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An herb can be a leaf, a flower, a stem, a seed, a root, a fruit, a bark, or any other part of a plant. The use of plants for their health-promoting and healing properties - herbalism - goes back to the beginning of human history. And it is still a major part of the health care for 80% of the world's population.
Natural herbal remedies fell out of favor in the United States during and after World War II when the public became enamored with the concept of a quick fix with pharmaceuticals, often synthetically manufactured. "Better health through chemistry" - it was believed scientists could cure anything with drugs. Nowadays, conventional, drug-oriented "mainstream" doctors who used to scoff at medicinal herbs are incorporating herbs into their practices. Medical journals are publishing more research on herbs. "Slowly but surely high-tech medicine is embracing botanicals." The "market" today is estimated to be about $4 billion (U.S.) at retail with mass marketing (supermarket, drug, and mass merchandise) the fastest growing segment with an annualized rate of over 100%!
During recent years, scientists have verified the benefits of many traditional herbal remedies. They admit that herbs are effective treatments - studies and trials continuously verify their virtues and worth. World-renowned herb expert, Varro Tyler, Ph.D., says: "The majority of the 550 herbs that are commercially available offer real health benefits when brewed in tea." Demand from the public is growing. An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggested: "Perhaps opponents and skeptics of the safety and efficacy of medicinal herbs should take echinacea to improve their immune systems so they can ward off the growing deluge of requests from consumers for their alternative medicines."
So the U.S. is catching up to the rest of the world as far as the interest in herbs. But there are a few caveats:
1. Varro Tyler - former dean of pharmacy at Purdue University who has spent his lifetime studying and writing about plants - is an herbal enthusiast. However, he is opposed to many of the rash, "outrageous and hyperbolic" claims of some herbal manufacturers. "I'm too conservative for many of the people in the herbal products field who claim that everything is good for everything. And perhaps I'm too liberal for conservative physicians who haven't read some of the clinical research on herbs." There is a balanced, reasonable, middle ground for those seeking objectivity.
2. The role of herbs, unlike drugs, is ostensibly to enhance the diet with novel components from safe, natural plants to support and protect bodily functions and processes. Herbs contain combinations of numerous natural plant chemicals both known and unknown. So they act in a wider, more general, less specific, gentler way than conventional medicines. People generally like this concept, but don't understand and don't take the time to learn how the herbs work and how they should be prepared and taken. "Herbology isn't so much complicated as it is full of details." Mixing various herbs together or taking a multiplicity of prepared herbal formulas can be counterproductive unless one knows the workings, cause, and effect of each one and how they interrelate. Combinations may work wonders or may overtax the system. And every person has a unique biochemistry. An herb that greatly assists one person may have little effect or reverse effects on another. Thus, while valerian root will calm and soothe most individuals, occasionally it will stimulate or agitate others.
The goal is to rebalance the biochemistry, to restore its native energy level so the body can heal itself. Herbs can play a role in balancing, cleansing, and innervating the body's systems, but they are not the only answer to good health. And they should not be viewed or used as magic bullets for instantaneous cure.
3. People may want to take "natural" products, but often they want immediate drug effects. Ironically, says herbalist Laurel Dewey, "about 54% of today's drugs are derived from an herb which has been unceremoniously stripped of all its balancing agents, reduced to a single active part, and synthetically converted into very potent medication." Standardization of herbs and/or using highly concentrated or large doses of herbs approaches pharmacological use. While excessive ingestion of most natural substances results in gastrointestinal upset as a warning and a means to eliminate the overload, the use of a highly refined or synthesized chemical - even if derived from an herb - can have severe adverse effects, disrupting or imbalancing the biochemistry.
According to herb manufacturers, the reason to standardize is to "ensure that all herbal products contain the same amount of a plant's biologically active compounds." These are specific compounds believed to have the therapeutic effects. Natural chemicals in plants can fluctuate considerably. Much depends on the soil on which they are grown, how they are fertilized, harvested, and processed. Really, ANY natural food will exhibit some variance in nutrients and other constituents it contains. The value of good soil, proper care, and prudent processing would no doubt minimize such differences. But, it is so much easier and cheaper to simply standardize.
Standardization will concentrate and increase the potency of single chemical compounds in herbs, and at the same time "remove undesirable [?] compounds." Once the natural complex has been altered - even with best intentions - an herb or food is no longer intact as nature created it and cannot have the same effects or benefits on the human biochemistry.
