As discussed in depth Herbs are available in a variety of forms, including fresh, dried, in tablets or capsules, or bottled in liquid form.
Medicinal plants are available as single or in mixtures formulated for specific conditions.
Currently, medicinal plants fall into two categories: wild grown and cultivated. A wild-grown herb is one that grows naturally, without human intervention. As a result of natural selection, plants tend to be found in places with conditions that optimize their growth. The disadvantage of wild-grown herbs is that there is no guarantee the plants have not been exposed to chemicals and pesticides. Herbs harvested from a meadow, for example, may have been exposed to chemical drift from a crop-dusted farm nearby. Exhaust fumes from passing traffic may have settled invisibly on plants growing near a country road.
Because of the possibility of contamination cultivated organic herbs grown commercially may be a better choice. Organic farm-grown herbs are becoming increasingly available, as more and more herb farms are being established. With careful management, organic herb farms can provide a steady supply of quality herbs to the consumer. To produce top-quality products, herb farmers require a great deal of specialized knowledge. For maximum potency, it is important that particular herbs be harvested at the optimum season. For example, echinacea is gathered in the spring, winter, and fall, but not in summer, when the plant’s energies are concentrated on growth and flowering.
Chapter 8 provides an overview of traditional uses, safety, and efficacy of commonly used herbal medicines in the Eastern region of the Mediterranean (Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and Palestine) where more than 3600 plant species are found and about 450–550 plants are noted for their uses as medicinal herbs. Plant parts used included leaves, flowers, stems, roots, seeds, and berries. In order to reduce the confusions of common names, which can refer to different plants depending on the region where they grow, we used Latin names as well as common Arabic names and common English names. To keep within the scope of this chapter, we mention here briefly the most commonly used medicinal plants in the Mediterranean region [1–3, 6–25].
Diseases and Commonly used medicinal plants:
Inflammations: Nigella sativa, Alcea setosa, Alchemilla vulgaris
Skin diseases: Alchemilla vulgaris, Anchusa strigosa, Calotropis procera
Liver disease: Silybum marianum, Allium cepa, Asparagus officinalis
Cancer: Nigella sativa, Allium cepa, Arum palaestinum
Pain: Majorana syriaca, Melissa officinalis, Myrtus communis
Sexual weakness: Ferula assafoetida, Astragalus macrocarpus, Eruca sativa
Kidney and urinary system: Ammi visnaga, Brassica napus, Glycyrrhiza glabra communis
Digestive system: Ceratonia siliqua, Foeniculum vulgare, Micromeria myrtifolia
Diabetes: Trigonella foenumgraecum, Achillea millefolium, Allium cepa
Herbs are used either in their crude forms or as herbal teas, syrups, infusions, and powders in treatment and prevention of diseases.
Nigella sativa, black seed, is one of the most commonly used medicinal herbs throughout the Middle East. N. sativa seeds have been used for centuries as a spice and food preservative, as well as a protective and curative remedy for numerous diseases have long been prescribed in Greco-Arab and Islamic medicine as well as in Indian and Chinese traditional medicine (Chapter 10) for prevention and treatment of a wide range of diseases, including bronchial asthma, headache, dysentery, infections, obesity, back pain, hypertension, and gastrointestinal problems.
It is the black seed referred to by the Prophet (Peace be upon him) (570–632), who once stated that “the black seed can heal every disease, except death.” Avicenna (980–1037 AD) refers to N. sativa in his Canon of Medicine, as the seed that stimulates the body’s energy and helps recovery from fatigue and dispiritedness.
Olea europaea, the Olive, like N. sativa, is one of the most commonly used medicinal herbs throughout the Mediterranean. While olive oil is well known for its health benefits, the leaf has been used medicinally in various historical contexts and cultures. Olive leaf and olive leaf extracts are now marketed as antioxidants, antiaging, immunostimulators, and even antibiotics. Clinical evidence has proven the antidiabetic and antihypertension effects of leaf extracts. In addition, several studies support its antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties. The olive tree is described in the Quran as the holy tree and Prophet (Peace be upon him) said:
“Eat olive oil and massage it over your bodies since it is a holy tree.”
Trigonella foenum-graecum, fenugreek, is extensively cultivated in the Mediterranean region. It is a spice used in Indian cooking and commonly used herb in Ayurveda. Defatted seeds of fenugreek, which are rich in fiber, saponins, and protein, have been described in early Greek and Latin pharmacopoeias as anti-hyperglycemic. In addition to the seed, other parts of the herb have also been investigated. Therapeutic effects include delay of gastric emptying, slowing carbohydrate absorption, and inhibition of glucose transport from the fiber content, as well as increased erythrocyte insulin receptors and modulation of peripheral glucose utilization. Fenugreek is another herb that was favored by the Prophet (Peace be upon him) and herbalists for thousands of years.
Salvia species, sage, has been used for centuries, especially by the Chinese to promote longevity and in Roman ceremonies as a sacred herb. The positive benefits of Salvia officinalis to health are reputed throughout Ancient Roman times and the Middle Ages. A quote such as: “Cur moriatur homo cui Salvia crescit in horto?”— “Why should a man die whilst sage grows in his garden?” epitomizes the impact of sage on that society at the time. Most Salvia species are inherently linked to local traditional medicine systems in their country of origin. S. officinalis is used to treat various conditions such as bronchial infections, colds, and coughs. Furthermore, S. officinalis is traditionally used to treat digestive disorders such as dyspepsia, flatulence, poor digestion, and bloating, to reduce excessive perspiration, for example, in the menopause. It is also used as a gargle or mouthwash to treat inflammations of the mouth or throat mucosa, such as pharyngitis, tonsillitis, stomatitis, gingivitis, and glossitis.
(with slight changes)
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