Phytomedicines, Herbal Drugs, and Poisons

Phytomedicines, Herbal Drugs, and Poisons

by Ben-Erik van Wyk, Michael Wink

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Plants have been used to treat disease throughout human history. On a clay slab that dates back approximately five thousand years, the Sumerians recorded medicinal recipes that made use of hundreds of plants, including poppy, henbane, and mandrake. During the Middle Ages, monks commonly grew and prescribed plants such as sage, anise, and mint in their monasteries. And as the market for herbal remedies and natural medicine grows, we continue to search the globe for plants and plant compounds to combat our various ailments.
In Phytomedicines, Herbal Drugs, and Poisons, Ben-Erik van Wyk offers a richly illustrated, scientific guide to medicinal and poisonous plants, including those used for their mind-altering effects. Van Wyk covers approximately 350 species—from Aloe vera and Ephedra sinica to Cannabis sativa and Coffea arabica—detailing their botanical, geographical, pharmacological, and toxicological data as well as the chemical structures of the active compounds in each. Readers learn, for example, that Acacia senegal, or gum acacia, is used primarily in Sudan and Ethiopia as a topical ointment to protect the skin and mucosa from bacterial and fungal infections, and that Aconitum napellus, more commonly known as aconite, is used in cough syrups but can be psychedelic when smoked or absorbed through the skin. 
With 350 full-color photographs featuring the plants and some of their derivative products, Phytomedicines, Herbal Drugs, and Poisons will be an invaluable reference not only for those in the health care field but also for those growing their own medicinal herb gardens, as well as anyone who needs a quick answer to whether a plant is a panacea or a poison.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226205076
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 06/22/2015
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 304
File size: 74 MB
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About the Author

Ben-Erik van Wyk is professor of botany at the University of Johannesburg. He is the author of Culinary Herbs and Spices of the World, also published by the University of Chicago Press.

Michael Wink is professor of pharmaceutical biology and director at the Institute of Pharmacy and Molecular Biology at Heidelberg University, Germany. He is an authority on secondary metabolites of plants and their pharmacological properties.

Read an Excerpt

Phytomedicines, Herbal Drugs and Poisons

By Ben-Erik van Wyk, Michael Wink

University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2014 Ben-Erik van Wyk and Michael Wink
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-226-20507-6


Traditional systems of medicine

The majority of people on earth still rely on traditional medicine for their primary health care needs. Modern allopathic medicine not only co-exists in parallel to the systems from which it was derived, but is often enriched by new discoveries based on ancient knowledge and experience. In general, traditional herbal remedies are used to alleviate the symptoms of chronic and self-terminating illnesses, while allopathic medicines are called upon in case of serious and acute health conditions.

Ancient origins

There is evidence that primates such as chimpanzees and gorillas sometimes ingest particular plants not as food but for their medicinal value. The use of plants as medicine may therefore have a very long history. Recent evidence from southern Africa shows that human abstract thinking dates back to at least 140 000 years ago. This means that most of the history of how medicines developed was never recorded. It is likely that a lengthy process of trial and error resulted in some remedies being rejected as ineffective and perhaps dangerous, while others became important cures. The results of these experiments were no doubt passed on verbally from one generation to the next. In the absence of written records and to ensure maximum mnemonic value, important elements of the cure (i.e., the diagnosis of the ailment, the identity of the plant and the methods of administration) may have been intricately linked to one another within mythological stories, songs or poems. It is also likely that superstition and magic played important roles as ways in which people without scientific insights tried to make sense of what they observed. For example, disease is often associated with evil spirits, which is quite understandable if you have no access to a microscope. The act of "chasing away evil spirits" is almost certainly equivalent to our modern-day practice of using disinfectants and antiseptics.

Traditional medicine is also dynamic and adaptive, as can be seen by the rapid incorporation of recently introduced plant species into the materia medica. The process of trial and error was sometimes guided by the "doctrine of signatures", based on the belief that the Creator has provided the plants themselves with clues as to how they should be used. Milky latex, for example, may indicate therapeutic value in promoting lactation; red sap is associated with blood and may suggest efficacy in treating menstrual ailments; yellow sap suggests value as cholagogue, to increase or decrease bile flow, and so on. In traditional cultures there is not such a sharp distinction between food and medicine. Some products are eaten more for their health benefits than for their nutritional value; others are used not to cure any ailments but to prevent them in the first place. It is very likely that all medicines were originally eaten or chewed, as can still be seen in hunter-gatherer communities. Dosage forms such as infusions, decoctions and tinctures must have been a much later development. Some plants were used for ritual and religious purposes, especially those with hallucinogenic properties that provided insights into other realms and other worlds. Ancient systems also incorporate mental health, harmony and balance as important underlying principles of a good life.