There are three basic methods to standardize herbal products to make potencies of certain components "relatively consistent." One is to extract the "principal" compounds by dissolving them in alcohol or another solvent such as hexane (a toxic petrochemical). A second method is to blend various batches of herbal extracts (including extracts as above). The third way is to "spike" the product with a manufactured or synthetic amount of the "active compound." Spiking with one or two compounds, says James Duke, Ph.D., creates a chemical imbalance and diminishes the natural synergy of plant components. Actually all three methods will, to one degree or another, change the herb and deviate it from the genuine article.
Another problem is that the compound thought to be the "active ingredient" is not always what makes the herb "work." Rather, it is the cooperative combination of many ingredients. Almost all brands of standardized St. John's wort, for example, contain 0.3 percent hypericin, the compound long believed to be the antidepressant factor. Researchers recently found that hypercin does not have antidepressant properties. So now many companies call hypericin a "marker" of the herb's mood-lifting compounds. The truth is that scientists are still unsure about which compounds make St. John's wort an aid to depression. Hypericin is a "marker" of the unknown. Nature has still not revealed all her secrets. Valerian root has been long used for is calming, tranquilizing effects. Manufacturers used to rely on valerenic acid levels to standardize this herb, but the plant's effects are now attributed to other compounds.
Further, in the U.S. there is no legal definition of and no industry agreement on the meaning of standardization. Different companies have different approaches. "I'm afraid," laments James Duke, "we'll have nearly as many standardized extracts as we have major suppliers." In one experiment, three brands of standardized ginkgo biloba affected brain waves in three different ways. One company standardizes nettle root to amino acids, another company standardizes to sterols, and yet another to the chemical scopoletin.
Non-standardized, unaltered herbs won't supply "scientific certainty" for levels of a particular chemical. They will supply a broader range of the plant compounds. Many who study and use herbs - including James Duke - attribute the health benefits to the synergism of the whole range of natural constituents. "Herbs possess a great variety of biologically active compounds... I think that by the time we know all there is to know, we'll find that most phytochemicals [plant chemicals] have biological activities, some of them damn near essential." Even without hard scientific proof, the long history and use of whole herbs signifies they are therapeutically valuable.
Part of the drug paradigm for herbs may stem from the economic situation of the pharmaceutical industry. The cost of producing drugs has escalated due to more stringent drug approval processes and more costly and complex development of drugs for treating chronic, degenerative diseases. Drug companies can easily isolate and/or synthesize chemicals to "boost" or standardize herbs to have a pharmacological action. This is much less expensive and public demand ensures sales. It also spurs efforts to change herbal preparations and other nutritional supplements into prescription medications. The more chemical fractions, concentrated, high-potency, manufactured ingredients used in supplements the more they are altered - the better the chance they will become classified as and function as drugs.
Using unaltered plants as both food and medicine may seem strange to a culture accustomed to using drugs. Yet our ancestors collected plenty of edible wild plants as part of their diet, for both food and medicine. Plants that cured deficiency diseases, for instance, were thought to contain medicinal properties - such as citrus fruit, rosehips, cranberries, bilberry, or potato used to treat scurvy. These foods and herbs were "medicines" in the true sense. Today we know they are highly nutritious - in this case high in vitamin C complex -- and therein lies most of their curative powers.
The cause of illness should be determined and approached. The use of nutrient-dense food and food complexes, whole herbs, rest, and other natural therapies can all be employed to help the body heal itself and stay healthy. "When we attune ourselves to the environment, and understand that we're biological products of this environment, we create a constructive context for understanding and taking charge of our planet and our health." i
Echinacea is the name of a group of nine plants native to North America and part of the sunflower/daisy family. The most common are echinacea purpurea (the most studied), echinacea angustifolia, and echinacea pallida. Many Native American tribes used echinacea "as a remedy for more ailments than any other plant." It was taken as a dental remedy for sore mouth and gums (whole plant infusion or chewed root), and toothache; the root juice was used on "hollow teeth." It was used for coughs, sore throat, colds, tonsillitis, fever, wounds, any inflammation, headaches, indigestion, colic bowels, as a blood purifier, for sepsis (blood poisoning), syphilis, gonorrhea, cramps, as an eye wash, anesthetic, stimulant, and as a remedy for snakebite. European settlers adopted the use of this herb. By the turn of the century, doctors were using echinacea to treat respiratory illnesses, bronchitis, fevers, cholera, boils, abscesses, chronic ulcers, poison ivy and oak, parasite infections, acne, nervous headache, meningitis, gangrenous wounds, tonsillitis, measles, chicken pox, scarlet fever, eczema, appendicitis, gonorrhea and syphilis.
