Monday, June 9, 2008

PASSION FLOWER - Passiflora Incarnata (Medicinal Herbs)

Maypop (Passiflora incarnata), also known as Purple passionflower, is a fast growing perennial vine with climbing or trailing stems.

A member of the passionflower genus Passiflora, the Maypop has large, intricate flowers with prominent styles and stamens. One of the hardiest species of passionflower, it is a common wildflower in the southern United States.

The stems can be smooth or pubescent; they are long and trailing, possessing many tendrils. Leaves are alternate and palmately 3-lobed, measuring from 6-15 cm. They have two characteristic glands at the base of the blade on the petiole. Flowers have five bluish-white petals. They exhibit a white and purple corona, a structure of fine appendages between the petals and corolla. The large flower is typically arranged in a ring above the petals and sepals. They are pollinated by insects such as bumblebees, and are self-sterile.

The fleshy fruit, also in itself called a Maypop, is an oval yellowish berry about the size of a hen egg; it is green at first, but then becomes orange as it matures. In this species, the yellow mucilage around the seeds of the fruit is sweet and edible, however it is quite seedy and mostly benefits wildlife. As with other passifloras, it is the larval food of a number of butterfly species.

Traditionally, the fresh or dried whole plant has been used as a herbal medicine to treat nervous anxiety and insomnia. The dried, ground herb is frequently used in Europe by drinking a teaspoon of it in tea. A sedative chewing gum has even been produced.

The Maypop occurs in thickets, disturbed areas, unmowed pastures, roadsides, and railroads. It thrives in areas with lots of available sunlight. It is not found in areas of growing forest, however, as the sun is blotted out by growing trees.

Medicinal uses

Anti-anxiety:
Passion flower has a tranquilizing effect, including mild sedative and anti-anxiety effects. In studies conducted since the 1930's, its mode of action has been found to be different than that of most sedative drugs (sleeping pills), thus making it a non-addictive herb to promote relaxation.

Insomnia:
The sedative effect of Passion flower has made it popular for treating a variety of ailments, including nervousness and insomnia. Research had indicated that passion flower has a complex activity on the central nervous system (CNS), which is responsible for its overall tranquilizing effects. Also, it apparently has an antispasmodic effect on smooth muscles within the body, including the digestive system, promoting digestion.

Other common names

Maypop, Passionflower, Apricot Vine, Passion Vine, Blue Passionflower, Purple Passionflower, Wild Passionflower, Passiflora, Flower of the Five Wounds, Waterlemon, Wild apricot and May apple.

Side effects

There are no reported side effects for passion flower and the suggested dosages. However, it is not recommended for use in pregnant women or children under the age of two. If already taking a sedative or tranquilizer, consult a health care professional before using passion flower.

Since it may cause sleepiness, it should not be used before driving or operating machinery. Children should never be given this herb in any form, and older adults and older children should take low dosages (preferably in consultation with a physician). Do not use Passion Flower if you take MAO inhibitors, and it should not be taken with other prescription sedatives or sedative herbs, as it increases their effects.

Related link:
* Medicinal Herbs Reference

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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

MILK THISTLE - Silybum Marianum (Medicinal Herbs)

Blessed Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum) is a milk thistle, a plant of the Asteraceae family. This fairly typical thistle has red to purple flowers and shiny pale green leaves with white veins. Originally a native of Southern Europe through to Asia, it is now found throughout the world. The medicinal parts of the plant are the ripe seeds.

It has a large number of other common names, such as Marian Thistle, Mary Thistle, Mediterranean Milk Thistle and Variegated Thistle. Trade or commercial names under which this herb is sold include Silymarin, Milk Thistle Extract, Milk Thistle Super Complex, Milk Thistle Phytosome, Alcohol Free Milk Thistle Seed, Milk Thistle Plus, Silymarin Milk Thistle, Milk Thistle Power, Time Release Milk Thistle Power, and Thisilyn Standardized Milk Thistle Extract.

Milk thistle has been used medicinally for over 2,000 years, most commonly for the treatment of liver and gallbladder disorders. A flavonoid complex called silymarin can be extracted from the seeds of milk thistle and is believed to be the biologically active component. The terms "milk thistle" and "silymarin" are often used interchangeably. It has also been considered especially helpful in cases jaundice, colitis, pleurisy, and diseases of the spleen.

In herbalism, it is used in cases of liver diseases (cirrhosis, jaundice and hepatitis), gallbladder disease, and is claimed to protect the liver against poisons. A 2000 study of such claims by the AHRQ concluded that "clinical efficacy of milk thistle is not clearly established". However a more recent study did show activity against liver cancers.

It's potent extract is used in medicine under the name silymarin. Another extract, silibinin or a derivative, is used against poisoning by amanitas, such as the Death Cap (Amanita phalloides) and the Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria).


Animal Precautions

Due to potassium nitrate content, the plant has been found to be toxic to cattle and sheep. When potassium nitrate is eaten by ruminants, the bacteria in animal's stomach breaks the chemical down, producing a nitrite ion. Nitrite ion then combines with hemoglobin to produce methaemoglobin, blocking the transport of oxygen. The result is a form of oxygen deprivation.


Side Effects and Warnings

Milk thistle appears to be well tolerated in recommended doses for up to six years. Some patients in studies have experienced stomach upset, headache, and itching. There are rare reports of appetite loss, gas, heartburn, diarrhea, joint pain, and impotence with milk thistle use. One person experienced sweating, nausea, stomach pain, diarrhea, vomiting, weakness, and collapse after taking milk thistle. This reaction may have been due to an allergic reaction, and improved after 24 hours. High liver enzyme levels in one person taking milk thistle returned to normal after the person stopped taking the herb.

In theory, milk thistle may lower blood sugar levels. Caution is advised in patients with diabetes or hypoglycemia, and in those taking drugs, herbs, or supplements that affect blood sugars. Serum glucose levels may need to be monitored by a healthcare provider, and medication adjustments may be necessary.

Theoretically, because milk thistle plant extract might have estrogenic effects, women with hormone sensitive conditions should avoid milk thistle above ground parts. Some of these conditions include breast, uterine, and ovarian cancer, endometriosis, and uterine fibroids. The more commonly used milk thistle seed extracts are not known to have estrogenic effects.

Side effects from correctly administered Milk Thistle usage are thought to be rare and it is usually considered to have a low toxicity. The following side effect usually does not require medical attention (however stop usage and report it to your health care professional if it continues, is bothersome or worsens): Laxative effect- mild (from increased bile secretion)

Other links:
* Information about Milk Thistle - Silybum Marianum
* Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum)
* Medicinal Herbs Reference

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