3/22/14: This week on "The Plant Detective:" Valerian is a powerful agent for relaxation and sleep, with no dangerous side effects. In the past, aggression, epilepsy, shell shock and hysteria were all treated with valerian.
3/15/14: This week on "The Plant Detective:" Hoodia, native to the Kalahari Desert of Southern Africa, works as an appetite suppressant by telling the brain that the stomach is full without affecting the rest of the body's functioning. After a long legal battle, the San bushmen of the Kalahari won a settlement for traditional claims to the knowledge of the plant.
3/8/14: This week, on "The Plant Detective:" Horse chestnut improves circulation by strengthening vein walls, improving blood flow, and fighting inflammation. Applied topically, it can also reduce swelling after injuries.
"The Plant Detective," March 1st, 2014: Bilberry is attracted by the pigment in our eyes, and once there, it acts as a powerful antioxidant while improving circulation and strengthening capillaries and cell walls. In Europe, it's part of conventional treatment for macular degeneration, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, and more.
February 22nd, 2014: In traditional Chinese medicine, Chinese star anise is prescribed for colicky babies and sluggish digestion. But today, it's also a source of shikimic acid, a precursor in the pharmaceutical synthesis of Tamiflu, one of the only treatments right now for avian influenza. Japanese star anise, Illicium anisatum, a similar tree, is highly toxic and inedible.
February 15th, 2014: Milk thistle is both a noxious weed and the tenth best-selling medicinal herb in the U.S. Its role in protecting the liver points to the scope of its potential. Research is ongoing into its ability to protect against prostate and skin cancer, enhance certain cancer drugs, prevent some side effects of chemotherapy, protect against damage from UV light, and more.
February 8th, 2014: Compounds in milk thistle keep toxins out of liver cells, stimulating liver repair and exerting antioxidant power. Milk thistle can also reverse the effects of amanita mushroom poisoning.
February 1st, 2014: Fragrant and medicinal, lavender can affect people's alertness and mood. Depending on the species, it can stimulate or calm, sharpen or soothe. It's helpful in treating anxiety and sleep disturbances.
January 11th, 2014: Compounds in the beloved spice show activity against Type-2 diabetes among people with insulin resistance; cinnamon may resensitize cells to insulin. Researchers are studying cinnamon as well for its effects on HIV, colorectal cancer, multiple sclerosis and Alheimer's disease.
January 4th, 2014: From old wives' tales to pharmaceutical. Compounds in digitalis treat atrial fibrillation and congestive heart failure, restoring the heart's ability to process fluids. Lanoxin - from the species, Digitalis lanata - remains one of the top cardiovascular drugs in the U.S.
December 28th & 30th, 2013:Prized as incense, myrrh plays a role in the ceremonies of many religions, but also in medicine. Its antimicrobial qualities have made it useful for treating wounds, infection, inflammation, and candida - and today, it's found in toothpastes.
December 21st & 23rd, 2013:For millenia throughout the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa, resinous nuggets from the frankincense tree have made fragrant and insecticidal smoke when burned. Frankincense is considered sacred as well as medicinal, but today, the trees aren't reproducing.
December 14th & 16th, 2013: The twisted root of the Asian plant Rauwolfia is a traditional Ayurvedic remedy for hypertension and insanity. As the modern anti-psychotic and blood pressure drug Reserpine, 1970s studies linked it to serious side effects, but recently, it's made a comeback as a valuable hypertensive.