By the late 1800s, pharmacies were marketing a variety of echinacea preparations so that it became the most widely used herbal remedy in the U.S. through the 1920s. With the advent of sulfa drugs, penicillin, and other chemotherapeutic agents, the use of echinacea went into rapid decline. The echinacea "drug" was dropped from official status in 1950. However, since 1940 almost 400 research papers about echinacea have appeared in scientific literature.
With the herbal revival of the 1970s and 1980s, echinacea began to resurface as a remedy for colds, flu, rhinitis, bronchitis, mild asthma, any respiratory inflammation, sore throat, skin disorders, ear aches, cuts, urinary or vaginal inflammations, canker sores, cold sores, or any other inflammatory process. Further, as Mark Blumenthal, director of the American Botanical Council remarked: "People like the idea of building up their immune systems to prevent infections, rather than taking over-the-counter drugs that just mask the symptoms."
Studies of people with chronic upper respiratory tract inflammations - including otitis, ear canal catarrh, rhinitis, tonsillitis, pharyngitis, laryngitis, bronchitis, pneumonia, sinusitis, etc. - show that echinacea lengthens the time between occurrences, shortens the duration of the illness, and lessens the severity of symptoms.
Echinacea works in a number of ways to strengthen and support the immune system and the biochemical process of inflammation and repair. It enhances immune system function, encouraging production of T-lymphocytes and other white blood cells, promotes the activity of macrophages and other phagocytes (which engulf and digest dead, damaged or foreign particles), improves resistance of cells to insult or injury, and promotes regeneration of new tissue. It fosters production of interferon - a group of proteins released especially by white blood cells and fibroblasts that help regulate the immune system. It also gently stimulates the lymphatic and vascular systems.
A 1992 German study found that people who took freshly pressed echinacea juice recovered from cold and flu-like symptoms faster than those who took a placebo. Another German study showed that, among individuals who were predisposed to frequent respiratory illness, those who took echinacea were less likely to become sick than the placebo takers. In 1997, a Swedish study found that factory workers taking echinacea recovered from their colds four days before workers given a placebo. "The specific clinical signs and symptoms improved and in fact disappeared far more swiftly with real treatment than with placebo treatment." Most studies find echinacea to be a booster to the immune response.
But some studies found no difference in duration and only slight improvement in cold, flu, or other respiratory symptoms. Often an immune "stimulating effect" - a pharmacological effect - was found only when injections were given. Or, people with flu-like symptoms experienced some relief only if large doses (e.g. 900 milligrams a day) were administered, and/or relief only after large doses were taken for eight to 10 days. Why the inconsistencies?
Commercial echinacea preparations have a reputation of being adulterated or diluted with other ingredients. "How do we know if some of these studies were using real echinacea unless they had their preparations analyzed?" asks immunologist Tim Lee. Injected echinacea is not a whole herb complex. It is a drug and would not act in the same way as the orally administered herb or whole herb concentrate.
Standardization of echinacea capsules, tinctures, and extracts yields a more pharmaceutical than nutritional preparation. A study from Canada analyzing the efficacy of a standardized, encapsulated echinacea extract in college students with common colds found neither the duration shortened nor severity lessened when compared to placebo. Originally, it was thought that the immune-enhancing components in echinacea were the echinacosides so many preparations are standardized for these. There is now evidence that polysaccharides, glycoproteins, and alkylamides are among the ingredients that support the immune response.
With insult or injury to nasal passages, sinuses, or other mucous membrane linings in the respiratory tract, for example, the body initiates the natural process of inflammation and repair. The "symptoms" of this process are the symptoms of the cold or flu or bronchitis, etc., including congestion, swelling, heat, redness, increased mucus production, perhaps fever and achiness. Drugs suppress or relieve such symptoms because they interfere with some stage(s) of this natural procedure, sabotaging or thwarting the purposeful operation so that repair may not be properly completed.
Whole natural food or herb complexes do not interfere or disrupt or deter the process. Rather, they provide nutrients needed to support inflammation and repair, support the immune mechanisms so that the process may be smoother, quicker, or more proficient. If an herb preparation or other supplement suppresses or masks symptoms - as echinacea has been expected to do in some studies - then it is functioning as a drug. Once a cold or flu is established - once the inflammation and repair process is well along - unaltered herb and food concentrates will aid this purposeful work to successful completion. They will not interfere with or stop any stage of inflammation and repair. They will not suppress, halt, or mask any symptoms. Instead, they reinforce the body's efforts to repair tissues to a healthy state.