African medicine

African Traditional Medicine probably dates back to the origins of our species and represents the most diverse but also the least systematised and most poorly documented of all medicinal systems. There are many regional differences, reflecting the extreme biological and cultural diversity of sub-Saharan Africa, including local plant endemism and local cultural customs. Common to all is holism, in which both body and mind are treated: the underlying psychological basis of the illness is first attended to, after which herbs and other medicines are prescribed to alleviate the symptoms. The ancient practices of the click-speaking people of southern Africa are particularly interesting, not only because they represent the most ancient of human cultures, but also because their traditional home is an area of exceptional plant endemism. In South Africa, an integration of Khoi-San and Cape Dutch healing methods has resulted in a distinct and unique healing system, for which the name Cape Herbal Medicine was recently proposed. The remarkably diverse materia medica typically includes general tonics, fever remedies, sedatives, stomachics, diuretics, laxatives and many wound-healing plants. Tropical Africa and especially West and East Africa represent a rich diversity of medicinal plants and human cultures. Examples of locally important medicinal plants in Ethiopia include Echinops kebericho, Embelia schimperi, Glinus lotoides, Hagenia abyssinica, Lepidium sativum, Moringa stenopetala, Phytolacca dodecandra, Ruta chalepensis and Taverniera abyssinica. The commercially most relevant African medicinal plants have been described in a recent African Herbal Pharmacopoeia. It includes Acacia senegal (gum arabic), Agathosma betulina (buchu), Aloe ferox (Cape aloe), Artemisia afra (African wormwood), Aspalathus linearis (rooibos tea), Boswellia sacra (frankincense), Commiphora myrrha (myrrh), Harpagophytum procumbens (devil's claw), Hibiscus sabdariffa (hibiscus or roselle), Hypoxis hemerocallidea (African potato), Ricinus communis (castor oil plant) and Prunus africana (African cherry or red stinkwood). There are many hunting poisons [e.g. Adenium obesum (desert rose), Boophone disticha (bushman poison bulb)], ordeal poisons [e.g. Physostigma venenosum (calabar bean), Erythrophleum suaveolens (ordeal tree)] and stimulants [e.g. Catha edulis (khat), Coffea arabica (coffee) and Sceletium tortuosum (kanna or kougoed)].

European medicine

European medicine or Galenic medicine has a recorded history dating back to Hippocrates (460–377 BC), Aristotle (384–322 BC) and especially Galen (AD 131–199). The system was based on the four elements (earth, air, fire and water), corresponding with cold, heat, dampness and dryness and also with four humours (blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile) and four temperaments (respectively sanguine, phlegmatic, melancholic and choleric). Herbs were used to restore balance but sometimes drastic measures such as bloodletting and purging were used. The system was strongly influenced by what is considered to be the first European herbal, namely De Materia Medica, written by the Greek physician Dioscorides in the first century AD. Other famous names include Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179) and the Swiss alchemist Paracelsus (1493–1541), who is remembered for recognising that the distinction between medicine and poison is only a matter of dose. Amongst the most famous herbals (medicinal handbooks) are the Historia Stirpium (1542) and New Kreüterbuch (1543) by the German physician Leonhart Fuchs, the Kruydtboeck (1581) by the Flemish botanist Matthias de Lobel, the Herball (1597) by the English horticulturalist John Gerard and The English Physician (1652) by the English pharmacist Nicholas Culpeper.

Herbal medicines are still widely used in countries such as Germany, Austria, France, Italy, Great Britain and Switzerland as natural alternatives to synthetic chemicals, or as supportive treatments. The system incorporates remedies from many parts of the world and is now highly regulated (e.g. through modern pharmacopoeias). Crude drugs are still widely used but sophisticated phytomedicines are becoming increasingly popular because their safety and efficacy have been proven through clinical studies. Commercialised European herbal medicines include Arnica montana (arnica), Drimia maritima (squill), Matricaria chamomilla (chamomile), Silybum marianum (milk-thistle), Urtica dioica (nettle), Valeriana officinalis (valerian) and many others. Famous poisons, formerly used for suicide, murder, execution and political purposes, include Aconitum napellus (aconite), Conium maculatum (poison hemlock) and Veratrum album (white hellebore). The most famous aphrodisiac and hallucinogen is Atropa belladonna (deadly nightshade). Pure chemical compounds originally derived from European plants that are used in modern medicine include aspirin and atropine.

