Monday, 19 August 2013

Flower Power - The Power to Heal

The most important power any flower can have is to save a life. Today’s article looks at some of the flowers I’ve featured in my Flower Power series so far and at their medicinal uses in folklore and modern medicine. Nothing in this article, however, should be taken as an official recommendation to use any of these flowers for medicinal use yourself. Only a qualified medical doctor can recommend that.

The Ancient Greeks and Romans had several medicinal uses for this plant. Being big party-goers where excess was expected when it came to the consumption of alcohol, violets were often used to decorate the banqueting tables and was considered a cure for hangovers. Rather than eat the flowers a wreath of violets was worn around the head. Another name for the wild violet is heartsease because the petals are heart shaped. In folklore a plant’s healing properties were said to be indicated by its shape or colour. Because of the heart-shaped petals heartsease was said to cure ailments of the heart. The Roman used violets in love potions and aphrodisiacs as well as medicines to treat heart disease, and in my previous article on violets I recounted how lesbians showed their love for each other by giving violets. Violets contain salicylic acid, which is one of the ingredients of aspirin. Because of this is it frequently used in modern homeopathy to treat acne and other skin conditions.

Living in the world’s biggest producer of these flowers it is strange to think that they may provide hope to sufferers of Alzheimer’s. In the past daffodils have been considered poisonous, or at the very least capable of giving humans and animals a serious case of the “runs”. This had good effects in some cases, where extracts from daffodils and narcissi have been used to create numbness. They have even been used over the centuries in cancer treatments. But the most recent medical benefit comes from one of the drugs contained in daffodils called galanthamine. This has been used commercially for treatment in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. It’s use was first discovered in the 1950s but it is only in more recent years that it has been used. However, production of the drug has been on a small scale. That’s why the UK has begun research into large scale production of daffodils for medicinal rather than decorative use. Ironically, it is a research centre in Wales, where the daffodil is the national flower, that is leading the field (in more ways than one).
This species of the crocus has been used for many centuries in food as a spice and as a dye. It has also been used medicinally as a sedative, an asthma treatment, an aphrodisiac and in liver disease, amongst other ailments. Recent medical trials of saffron crocus extract have been carried out to assess the effectiveness of its use in a similar wide variety of illnesses. Clinical tests on animals have shown that saffron extracts can reduce blood pressure, leading to studies being carried out for its use in heart disease. Other studies are being carried out into cancer treatment, depression and eye disorders. Saffron’s use as a dye has also been useful to stain tumour cells for study under the microscope.

Despite it’s name the passion flower seems to produce the opposite effect. It’s main use in medicine has been as a homeopathic remedy for anxiety and as a sedative. Scientific trials have supported this in both humans and animals with the same sedative results. One species of passion flower has shown tranquilising properties, and there is one reported instance of it’s effective use in combination with other drugs to sedate a patient prior to surgery. Future uses for the passion flower could be in the production of drugs for asthma, high blood pressure, insomnia, and cardiac arrhythmia as well as anxiety. Perhaps the most exciting possibility is the passion flower’s anti-bacterial properties and the presence leukaemia cell toxins. It is hoped that further research also reveals its effectiveness against cancer and AIDS.

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