Echinacea's real job is not direct intervention in immune response, but to support the body in ways that compliment the natural functions of a healthy immune system. The body's ability to "resist disease" - to successfully deal with tissue insult or injury or to handle toxic substances - relies on a complex and delicate balance among a multiplicity of biochemical systems. When the capacity of the body to deal with infection or inflammation is viewed only as involving one system (such as white blood cells), then the goal is merely to "treat" symptoms instead of encouraging real health. The effective use of any herb allows the body to function as it is naturally designed and inclined.
Echinacea is an immune-supporting, immune-strengthening herb, accommodating a variety of metabolic needs. It does not substitute for a compromised or depressed immune system. The functions of this plant cannot be attributed to a single chemical constituent of the root, stem, or flower. Rather, "the complex structure of this plant should be viewed as a therapeutic synergy of dozens of biochemical influences." Some components identified for their immune system benefits include an extensive number of caffeic acids, flavonoids (such as quercetin), volatile oils, polysaccharides, polyenes, polyines, and isobutylamides.
Echinacea increases the activity of phagocytes and enhances immune system response when a problem arises. It helps balance the production of an enzyme that breaks down hyaluronic acid -a ground substance of connective tissues, synovial fluid, and aqueous humors - that acts as a binding and protective agent. The herb is a tonic to the lymphatic system which carries food materials into the bloodstream and helps the body eliminate waste materials from its tissues. It aids in the intervention of toxic substances and other contaminants, offsetting adverse effects. Thus Native Americans used it to stop the venom of snakebites from penetrating into the body by inhibiting one of its most noxious chemicals.
Good response to echinacea has been observed in wound healing, Candidiasis (including vulvavaginal), rheumatoid arthritis, otitis media, psoriasis, urinary tract "infections," and immunodepression (including from radiation and chemotherapy). Several studies demonstrated the effectiveness of echinacea as a topical treatment for minor skin wounds and inflammations. In one large study, 85% of the 4,598 participants experienced improvement of their skin disorders including burns, wounds, eczema, dermatitis, varicose leg ulcers, abscesses, myoderma, foliculitis, and herpes simplex. "It has amazing wound-healing properties. It reduces swelling to damaged areas, increases macrophagocytosis and promotes the regeneration of new tissue."
Older references tout echinacea's "blood purifying" ability, perhaps describing its ability to enhance white blood cell formation, increase macrophage activity (which filters and destroys dead, foreign, or toxic particles circulating in lymph fluid), and support lymphatic drainage. Echinacea can assist leukopenia (inadequate white blood cells), an overworked or congested lymphatic system, general toxicity, and conditions associated with toxicity such as skin eruptions, acne, boils, carbuncles, some headaches, some types of indigestion, some allergies or cases of asthma, etc. Success in treating outbreaks of herpes simplex has been reported. Since ionizable calcium plays an essential role in this, as well as fever, white blood cell function, etc., echinacea must either be a good source of calcium or it provides factors that aid its uptake or utilization.
According to German "Commission E" monographs (regarded as the best source of scientific data on herbal remedies), there are no safety concerns, no known side effects from taking echinacea by mouth or as an ointment for persons of all ages "from infants to adults." As is true for any substance, some people may be sensitive to echinacea like those who react to flowers in the daisy family. Injectable extracts -- a drug form -- can cause headache, shivering, fever, nausea, and vomiting. Some researchers believe echinacea should not be taken by anyone with an "autoimmune disease" - a condition theorized to result from the body's immune system turning on its own tissues - because it supports and strengthens immune function.
Between 1993 and 1996, the FDA received eight reports of adverse effects in people who took echinacea including hepatitis, abdominal distress, and arsenic poisoning. In some of these cases it is known that the products used were adulterated with or contained other substances. The FDA has never verified that echinacea caused the problems.
Echinacea can be used for long periods of time to strengthen the immune system. Early American practitioners (as the Eclectics) used it for up to nine months for dozens of ailments with excellent results. A modern study showed that when echinacea was taken for 10 weeks, it had a considerably greater effect on the immune system than when it was taken for two weeks. Australian herbalist Kerry Bone believes the tendency to limit echinacea's use is due to misinterpretation of data from some studies. Dr. Michael Murray feels there is no reason to suspect echinacea is harmful when taken for a long time. Dr. Janet Zand of McZand Herbal Company tells of one person she knew who took the herb daily for 16 years. He got sick only twice - when he stopped taking it!