Several more holistic approaches to health care had their origins in Europe, including aromatherapy, homoeopathy, anthroposophical medicine and Bach flower remedies. It is interesting and surprising that these somewhat controversial alternative systems had their origins in a region that is dominated by the Western allopathic system with its strong emphasis on evidence-based medicine.

Aromatherapy is a healing system that uses volatile oils as inhalations, massages, baths and perfumes to treat the symptoms of disease and to maintain health. The term aromatherapy was first used in 1928 by the French chemist René Gattefossé. Perhaps the oldest form of aromatherapy was practised by the Sanqua (bushmen) of southern Africa, who habitually massaged themselves with powdered aromatic bushes (san) mixed with fat (hence Sanqua, -qua meaning people). Frankincense and myrrh are still widely used as perfumes and aromatic products, in the same way as was done in ancient Egypt. Essential oils can be absorbed through the skin and mucosa and they are known for their antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and spasmolytic effects. As is the case with perfumes, they are likely to stimulate the mind and mood and along this route also contribute to the restoration of good health and vigour.

Homoeopathy (or homeopathy) is a system of healing proposed by Samuel Hahnemann in Leipzig, Germany, between 1811 and 1820. It is based on the theory that substances can be ingested in very dilute form to treat illnesses associated with the symptoms that would be produced by high doses of the same substances. If a high dose is emetic, for example, then a dilute dose is used as anti-emetic. The word comes from the Greek homoios (like) and -pathy or patheia (suffering). The number of times a mother tincture has been diluted ten-fold (through the so-called process of potentising) is stated after the name of the medicine. For example Arnika D3 means a three-times ten-fold dilution; it is considered to be weaker than the more potentised Arnika D30. Potentising involves vigorous shaking of the solution with the idea that this action releases immaterial forces from the extracts. Products such as minerals (e.g. arsenic, sulfur) and animal products (e.g. bee venom) are also used.

Anthroposophical medicine is based on principles proposed by the Austrian philosopher and social reformer Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s. It is a holistic approach that is based on elements of Galenical theories and on homoeopathy in order to stimulate the body into a natural process of healing. It is considered to be partly a replacement and partly an alternative to conventional medicine. An example of a popular (but controversial) treatment is the use of mistletoe extracts to treat cancer patients.

Bach Flower Remedies is a healing system similar to homoeopathy that was proposed by the English homeopath Edward Bach in the 1930s. The system is based on the belief that the healing power of flowers is transferred to water and alcohol by sunlight. The remedies are mainly used to treat emotional and spiritual disorders such as anxiety, insomnia, stress and depression. The range of products originally included 38 different Flower Remedies, each supposedly suitable for a specific personality type. A review of clinical studies indicated efficacy similar to that which would be expected from the placebo effect.

Middle Eastern medicine

Middle Eastern Traditional Medicine (including Mediterranean North Africa) is associated with the cradle of civilisation and the earliest of all written records of medicinal plants. Clay tablets dating back at least 4 000 years, show that the ancient Assyrians, Babylonians and Sumerians used not only herbal medicines but also prescription pads. Egyptian tomb walls from the Old Kingdom (ca. 2700–2200 BC) show herbal remedies. The Babylonian Code of Hammurabi (carved in stone, ca. 1700 BC) included a list of medicinal plants. The famous Ebers Papyrus (1500 BC) contains Egyptian hieroglyphics showing 800 ancient medicinal recipes, of which 700 include medicinal plants. Herbs are also recorded in the Bible (1500 BC or earlier) and on numerous cuneiform marble tablets made during the reign of the Assyrian King Ashurbanipal of Nineveh (ca. 668–626 BC). It is likely that many of the healing systems of the Old World are directly or indirectly linked to the Middle East. The famous Canon Medicinae of the Arabian physician Avicenna (AD 980–1037) formed the basis of a distinct Islamic healing system known as Unani-Tibb. Examples of two influential scholars and botanists of the 13th century are Ibn Zuhr (Avenzoar) who wrote the Kitab al-taysis and Ibn al-Baytar known for his Compendium of Simple Medicaments and Foods. Well-known Middle Eastern and Egyptian medicinal plants include Allium cepa (onion), Aloe vera, Astracantha gummifera (tragacanth), Carthamus tinctorius (safflower), Carum carvi (caraway), Ferula assa-foetida (asafoetida), Lawsonia inermis (henna), Prunus dulcis (almond), Punica granatum (pomegranate), Rosa ×damascena (Damask rose), Salvadora persica (toothbrush tree), Senna alexandrina (senna), Sesamum indicum (sesame), Trachyspermum ammi (ajowan), Trigonella foenum-graecum (fenugreek) and Vitis vinifera (grape). Stimulants include Papaver somniferum (opium), Peganum harmala (Syrian rue) and wine from Vitis vinifera (grape).

