tea to relieve menstrual cramps.

According to research, ginger has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that can help reduce oxidative stress in the body. It has also been found to improve markers for lower colorectal cancer, showing potential as an anticarcinogenic. 

In induced-diabetic rat models, ginger exhibited better sugar tolerance and higher serum insulin levels, suggesting its possible use in controlling blood sugar levels [10].

The Takeaway

Herbal therapy is a lifestyle rather than a simple prescriptive system. By harnessing the power of plants to create effective medicines, people can truly experience the amazing benefits nature has to offer.

While conventional medicine does provide the swiftest responses to acute conditions, Australians continue to embrace plant-based therapies and alternative treatments to improve quality of life and overall wellness.

Endnotes:

1. Steel, A. et al. (2018, November 23.) Complementary medicine use in the Australian population: Results of a nationally-representative cross-sectional survey. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6251890/

2. Hekmatpou, D., et al. (2019, January.) The Effect of Aloe Vera Clinical Trials on Prevention and Healing of Skin Wound: A Systematic Review. Available at:  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6330525/

3. Foster, M. et al. (2011, n.d.) Evaluation of the Nutritional and Metabolic Effects of Aloe vera. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92765/

4. Hong, et al. (2018, October.) Aloe vera Is Effective and Safe in Short-term Treatment of Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6175553/

5. Cohen, M. (2014, October.) Tulsi – Ocimum sanctum: A herb for all reasons. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4296439/

6. Bridgeman, M. and Abazia, D. (2017, March.) Medicinal Cannabis: History, Pharmacology, And Implications for the Acute Care Setting. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5312634/

7. National Academies Press. (2017, January 12.) The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK425767/

8. Ahmad A, Alghamdi SS, Mahmood K, Afzal M. Fenugreek a multipurpose crop: Potentialities and improvements. Saudi Journal of Biological Sciences. 2016 Mar 1;23(2):300–10. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4894452/

9. Yao D, Zhang B, Zhu J, Zhang Q, Hu Y, Wang S, et al. Advances on application of fenugreek seeds as functional foods: Pharmacology, clinical application, products, patents and market. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2020;60(14):2342–52. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31286789/

10. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. (2011, n.d.) The Amazing and Mighty Ginger. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92775/

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