Some scientists recommend that the herb should not be taken for more than 10 days in a row - not because of safety concerns, but because they believe that echinacea loses some of its ability to "stimulate" the immune system. This recommendation appears to be without scientific basis. A 1989 study by Jurcic, et al., reported in German, is invariably given as the basis for the recommendation. A graph in the article shows phagocytosis (used to measure immune activity) declined after day five and trailed off to a plateau from day eight to ten. However, the echinacea had been discontinued after day five, but this fact was apparently not translated or was mistranslated. So, rather than showing diminished response, the study showed echinacea continued to exert immune support for five days after it was discontinued. The plateau at the end of the curve (from days eight to ten) showed a 20% increase in phagocytosis.
Each of the most common species of echinacea (purpurea, angustifolia, pallida) differ in color, height, and concentration of some components. But no species is clearly superior and all three are very effective. Selective absorption evidently helps the body to use the components most needed at the time. Again, plant complexes are most functional and effective. "Unfortunately it's not known exactly which of the active compounds are most responsible for the benefits." Obviously, "all play a role." So why alter what nature has perfected? ii
Radishes have been around at least 4,500 years since the times of ancient Egypt when pharaohs included them as standard rations - along with onions, garlic, leeks, and cucumbers - for slaves who constructed their huge pyramids. Radishes are roots, members of the cabbage (mustard) family. In the U.S., the cherry-sized red radish is most familiar, but radishes come in many sizes, shapes, and colors, including the black radish. Black radishes probably originated in Spain during the Middle Ages. They look like sooty black or matte brown-black turnips. The firm, dry, creamy white flesh can be almost as pungent as horseradish. All varieties are excellent sources of vitamin C complex - about 7 milligrams per ounce - and contain a fair amount of potassium and other nutrients.
Throughout Europe and Japan, radishes are consumed with rich dishes or high-starch meals. They aid the digestion of starches such as grains, pastas, cereals, breads, and the like. One reason is the presence of diastase, an enzyme (present in some plant cells and in digestive juices) that converts starch into sugar. Radishes have been used for abdominal bloating, flatulence, acid regurgitation, "food stagnation," and diarrhea.
The root contains a volatile ether which serves as an expectorant - a solvent for mucus or phlegm -- so is used to treat respiratory congestion. Radishes are particularly good for hoarseness, sore throats, and clearing of sinuses. They serve as a diuretic; are effective against fungal infections; support cleansing of the kidneys, expelling of gallstones from the bladder, and remedial management of existing stones in the gallbladder. Regular use appears to build resistance to colds, influenza, bronchitis, and other tissue insults.
Black radishes are favored for homeopathic remedies, and differ from other radishes in having a pronounced beneficial effect on the liver. The juice has been used for several centuries in treating gallstones by enhancing liver, bile duct, and gallbladder action. The juice of the black radish is drunk to allay gassy indigestion and constipation. "Black radish juice has a tonic and laxative action on the intestines and indirectly stimulates the flow of bile." An old Chinese remedy used chopped, pithy roots from old radish plants to make a lukewarm broth to be drunk each day for relief of spasmodic coughing, reduction of high fever, and stimulation of appetite in persons recuperating from illness. However, some people are sensitive to the "acridity and robust action" of radishes, especially if taken in excess.
A remedy for minor burns and scalds calls for pureed or mashed radishes and crushed ice - it brings almost immediate relief from pain. The juice is also useful for insect bites and stings, bruises, and frostbite. Sliced radish root is used on large boils in many European countries.
Epidemiological studies continuously indicate that cruciferous vegetables - including radishes - contain natural substances that lower the risk of some cancers, including those that are chemically-induced. Fresh radishes and radish seeds have been used in treating cancer around the world. Clinical successes have been documented in a variety of scientific publications. A text published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press (Medicinal Plants of East and Southeast Asia by Lily M. Perry) describes the use of radish seeds made into a strong tea for reducing stomach cancer, and external application as a warmed poultice for treating breast cancer.