Chinese medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine is an ancient system (more than 5 000 years old), based on the principles of yin and yang (opposites that complement each other) and five elements (wuxing), namely earth, metal, water, wood and fire, linked to organ systems of the body (respectively the spleen, lungs, kidneys, liver and heart), the emotions (reflection, grief, fear, anger, joy), the climates (damp, dry, cold, windy, hot), the seasons (late summer, autumn, winter, spring, summer) and tastes (sweet, pungent, salty, sour, bitter). Ancient records include the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing or The Great Native Herbal (ca. 2737 BC) by the Chinese emperor and scholar Shen Nong of the Sung Dynasty (translated by Tao Hung Jing and well known as Comment on The Divine Husbandman's Classic of the Materia Medica), Formulas for the 52 Ailments by Wu Shi Er Bing Fang (403 BC), the Classic of the Mountains and the Seas by Shan Hai Jing (ca. 403–221 BC) and especially the Huang Di Nei Jing or Yellow Emperor's Inner Classic (ca. 100–200 BC) and the more recent Ben Cao Gang Mu, compiled by Li Shi-Zhen (AD 1590). Amongst several modern pharmacopoeias is the Modern Day Encyclopaedia of Chinese Materia Medica (1977) which lists 4 800 plant-based remedies. In common with Western herbal teas and African Traditional Medicine, Chinese herbs are used to restore balance and to alleviate the symptoms of chronic and self-terminating illnesses. They are mostly used in fixed mixtures (called formulas) of up to 20 herbs, prepared strictly according to the traditional recipes of the ancient compendia. In 1956, the Chinese authorities established the concept of Integrative Medicine, with the aim of strengthening the ancient system by selectively applying modern scientific methods, so that the two systems can more easily co-exist, with mutual benefits. The formulas are therefore widely used in hospitals and pharmacies alongside conventional medicine. Many of the East Asian traditional medicine systems have their roots in Chinese traditional medicine, such as the Korean and Japanese traditional systems (the latter is known as kampo). Chinese traditional medicine, including practices such as acupuncture and moxibustion, is becoming popular in many countries around the world. Famous medicinal plants include Angelica sinensis (dang gui), Artemisia annua (qing hao), Ephedra sinica (ma huang), Paeonia lactiflora (bai shao yao), Panax ginseng (ren shen) and Rheum palmatum (da huang). The worldwide trend towards more holistic health care is also reflected in the popularity of Chinese tonics and functional food items such as Lycium chinense (go ji), Panax ginseng (ren shen) and Ziziphus jujuba (da zao). Stimulants include Camellia sinensis (chai or tea), now a global favourite and second only to coffee as the most popular stimulant beverage.


Excerpted from Phytomedicines, Herbal Drugs and Poisons by Ben-Erik van Wyk, Michael Wink. Copyright © 2014 Ben-Erik van Wyk and Michael Wink. Excerpted by permission of University of Chicago Press.
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Table of Contents

