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Medicine uses many herbal medicines. About 3000 medicinal plants are known, modern medicine produces medicines from around 500. In addition to their helpful properties, many of these plants also have toxic components. At this point, some of the less well-known medicinal plants will be introduced in order to draw attention to their healing effects.
Essential oils against runny nose provide thyme, eucalyptus and mountain pine. The silymarin obtained from milk thistle protects the liver. Vine leaves and an extract from horse chestnut strengthen the veins. Celandine, mint, chamomile and caraway (medicinal plant 2016) help with stomach and intestinal problems, valerian, hops, lemon balm and passion flower to fall asleep. Hawthorn tea strengthens the heart, St. John's wort relieves depression. As varied as the uses of the medicinal plants are, they are also used in different ways, both in terms of dosages and the parts of the plants used.
The deadly cherry
The substances of some plants should only be taken by sufferers as medicinal extracts, so as not to end the disease through their own death. The deadly cherry belongs to these dangerous plants. The Stone Age hunters already used it as an arrow poison for hunting. Doctors have used it as a remedy since ancient times. However, the black-violet shrub fruit got its Latin name Atropa belladonna as a questionable remedy: namely with the supposed effect of seducing the world of men. Atropine dilates the pupils, and until the modern age women drenched dead cherry juice in the eyes to shine as a black-eyed beauty.
Doctors use belladonna extract in ophthalmology, it relieves cramps in epilepsy and asthma, and it helps as a home remedy for coughing, rattling cough, and as a home remedy for bronchitis. Parkinson's disease can also be alleviated with deadly cherries.
The atropine extracted from the belladonna relaxes the muscles and it helps as a home remedy for cramps in the muscles of the gastrointestinal tract. It also helps against menstrual pain. However, medicinally dosed atropine can also cause serious side effects: the mouth can dry out, the appetite is absent, the intestine becomes blocked, sometimes the heart beats faster and the patient vomits.
Meadowsweet is a medicinal plant that many people do not even know. It contains analgesic substances that have a similar effect to acetylsalicylic acid. Meadowsweet smells sweet and our ancestors seasoned the honey wine with it.
The real meadowsweet gets about two meters high; the top of the leaf is dark green, the underside "hairy", the leaves are finely serrated. Small flowers grow on the panicles. These smell sweet and are colored white and yellow. Meadowsweet blooms from June to August and grows on moist soils, often close to streams. As a medicinal plant, it helps against inflammation of the stomach and nausea. It is also extremely helpful for increasing the amount of urine in rheumatism or gout.
The ancient Teutons used meadowsweet as a herbal pain reliever. This was not superstition, because the herb contains salicylic acid. The pharmacist Felix Hoffmann made acetylsalicylic acid from this substance in 1897, and it is still used as a pain reliever.
The remedy is in the flowers: The vegetable oil consists of salicylaldehyde and salicylic acid methyl ester, among other things. The body splits the two substances into salicylic acid. It works against inflammation, relieves pain and lowers fever.
The foxglove has been famous - and notorious - since ancient times. A hundred years ago, tea made from foxglove leaves was considered a remedy for a weak heart. This is not wrong, because the glycosides from Digitalis purpurea make the heart beat faster. The content of the glycosides in the plants fluctuates, but they are also offered as medicinal products that the pharmaceutical industry obtains from the thimble.
Using this poisonous plant directly can result in death - even if the dosage is slightly too high. Therefore, do not experiment yourself, the active ingredient is prescribed by the doctor for safe use as a finished product. Thimble medicines contain digoxin and digitoxin extracts. As tablets and prescribed by the doctor, they help against disorders of the heart rhythm.
The genus of valerians includes over 200 species, of which the great valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is the medicinally used one. For us, this grows, for example, in the Harz Mountains - with good locations up to a meter high - but also in many alpine places. It likes moist and shady places, for medical use it is increasingly being cultivated again in Central Europe. By the way, hangovers are attracted to the plants because their smell is similar to that of common cats.
The umbel-shaped flowers are pink or white, the rhizomes in the ground lead to a perennial sprouting. The dried root, which contains numerous essential oils and alkaloids, is used. Valerian is an effective herbal sedative, an effective calming tea can be mixed out of it. However, it exudes a bitter fragrance due to the contained isovaleric acid.
This medicinal plant helps with inner restlessness, restlessness and increased irritability as well as with sleep problems. In ancient times it was already used as a diuretic and against cramps. Hildegard von Bingen recommended him as a home remedy for gout. It can also help against gastrointestinal cramps and nervous heart problems.
