Plant derived herbal medicines

Herbal medicines constitute valuable chemical compounds obtained from all types of natural sources like plants, animals or even rock minerals. Many herbs are important source of medicines and most of the traditional remedies rely on use of herbs as medicines. In this article a review of some herbal medicines derived from plants is discussed. Indian Rigveda and Atharvaveda together contain information about all herbs and their medicinal value which is practiced and produced in Ayurveda. Different types of chemicals are derived from the plants; their properties have been illustrated in the following paragraph.

Saponins: are found in plants like Soapworts and Asparagus racemosus. They are glycosides with foaming nature, hemolytic surfactant and emollient properties. They have antifungal and antimicrobial properties and used in preparation of cosmetics, especially antidandruff shampoos.
Tannins: are phenolic derivatives like anthocyanin, isoflavones and phytoestrogens. They precipitate proteins. Oscimum sanctum, Acacia catechu and Emblica officinalis are sources of these tannins.
Flavanoids: are polyphenolics with antioxidant property. They are used in treatments of cancer and cardiovascular diseases. They are also beneficial for healthy immune system. Calendula officinalis and Camellia sinensis contains flavanoids.

Terpenoids: are made from terpenes, each consisting of two paired isoprenes. Fragrance of rose, antiitching, repellent, decongestant properties of camphor and properties of carotenes are because of terpenes present in them. Terpenoids have been used as sedatives, antibacterial, antitumor, anti-inflammatory and diuretics.

Alkaloids: are organic nitrogen containing compounds. Most act on central nervous system. Caffeine is well known alkaloid. Commercially, alkaloids are extracted from Papavar somniferum, Cinchona succirubra, Ephedra vulgaris and Vinca rosea plants.

Here are some of the potent plant derived herbal medicines:
Aspirin: Acetyl salicylic acid popularly known as aspirin is isolated from meadowsweet. Idea of acetylation of salicylic acid was borne from one more herbal medicine salicin of Willow bark which was converted to salicylic acid. It is analgesic, antipyretic, anti-inflammatory, anticlotting drug and effective in heart attacks and strokes.

Codeine: It is methylated morphine obtained from opium poppy (Papavar). It is used in medical practice as analgesic, antitussive and antidiarrhoea drug.
Digitalis: It is cardiac glycoside or digoxin (digitoxin) obtained from Foxgloves (Digitalis purpura).
Quinine: It is alkaloid obtained from Cinchona bark. It is the only antimalarial drug available since its discovery. It is also used as analgesic, and anti-inflammatory medicine.

What is the need of herbal medicines? Antibiotic resistance is of growing concern because of misuse of antibiotics. Increase in awareness of infections and common occurrence of degenerative and immunological disorders is of great concern. Diseases like cancers still do not have control measures and remedies. Control of overuse of antibiotics and discovery of effective drugs is also a challenge. But hopes lies in the use of natural products like herbal medicines which are potential drugs with efficient active ingredients with no side effects, less cost and feasibility of production. Leaves, roots, seeds, barks, flowers, resins, fruits and almost every part of plant body has potential therapeutic value. Biotechnological tools such as micropropagation, genetic transformation, use of plants as bioreactors, enhanced production of secondary metabolites, plant cell cultures, cryopreservation for conservation of endangered herbs and combinatorial biosynthetic strategies are some of aspects which would certainly enhance applications of herbal medicines in future.

Routes of administration of herbal drugs: Herbal medicines are administered via different routes and most of them follow traditional tactics. They can be used in many forms such as tinctures, wines or alcoholic extracts, elixirs (spirit extracts), hot water extracts (tisane), boiled root extract (decoctions), macerates (cold infusions), vinegars (acetic acid extract), essential oils in the form of balms, creams, lotions, salves or mixed with food grade oils. Poultices (plant extract applied as bandage or compress), as juice or dried powder, steam inhalations, syrups, capsules or even as tablets.

Herbs have elaborate pharmaceutical applications such as drugs, fragrances, pigments, food additives and pesticides.

Herbs as medicines: Use of herbs to treat diseases is highly acknowledged in Asia, Africa and South America. Phytochemicals from herbs are used in many therapeutic preparations and Naturopathy. Sarpagandha, Khus, Tulsi, Ginger, Garlic, Amla, Ashwagandha, Betel, Guggul and Agaru are very few names which have medicinal properties.

Herbs as dietary supplements: Garlic, Opium, Onion, mint, coriander, turmeric, ginger, cardamom, clove, cinnamon, pepper, chilli, fenugreek, curry leaves, kokum, mustard and nutmeg are some of spices used especially in Indian kitchens. Many cuisines are spiced up to prevent food borne diseases, spoilage, to color, to add taste, flavor and aroma. Spices also have antimicrobial properties, inhibit ulcers and acidity.

Herbs as cosmetics: Cosmetics made from herbs are natural and very safe to use without side effects. These herbs can even be planted in backyard garden for daily use. Aloe vera is used to treat burns and for skin rejuvenation; turmeric (Haridra) is antiseptic and applied in various skin disorders. Shikakai and Ritha are boiled in water to apply as shampoo. Sandalwood scrub or paste is applied for glowing complexion and to regenerate skin. Nagkesara, Brihngaraj and Brahmi are for healthy hair, Madder as lipstick and Henna and Hibiscus are used as hair dye.

Thousands of plant derived herbal medicines are popular in India and worldwide. Taking into consideration, the vastness of their application for multiple disorders; it is very difficult to describe one particular class application. Following are some of the selected plants which have versatile pharmaceutical uses and these applications were known to mankind ever since many centuries of past time.

Sarpagandha (Rauwolfia serpentine): tranquilizer, bioactive component is reserpine, for the treatment of high BP, schizophrenia and mental illness.

Ashwagandha (Withanica somnifera): Withaferin is bioactive compound. It is aphrodisiac, sedative and rejuvenative. It is a potent remedy for dehydration, muscular weakness, impotency, debility, constipation, emaciation, bone weakness, rheumatism, ulcers and neurodegenerative disorders.

Khus (Vetivera zizanioides): Vetivera oil and roots are used in perfumes, soaps, cosmetics, soft drinks, scented dry fruits and pan masalas.

Agaru (Aquilaria agallocha): Plant extract is used in urinary and heart ailments, sexual disorders and for strength.

Guggul: is resin of Corniphora mukul. Used for treating arthritis, skin disorders, obesity, mouth ulcers, premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and indigestion.

Betel (Piper betle): contain alkylbenzene oil, chavibetol, eugenol, hydroxycatechol, terpenes, and terpenoids. It is best remedy for worms, headache, arthritis, nose bleeding, decongestant, lactation, toothache, vaginal strength and used as aphrodisiacs and stimulant.

Shikakai (Acacia concinna): fruits contain alkaloids and seeds the saponins. It is used in formulation of shampoos.

Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri): Whole plant and its extract are used as brain tonic, for body and memory rejuvenation, mind alertness, antioxidant, insomnia, depression, maintenance of body temperature, concentration and PMS.

Kokum (Garcinia indica): hydroxycitric acid in fruits is active component and used as medicine for acidity.

Recipe of Herbal Tea: A preparation to treat common cold
This decoction is made in my household especially during wet rainy and cold winter season; when a family member suffers from common cold and it is also served to guests. Haridra, Cardamom, Cinnamon, lemon grass, cloves, Tulsi leaves, dried ginger, coriander seeds are boiled in 2 cups of water till water quantity is reduced to 1 cup. Cooled extract is consumed plain or with one tea spoon honey or molasses. It is a best medicine to cure runny nose, aching muscles and fever. Little milk can be added to make it palatable for children.

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