In the scientific journal, Lloydia, Dr. Jonathan L. Hartwell refers to fomentations of radish juice in vegetable oil for treating abdominal tumors, the entire plant helping liver or spleen hardness, and the root itself for aiding, as he described it, "cancer of the fleshy parts." Certainly radishes can be included in the diet with other whole, natural foods - including other sulfur-bearing vegetables and herbs such as cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts, watercress, mustard greens, garlic, onions - to help prevent cancer.
All cruciferous vegetables (radishes, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, mustard greens, turnips, and rutabagas) contain goitrin, thiocyanate, and isothiocynate, chemicals known as goitrogens. These substances - when isolated - gently suppress thyroid hormone production, and are thought to lower thyroid hormone and cause compensative thyroid enlargement. The view is that eating moderate amounts of cruciferous vegetables is not hazardous for "healthy people," but might pose problems for people with a thyroid disorder. However, in Russia, radishes have long been used for treating both overactive and underactive thyroid conditions (hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism). At least one chemical in radishes - raphanin - helps to keep levels of thyroid hormones in balance. So it supports thyroid health and biochemical equilibrium. It is not a biochemical disrupter. Its whole complex makes the thyroid less likely to overproduce or underproduce its hormones. Only when individual chemicals are separated apart from the food does a problem appear. iii
Fenugreek is an annual herb native to western Asia and southeastern Europe, though it is now cultivated worldwide. It is a source of vitamins (especially carotenes, thiamin, niacinamide, choline, and vitamin C complex including many flavonoids), minerals (especially calcium and iron), protein (high in lysine and tryptophan), a considerable amount of mucilage (thick, gummy fiber), fixed oils, and many other phytochemicals both known and unknown. The leaves are a rich source of choline -- up to 1.3% of the dry weight. Choline is important to liver health and neurotransmission (communication between brain cells) and thus to mental acuity, memory, and concentration.
Fenugreek has been used for hundreds of years as a food, spice, and therapeutic agent in Egypt, India, and the Middle East. It is used to reduce fever; to treat mouth ulcers, bronchitis, chronic coughs, sore throats, chapped lips, neuralgia, gout, and wounds; as an expectorant; digestive aid, diuretic; and for cancers. The Chinese use the seed for abdominal pain, beriberi, fever, chilblains (injury from exposure to cold and dampness), cholecytosis (any noninflammatory gallbladder disease), hernia, kidney ailments, impotence, nephrosis, and rheumatism.
It is said that harem women eat roasted fenugreek seed to attain buxomness. For hundreds of years the seeds and sprouts have had a folk reputation as breast enlargers. About 100 years ago, fenugreek was a key ingredient in the original formula for Lydia Pinkham's Vegetable Compound, a popular remedy for "female troubles" - everything from menstrual discomfort to postmenopausal vaginal dryness. There are modern testimonials for the herb's effect on breasts. The seed contains a chemical compound considered a phytoestrogen (plant estrogen). Such natural hormone precursors do not cause uncomfortable breast-fullness. Since biblical times, fenugreek seed has been used to increase milk production. It increases the flow of milk in cows. And many European mothers still follow the old tradition of drinking unstrained fenugreek tea to encourage an adequate flow of breast milk. A natural compound in fenugreek (diosgenin) has been shown experimentally to increase milk flow. (Fenugreek probably should be avoided during early months of pregnancy.) Dr. Max Gerson saw two cancers of the breast disappear with the use of fenugreek seed tea combined with a wholesome vegetarian diet.
The seeds contain fluid-absorbing mucilage (fiber) which adds bulk to the stool in the intestines, gently aiding bowel movements, assisting constipation (softening the stool), and relieving diarrhea. About half the seed by weight, the mucilage contains at least six compounds that help regulate proper glucose (blood sugar) levels. It also increases blood levels of HDL (so-called "good") cholesterol and lowers total cholesterol (if needed).
Fenugreek shows antidiabetic activities in experimental rats fed both before and after diabetes induction. In a short-term study with human diabetics (who have two to three times higher risk of death from cardiovascular disease), fenugreek seeds were found to exert both cholesterol-lowering and blood sugar lowering effects. A long-term study discovered that levels of serum cholesterol, triglycerides, low density lipoprotein (LDL, so-called "bad" cholesterol) and very low density lipoprotein all steadily decreased during the 24-week period. A trial of persons with Type I diabetes showed a significantly reduced fasting blood sugar, improved glucose tolerance test, and 54% reduction in 24-hour urinary glucose excretion.
