The roots of modern medicine

October 20, 1990|By Stephanie Shapiro

Did you know that compounds from many plants have been isolated by researchers and used as important medical tools by physicians and other health care professionals? Here are a few examples:

Foxglove, or digitalis, is used to treat heart failure.

Ergot, a fungus that grows on the rye plant, and caffeine from coffee beans are used to treat migraines.

The Chinese herb Ephedra sinica is used medicinally to treat sinus problems.

The Mexican yam, is a source of steroids and steroid hormones. (Until 1970, diosgenin isolated from the wild yam was used to make the contraceptive pill.)

Catharanthus, also known as rosy periwinkle, is used in the treatment of leukemia.

Quinine, from the bark of the South American cinchona tree, is still used to treat malaria.

Autumn crocus is used in the treatment of gout.

The opium poppy is used to manufacture morphine and analgesics.

Rauwolfia, an Indian remedy for insomnia, was used as a tranquilizer, and to lower blood pressure. Today, it is not a commonly used commercial drug.

Curare, "the South American paralyzed dart-poison," is a muscle relaxant in surgery.

Cocaine is used as a local anesthetic.

Atropa, from the Belladonna plant, is used as an anti-secretory agent before surgical procedures.

White willow bark, a natural pain and fever reducer, has been used for thousands of years. Aspirin, the synthetic drug which replaced willow, closely resembles the tree bark's chemical composition. White willow bark is still available in some health food stores.

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