From Oregano To Thunder God Vine

Words: Dr Rajgopal NIDAMBOOR

First, to state the obvious. The healing power of herbs is as old as the hills. Oregano, a therapeutic herb, for instance, is a popular ‘add-on’ in food. Would you know that, it is, in point of fact, a perennial shrub of the Labiatae family. It grows all over Europe, and blooms between July and September. Its name is derived from the union of two Greek words, oros and ganos, meaning ‘splendour of the mountain.’

Research suggests that oregano contains 31 known anti-inflammatory agents, 28 antioxidants, and four known potent pain inhibitors. No herb other than oregano has more than a ‘60-piece orchestra,’ or anti-inflammatory profile, in the USDA Phytochemical Database.

The oregano leaf yields about two per cent of volatile oil, which is separated by distillation. The extract, however, is different. It should, therefore, not be confounded with the oil of origanum, which is extracted from thyme. The oil acts as a stimulant, carminative, an agent that relieves gas, diaphoretic — an agent that increases perspiration — and, a useful emmenagogue, an agent that induces, or increases menstrual flow. Some authorities suggest that the oil may have tonic effects. And, since the oil is expansively pungent it has also been employed as a rubefacient, or counter-irritant, for skin disorders, or as liniment.

Just a few drops, put on a wad of cotton and placed in the hollow of an aching tooth, often provides quick relief from tooth pain. Besides, the oil has been found to be useful in early measles. It is helpful in producing a gentle perspiration and bringing out the eruption. When given in the form of a warm infusion, it relieves muscle spasms and cramps, colic, or spasmodic pains in the abdomen, besides tummy complaints.

This is not all. The dried leaves can be applied in bags as a warm application to painful arthritic swellings and other conditions, including rheumatism, as well as for tummy aches. Users also eulogise the blend made from the fresh plant, and the root, for its efficacy in easing nervous headache, thanks to the camphoraceous — having aromatic odour of camphor — principle contained in the oil. The dosage for adults is 2-4 drops of oregano oil, twice daily.

The herb is not recommended for use in pregnancy and in children.

Skullcap

Skullcap [Scutellaria lateriflora] is another healing herb. It is a small, thickly branched plant that grows to a height of 3-4 feet. A native of North America, it blossoms in July. The plant derives its name from the cap-like appearance of its outer swirl of small blue flowers. Scutellaria lateriflora is but one of the species of skullcap used in herbal preparations for a long time. The parts of the skullcap plant used for medicinal purposes are the leaves. Though it is now widely cultivated in Europe and elsewhere, skullcap has also been used, since ages, as an effective therapy for anxiety states, nervous tension, and seizures. Reason: it is evidenced that skullcap has a calming effect on the nervous and musculoskeletal systems; hence, its effects. The herb was, likewise, deemed to be a remedy for rabies too. This explains for its other name: ‘mad dog weed.’

Chinese skullcap [Scutellaria baicalensis] is a closely-related herb. It has been the focus of select studies — in animal and human subjects. It has anti-inflammatory, antioxidative, and anti-histamine properties. It has an impressive record in the treatment of arthritis, and allergies, such as hay fever, or allergic rhinitis. In one study, Chinese skullcap was shown to inhibit the inflammatory pathways in cancer cells. New studies report that Chinese skullcap has broad-spectrum anti-cancer activity. The types of cancer studied were some of the most common. New research also suggests that Chinese skullcap holds promise as a therapeutic agent, or adjuvant, in the treatment of inflammation and cancer complexes.

Here is a quick summing up for its use: joint aches, muscle spasms, anxiety, nervous states, tension headache, anorexia nervosa [diminished appetite], fibromyalgia — chronic widespread pain and heightened and aching response to pressure — restless leg syndrome, sleeplessness, mild Tourette’s syndrome [multiple motor and vocal tics], and epilepsy [fits].

In traditional Chinese medicine, skullcap is used to treat tumours. Some laboratory studies have shown evidence of early promise of this herb in the treatment of bladder, liver, and other types of cancer.

In clinical studies on human subjects, skullcap forms one of the eight herbs that make up PC-SPES, a complementary preparation for prostate cancer. Studies are now going on vis-à-vis PC-SPES’ side-effect profile, as some authorities feel that the remedy may not be safe in certain individuals.

Laboratory results have recently accessed a constituent present in skullcap, which is reported to be useful in the treatment of hepatitis-B. Other studies suggest that skullcap may be a useful remedy in the prevention of heart disease, thanks to its antioxidant properties. Research suggests that skullcap could also limit organic damage following a heart attack. Clinical studies are now on in the direction — and, therefore, real-time comprehensive results on the activity are awaited.