Dry extracts or the dried root in tea are used. In studies, the healing effects could not yet be assigned to any individual substance contained, which is why an interplay of the numerous individual substances is suspected. The essences of the root are also used as fragrances in the perfume industry.
Real St. John's wort
St. John's wort grows on the heather, i.e. in open landscapes with few trees. The leaves look "pierced". These bright spots are oil glands. The yellow petals are dotted as are the leaves. The oil glands contain hypericin, which turns the oil red. If you rub the flowers, the fingers turn dark red.
Although this led to many superstitions about a supposed "blood plant", the healing effects of St. John's wort is a reality. The substance Hyperforin and the terpenes in the plant have an antibacterial effect and help as a home remedy for burns, stomach and intestinal disorders.
St. John's wort is often used in medicine: as capsules, pills and dragees, as tea, as drops, as freshly squeezed juice and as oil.
St. John's wort is scientifically recognized to treat depression. However, this requires a high dose and regular monitoring by a doctor. St. John's wort is considered "first aid" for depression and can lift the mood of the sick before other therapies work. However, the care of the doctor is required here. Mild and moderate depression, treated only with St. John's wort, can develop into severe depression. But then the herb no longer works and relying on the plant is life-threatening. Severely depressed people are acutely at risk of suicide. Tea and capsules also help against mild anxiety disorders and inner restlessness.
Real opium poppy
"Of all the means that the Almighty has given to man to alleviate his suffering, none is as widely applicable and as effective as opium." (Thomas Sydenham, 1624-1689)
The opium poppy originally comes from the countries of the eastern Mediterranean. The flower bud is one to three centimeters long and stands on hairy stems. The flowers reach a diameter of five to ten centimeters. Four white-violet-red petals are twice the size of the other petals. The flower blooms from June to August.
If you cut open the immature seed pods, a milky juice emerges, and with it the "queen of drugs": opium. The ancient Greeks used it as a sleeping aid for children. But they weren't the first friends with opium; The band ceramic culture already used the poppy, and that 6000 years before Christ. Opium poppy is one of the oldest cultivated plants. Cuneiform script 4000 BC Chr. Already report how medicine is made from opium poppy.
The Sumerians, the first civilization of the Near East, called it the "plant of joy". Vessels in the form of poppy capsules containing opium - and even opium pipes - date from the Bronze Age. The Egyptians used opium for religious ceremonies almost 4,000 years ago.
The ancient Greeks knew exactly what opium stood for: the poppy capsule was a symbol for Morpheus, hence the Bergiff morphine, the god of dream sleep, for Thanatos, the god of death and for Nyx, the mistress of the night. Dream, night and death, in other words, the dark romanticism - the meaning of the opium, including its children morphine and heroin, has not been lost to this day.
The Romans loved the opium poppy as a drug; the rich consumed it in large quantities. The ancient Chinese initially used opium poppy medicinally, later it became a popular drug.
The Christians, on the other hand, banned the consumption of opium - not because of the risk of addiction, but because of its medicinal power. Pain came from God in the Christian way of reading, so an pain reliever as efficient as opium was considered to be the work of the devil. The Crusaders later brought the opium back to Europe - Arabic medicine used it in many different ways.
The Greeks and Romans breathed through opium-soaked sleep sponges; the Middle Ages stirred opium into the so-called Theriak, a supposed panacea. Laudanum, an opium tincture, was available in every pharmacy in the 19th century.
The German pharmacist Friedrich Wilhelm Sertürner isolated the alkaloid morphine from opium in 1806 and the Merck company launched it in 1828 as a pain reliever. The medicine known as morphine was used en masse in 1870/71 to treat the wounded - countless of them suffered from morphine addiction.
The goal now was to create an equally effective means that was not addictive. “Diamorphine” came onto the market in 1874 and around 1900 it was mass-produced as heroin: to relieve pain, cough and - irony of history - to treat morphine addicts. But heroin became addictive much faster than morphine and it worked much stronger. So it quickly leads to drug addiction. As a result, most countries restricted trade and use; in Germany it must not be used as a medicine.
Heroin is said to be the fastest addicting drug, both physically and mentally. In addition, the organism gets used to the substance very quickly and this leads to the fact that higher and higher doses are taken at shorter and shorter intervals to stop the withdrawal. The latter means sweating, trembling and wandering sleeplessly as well Body aches and circulatory problems.
Morphine is still used today for severe pain: tumor pain, surgical wounds, heart attack or accident injuries - as drops, granules, suppositories, injections or tablets. Rohopium soothes the pain, inhibits appetite, helps against diarrhea and brings rest to the sleepless. In addicts, loss of appetite leads to weight loss. Overdosing can cause respiratory paralysis and death. The psychological consequences are lethargy and depression.