Another study assessed the effects of fenugreek in (1) healthy subjects, (2) those with noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM), and (3) those with NIDDM plus coronary artery disease (CAD). The blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglycerides of the healthy subjects were not affected (did not lower already normal levels). In patients with NIDDM and CAD, a reduction in total cholesterol and triglycerides occurred. In mild to moderate NIDDM-only patients, blood sugar levels were significantly reduced both after fasting and after meals. The trend in severe diabetics was not as significant.
Tillandsia or Spanish moss is a member of the Bromeliaceae (pineapple) botanical family. It grows in masses on shrubs and trees, in low woods, hammocks, and swamps. The mysterious beauty of this moss has added charm to southern landscapes at least since the days of Longfellow's Evangeline. It is found from North Carolina south to Florida and west to Texas, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, the Bahamas, and most of the West Indies. Tillandsia is epiphytic - it absorbs nutrients and moisture from the air, sunlight, and rain.
Tillandsia is an excellent source of chlorophyll and its vitamin E complex factors, known for their general beneficial effects in a wide variety of disorders. It is also rich in fiber, iron, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, carotenes, manganese, and the B vitamins. The moss is particularly supportive in chronic, debilitating conditions, and in glandular insufficiencies.
Dr. Royal Lee began using tillandsia in supplements he formulated after learning about Cap Monroe, a man who lived in Florida and died at age 135. Cap drank tillandsia tea every day; he pulled the plant right off the trees. Dr Lee attributed his longevity in part to the tea. Indeed, every product to which Dr. Lee added tillandsia exhibited increased efficacy and received acclaims including improvements in fatigue, glandular functions, libido, confusion, senility, hyperirritability, depression, and more.
An "estrogenic" substance - phytoestrogen - was identified in tillandsia as early as 1953. The journal Science reported that tillandsia contains a natural estrogen precursor (documented in rodent and cattle experiments). However, endocrine gland benefits are experienced by both males and females. A study in 1993 reported properties in the plant which act as hormone precursors and healing promoters. Supplementation has been clinically observed to consistently support the growth of underdeveloped breasts in young women. Assistance in re-establishing sexual development and gonadal (hormonal) balance has been reported.
Cajun healers of southern Louisiana have long used a tillandsia tea for diabetics. In 1996 a bioactive substance was identified, "a potential anti-diabetic compound," that produced significant decreases in blood sugar in mice. Earlier studies indicated it can also lower blood levels of cholesterol in humans. Researchers conjecture that this component may ward off acidosis and ketosis - excessive burning of fats and proteins - common in diabetes. Another balancing effect. v
Although it is worthwhile to learn the actions of individual constituents of plants, herbal and nutritional therapies are - or should be - concerned with the use and actions of whole foods, whole plants. Dissecting an herb into isolated parts cannot explain how it functions in its natural form. Such procedure is really an autopsy, for the live principles are disrupted and destroyed. Scientific research is showing that active ingredients in herbs interact in complex and harmonious ways to produce health benefits. Plants contain hundreds - probably thousands - of different components that are interrelated and interworking. No wonder it is difficult or impossible to know specifically how an herb or food "works". The experience of the clinician and the unique response of the patient often provide the most reliable guide to the effects of individual herbs.
Plants cannot be duplicated. Though isolated substances in them may be imitated and used pharmacologically, they lose the cooperative, balanced effects of the whole plant. Some plants must be used only in the raw, fresh state to elicit their quintessential and distinctive qualities. It is a mistake to attempt to make drugs out of foods or herbs by separating, reinforcing with or synthesizing single ingredients - and then calling the practice nutrition or herbalism. The alteration converts it into a drug. It is no longer a nutrient or an herb.vi
i L. Pizzorno, Delicious!, Vol.13, No.7, July 1997, pp.30-34; Natural Health, Jan/Feb 1992, pp.S5-S22; W. Douglass, Second Opinion, Vol.VIII, No.10, Oct 1998, pp.5-7; S. Kuipers, HerbalGran, #33, Spring 1995, p.20; Energy Times, Vol.8, No.7, July/Aug 1998, pp.40-44 & Vol.6, No.9, Oct 1996, p.37; American Health, Vol.15, No.8, Oct 1996, p.21; M. Mitka, JAMA, Vol.280, No.18, 11 Nov 1998,p.1554;HerbalGram, #44, Fall 1998, p.33; J. Challem, Natural Health, Jan/Feb 1999, pp.56-60; S. Brill, Identifying & Harvesting Edible & Medicinal Plants, NY: Hearst Books, 1994, pp.5-7;Canadian Med Assoc J, Vol.150, No.8, 15 April 1994, p.1306.