Cover Title page Imprint page Contents Preface Introduction Nitrogen-containing compounds Monoterpenes Sesquiterpenes Sesquiterpene lactones Diterpenes Triterpenes and steroids Saponins Cardiac glycosides Polyterpenes Phenylpropanoids Coumarins and furanocoumarins Flavonoids and anthocyanins Catechins and tannins Small reactive molecules Anthraquinones Polyacetylenes, polyenes, alkamides Carbohydrates Organic acids Bufotenin, tryptamines, tyramines Diterpene alkaloids Ergot alkaloids Indole alkaloids Isoquinoline alkaloids Purine alkaloids Quinoline alkaloids Tropane alkaloids Amino acids Non-protein amino acids (NPAAs) Glucosinolates and mustard oils Lectins and peptides Photographic index of plants Acacia senegal Aconitum napellus Adansonia digitata Adonis vernalis Aframomum melegueta Agrimonia eupatoria Alchemilla xanthochlora Allium cepa Allium ursinum Aloe vera Alpinia officinarum Ammi majus Ananas comosus Anethum graveolens Angelica sinensis Aralia racemosa Arctostaphylos uva-ursi Argemone ochroleuca Armoracia rusticana Aronia melanocarpa Artemisia afra Arum maculatum Aspalathus linearis Astragalus membranaceus Avena sativa Bacopa monnierii Banisteriopsis caapi Betula pendula Boophone disticha Boswellia sacra Bulbine frutescens Calendula officinalis Camellia sinensis Canella winterana Capsella bursa-pastoris Carica papaya Carum carvi Catharanthus roseus Centaurea cyanus Centella asiatica Cerbera odollam Chamaemelum nobile Chenopodium ambrosioides Chondrus crispus Chrysanthemum ×morifolium Cicuta virosa Cinchona pubescens Cinnamomum verum Citrus aurantium Cola acuminata Commiphora myrrha Convallaria majalis Coriandrum sativum Crocus sativus Cucurbita pepo Cyamopsis tetragonolobus Cymbopogon citratus Cytisus scoparius Datura stramonium Derris elliptica Dictamnus albus Digitalis lanata Drimia maritima Duboisia myoporoides Echinacea pallida Elettaria cardamomum Elymus repens Equisetum arvense Eucalyptus globulus Euonymus europaeus Euterpe oleracea Fagopyrum esculentum Filipendula ulmaria Fragaria vesca Fumaria officinalis Galeopsis segetum Gelsemium sempervirens Ginkgo biloba Glycine max Griffonia simplicifolia Guaiacum officinale Hamamelis virginiana Harungana madagascariensis Helichrysum arenarium Helleborus viridis Hibiscus sabdariffa Hoodia gordonii Hovenia dulcis Hydrastis canadensis Hypericum perforatum Ilex paraguariensis Illicium verum Ipomoea tricolor Juglans regia Juniperus sabina Kigelia africana Laburnum anagyroides Lathyrus sativus Lawsonia inermis Lepidium sativum Levisticum officinale Lobelia inflata Lycium chinense Lycopodium clavatum Mahonia aquifolium Mandragora officinarum Matricaria chamomilla Melaleuca alternifolia Melissa officinalis Menyanthes trifoliata Morinda citrifolia Myristica fragrans Narcissus pseudonarcissus Nerium oleander Nicotiana tabacum Ocimum tenuiflorum Olea europaea Origanum vulgare Paeonia lactiflora Papaver somniferum Paullinia cupana Peganum harmala Petasites hybridus Peumus boldus Phellodendron amurense Physostigma venenosum Pimpinella anisum Pinus sylvestris Plantago afra Platycodon grandiflorus Pogostemon cablin Polygonum aviculare Potentilla anserina Primula veris Prunus dulcis Prunus spinosa Psychotria ipecacuanha Pueraria lobata Quassia amara Rauvolfia serpentina Rhamnus frangula Rheum palmatum Rhus toxicodendron Ricinus communis Rosmarinus officinalis Ruscus aculeatus Salix alba Salvia divinorum Sambucus nigra Sanguisorba officinalis Santalum album Sceletium tortuosum Schisandra chinensis Scutellaria baicalensis Senecio jacobaea Serenoa repens Silybum marianum Solanum nigrum Spilanthes acmella Strophanthus gratus Styphnolobium japonicum Synsepalum dulcificum Tagetes minuta Tanacetum parthenium Taxus baccata Theobroma cacao Thuja occidentalis Tilia cordata Trigonella foenum-graecum Turnera diffusa Uncaria tomentosa Vaccinium macrocarpon Vaccinium vitis-idaea Vanilla planifolia Verbascum phlomoides Vinca minor Viscum album Vitex agnus-castus Warburgia salutaris Xysmalobium undulatum Ziziphus jujuba Glossary Further reading Acknowledgements Index

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