Opium is subject to the Narcotics Act and may only be prescribed as tinctura opii on a prescription for narcotics in the case of chronic diarrhea. Opioids, such as tilidine and tramadol, are still pain relievers - especially in dental surgery.
The cowslip is at home with us, it blooms from March. They can also be found in many other areas of Europe and Eurasia. However, it only occurs frequently in some regions in this country. It is protected, wild collection is prohibited. It rarely grows to over 25 centimeters, it likes lime-rich but nitrogen-poor soils.
Carl von Linné first described it in 1753, but it has only been used as a medicinal plant for around 120 years. After Hildegard von Bingen and Hieronymus von Bock, she was initially forgotten. It can help with diseases of the upper respiratory tract, and with stubborn sinus infections it allows the pent-up secretion to drain better. The mucus can also dissolve better in the bronchi. The saponins are probably responsible for this. However, medical studies on the effectiveness of human subjects are still missing.
Side effects may include a rash and stomach pain, possibly a reaction to the flavonoids it contains. The cowslip is traditionally considered a fertility aid, but it is also said to help with neuralgia, as a home remedy for migraines and for nervous insomnia.
This almost forgotten medicinal plant was voted Medicinal Plant of the Year in 2018. It is widespread in the Mediterranean, and has been introduced to other continents. Local accumulations in our region are overgrown again as archeophytes from the medieval cultivation as medicinal herbs. The plant likes dry clay and clay soils and was planted around 4000 years ago in the Neolithic Age.
Dioskurides already valued its expectorant properties, Hildegard von Bingen also used it as a strengthening wine elixir. Paracelsus saw the herb as a lung plant. In the past, hawthorn was also valued for poisoning and as a home remedy for worms. Today it is mainly used for respiratory diseases and for the treatment of anorexia. It is well tolerated, allergies are not known.
In natural medicine, the upper parts of the horehound herb are used, as a dry extract, tincture or in a dried tea form. A syrup made from fresh leaves was previously used very successfully for coughing. The tea is traditionally used against indigestion and biliary pain. Contained bitter juices increase the production of gastric and bile secretions.
The autumn timeless
"Who doesn’t know the tender maiden in purple robes,
Since then it has been freezing and blooming on autumn desolate land! "
(Die Herbstzeitlose, Emerenz Meier 1874-1928)
The autumn timeless grows up to 30 centimeters high; Parts of the plant grow underground to survive the cold period. A new one grows over the tuber in winter and develops up to a diameter of five centimeters in summer. In the spring, the lanceolate leaves grow up to 40 centimeters in length. They look similar to wild garlic, and this often leads to poisoning.
The herb forms up to three flowers and their bracts grow together to form a tube. The ovary is in the earth. The timeless blooms from September to October. The capsule fruit in the form of an egg emerges from the earth in May, it swells over the next few weeks and turns brown. The plant is distributed from the south of the British Isles via France to northern Italy and east to Ukraine. She loves wet meadows with rich nutrients in the windbreak.
The entire plant contains colchicine, a poisonous alkaloid - 1.8 percent of the flowers are made of it, 0.5 percent of the seeds, 0.2 percent of the tuber and 0.03 percent of the leaves. The drug remains in the dried plant. Pharmaceuticals use seed in particular. The Colchicum Dispert is obtained from this semen of colchicine. Each 15.6 milligram coated tablet contains 0.5 milligrams of colchicine. Colchicine helps against gout. Cancer treatment uses demecolcin, which also contains the timeless.
Homeopathy produces the “Colchicum autumnale” from tubers from the autumn timeless plants - the tubers are crushed and placed in alcohol. Homeopaths give this remedy for gout, rheumatism and pregnancy problems. It is prescription only.
Doing your own experiments is strongly discouraged as the plant can kill a person. 60 grams of leaves, i.e. a handful, are sufficient. The symptoms start after a few hours: the mouth is burning, swallowing is difficult, nausea and diarrhea shake hands. After a high dose, the breath stops, the circulation breaks down, poisoned people die.
Rural children are at risk because they get their hands on the plants when they collect hay when the timeless flowers are in bloom and are therefore particularly toxic. There are even reports of poisoned milk from sheep and goats that ate the plants. Adults play with their lives when they mistake the autumn timeless ones: whoever confuses them with wild garlic or the leaves of an onion and uses them in such an amount easily exceeds a lethal dose.
(Dr. Utz Anhalt, dp)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
Dr. phil. Utz Anhalt, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch
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