Skullcap is available as a powder, or liquid extract. The dosage for adults is as follows: dried herb: 1-2gm per day. Tea: decant one cup boiling water over one teaspoon of dried herb. Soak for half-an-hour. Recommended intake: 2-3 cups per day. Fluid extract [1:1 in 25 per cent alcohol]: 2-4ml [40-120 drops], three times daily. Tincture [1:5 in 45 per cent alcohol]: 2-5ml [40-150 drops], three times daily. Capsule: 500mg, twice daily, as a food supplement.

Skullcap is generally not prescribed for children, but it may be used to bring about a calming change in anxious, tense children. The best way to use it is in the form of a mild tea. You may also use pre-packaged tea bags, soaking the herb for two minutes; or, you may add one teaspoonful of dried leaves to one cup of boiling water and immerse for two minutes — the shorter the soaking time, the milder the tea.

Skullcap: Safety

Opinion is divided on the safety of skullcap. There have been reports of contamination of the herb with Teucrium species, which are known to cause liver problems. Herbalists suggest that it is important for you to obtain skullcap from a reliable source, or store. Also, excess dose of skullcap tincture may produce dizziness, stupor, mental confusion, twitching, irregular heartbeats, and ‘seizure-like’ symptoms. Skullcap should be prudently avoided during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Although there are no reports that skullcap interacts with conventional medications, it has been established that the herb has a sedative profile. Research suggests that skullcap should be used with caution in patients who are taking anti-anxiety medications [benzodiazepines], or medications like diazepam and alprazolam, and barbiturates for sleep disorders, or seizures — such as pentobarbital — and, anti-histamines for allergic conditions.

Chamomile

Chamomile is yet another trendy anti-inflammatory herb. It is helpful in the treatment of mild forms of inflammatory pain — not in progressive inflammatory states. Besides, chamomile has a soothing action on the nerves [nervine], thanks to its calming [tranquillising] effect. The herb has a reputation too in stomach upsets. As a matter of fact, mothers, in some societies, drink chamomile tea, and pass on the calming effects to their idiosyncratic babies through milk. The flowers, the main part of the plant used, contain calcium, glycoside, tannin, and worm-expelling acids. Chamomile is also reputed to enhance menstrual flow. In addition, chamomile is supposed to help repel insects, when you dab the tea [unsweetened form] over your body, and let it dry.

The essential oil in chamomile is unstable. It is best steeped, for 10-15 minutes, in a covered container — to retain the essence. One teaspoon of the flowers is used per cup of tea. Drink it, 2-3 times a day, and you would sure be ‘bowled’ over by its real yummy flavour. You may also drink chamomile tea with honey — a delightful beverage.

Thunder God Vine

It may be quite an unfamiliar name to most of us: thunder god vine [Tripterygium wilfordii]. However, extracts of this traditional Chinese herb have shown early assurance in treating rheumatoid arthritis [RA]. Recent laboratory studies using an extract of thunder god vine have found that it suppresses prostaglandins — a group of lipids made at sites of tissue damage, or infection, involved in dealing with injury and illness — production in rheumatoid arthritis knee tissue cells. In one open study, subjects with lupus [a joint disorder] showed significant improvement. In fact, 42 of 100 people were able to decrease their daily dose of prednisone, while 12 were able to discontinue prednisone altogether. It should be noted that the study used extracts of the root, not the root itself.

The dosage for thunder god vine used in clinical studies was 30mg per day. However, one important fact remains — no standardised safe dose levels have, so far, been established for the herb. What’s more, the leaves and flowers of the thunder god vine, as some clinicians suggest, may trigger toxic symptoms in sensitive individuals. They should, therefore, only be used under professional, or specialist, medical guidance.

Dr RAJGOPAL NIDAMBOOR, PhD, is a wellness physician-writer-editor, independent researcher, critic, columnist, author and publisher. His published work includes hundreds of newspaper, magazine, web articles, essays, meditations, columns, and critiques on a host of subjects, eight books on natural health, two coffee table tomes and an encyclopaedic treatise on Indian philosophy. He is Chief Wellness Officer, Docco360 — a mobile health application/platform connecting patients with Ayurveda, homeopathic and Unani physicians, and nutrition therapists, among others, from the comfort of their home — and, Editor-in-Chief, ThinkWellness360. 

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