ii P. Bergner, Nutri & Diet Consult, July 1993, p.8; S. Foster, HerbalGram, #30, 1st Quarter 1994, pp.36, 41; P. Bergner, Natural Health, Sept/Oct 1993, p.100 & Vol.15, No.10, Oct 1994, pp.8-9 & Vol.15, No.7, July 1994, p.8; C. Norton, Health, Sept 1992, pp.26-28; L. Vukovic, Natural Health, Sept/Oct 1998, p.132; J. Barone, American Health, Nov. 1988, p.124; A Real Life, Vol.1, No.5, Nov/Dec 1996, p.19; UC Berkeley Wellness Letter, Vol.14, Is.10, July 1998, p.6; D. Schardt, Nutrition Action Healthletter, Vol.25, No.3, April 1998, pp.8-9; J. Challem, Natural Health, Jan/Feb 1999, p.58; V. Tyler, HerbalGram, No.30, 1st Quarter 1994, pp.27- 28; G. Tilford, Nat Pet Mag, Vol.6, No.3, May/June 1997, pp.26-34; N. Fuchs, Women's Health Letter, Vol.7, No.7, July 1998, pp.4-5; H. Sandberg, et al., Eur J Clin Res, Vol.9, 1997, pp.261 268; D. Brown, Townsend Letter for Doctors, July 1998, pp.150-151; HerbalGram, #43, Summer 1998, pp.19-20 & #42, Spring 1998, p.15; D. Williams, Alternatives, Vol.4, NO.23, May 1993, pp.180-181; British J of Phytotherapy, Vol.2, No.2, 1991, cited in Nutri & Diet Consult, Mar 1993, p.8; J. Corliss, Health News, Vol.3, No.3, 4 Mar 1997, p.3; P. McCarthy, Natural Health, Jan/Feb 1998, pp.48-52; A. Chevallier, The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants, NY: DK Publishing, 1996, p.90.
iii D. Onstad, Whole Foods Companion, White Riv Junc: Chelsea Green Pub Co, 1996, pp.218-220; D. Brown, Encyclopedia of Herbs, NY: Dorl Kindersl, 1995, pp.189, 339; J. Heinerman, Encyclopedia of Fruits, Vegetables, & Herbs, NY: Parker Pub Co, 1988, pp.293-296; C. Rinzler, The Complete Book of Food, NY: World Alman, 1987, pp.301-303; J. Duke, The Green Pharmacy, Emmaus: Rodale, 1997, pp.228, 274; D. Buchman, Herbal Medicine, NY: Wings Bks, 1996, p.131; Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants, pp.258-259.
iv D. Buchman, Herbal Medicine, p.195, 201; A. Leung, S. Foster, Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients, 2nd Ed, NY: John Wiley & Sons, 1996, pp.243-244; J. Duke, Handbook of Medicinal Herbs, Boca Raton: CRC Press, 1985, pp.490-491; M. Gerson, A Cancer Therapy, NY: Station Hill Press, 1990, p.96; HerbalGram, #41, 1997, p.18; Science News, Vol.138, No.7, 18 Aug 1990, p.109; A. Bordia, et al, Prost Leukotr Essent Fatty Acids, Vol.56, 1997, pp.379-384; S. Dickerman, Complemen Med for Phys, Vol.3, Is.9, 1998, pp.68-69; J. Duke, The Green Pharmacy, pp.39,40,87,88,90, 143,163,168,259; R. Sharma, et al., Phytother Res, Vol.5, 1991, pp.145-147; R. Sharma, et al., Eur J Clin Nutr, Vol.44, No.4, 1990, pp.301-306.
v R. Lee, Product Bulletins, 1957, SL-178, p.105; R. Lee, "Food Integrity," lecture delivered April 1955; J. Morton, Atlas of Medicinal Plants of Middle America, cited in Newsletter #106, Mar/Apr 1993, p.1; Acres, U.S.A., Vol.26, No.9, Sept 1996, p.4; Profiles in Nutritional Progress, Bakersfield: Rubicon Pubs, 1993, pp.40-43; L. Tenney, Health Handbook, Provo: Woodland Books, 1987, pp.304-305.
vi The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants, pp.11, 28.
Originally published as an issue of Nutrition News and Views, reproduced with permission by the author, Judith A. DeCava, CNC, LNC.