Plants of the Mint family in Iranian Folk Medicine

Melissa officinalis L., a member of the mint family (Labiatae). Photo by Gideon Pisanty (Gidip) גדעון פיזנטי, CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Abstract of “Labiatae Family in folk Medicine in Iran: from Ethnobotany to Pharmacology” [1]:

“Labiatae family is well represented in Iran by 46 genera and 410 species and subspecies. Many members of this family are used in traditional and folk medicine. Also they are used as culinary and ornamental plants. There are no distinct references on the ethnobotany and ethnopharmacology of the family in Iran and most of the publications and documents related to the uses of these species are both in Persian and not comprehensive. In this article we reviewed all the available publication on this family. Also documentation from unpublished resources and ethnobotanical surveys has been included. Based on our literature search, out of the total number of the Labiatae family in Iran, 18% of the species are used for medicinal purposes. Leaves are the most used plant parts. Medicinal applications are classified into 13 main categories. A number of pharmacological and experimental studies have been reviewed, which confirm some of the traditional applications and also show the headline for future works on this family.”

This paper also details in tabular form the folk uses of over 70 members of the mint family (Labiatae) in Iran with notes on the pharmacological activity of many of them from scientific studies.

This paper is an open access article. The PDF is available for download.

[1] Naghibi, F., Mosaddegh, M., Mohammadi Motamed, M., Ghorbani, A. (2010). Labiatae Family in folk Medicine in Iran: from Ethnobotany to Pharmacology. Iranian Journal of Pharmaceutical Research, Volume 4(Number 2), 63-79. doi.org/10.22037/ijpr.2010.619

Intelligent Plants?

A Sensitive Plant in a garden grew,
And the young winds fed it with silver dew,
And it opened its fan-like leaves to the light.
And closed them beneath the kisses of Night.

The Sensitive Plant, a watercolour by Frank Bernard Dicksee (1853-1928) depicting Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem (see above). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The publication of a recent paper (Khattar et al., 2022) [1] examining acceptance among scientists of various disciplines of the concept of plant intelligence provoked online enthusiasm among some herbalists, in terms such as:

“It hearkens to an emerging, emboldened approach to scientific investigation that finally dispenses with monotheism-informed, limiting belief structures and subtexts, allowing for the contemplation of intelligence and consciousness in non-human beings… (such as) …plants and dissimilar creatures in particular.”

The paper’s authors acknowledge that semantics is an issue and provide the following definition of plant intelligence:

Any type of intentional and flexible behavior that is beneficial and enables the organism to achieve its goal.”

They give some examples of behaviours which might be viewed as evidence of plant intelligence:

“the ability to problem-solve in a flexible manner, anticipate the future, store memory, learn, communicate, and ultimately be goal-oriented.”

Specific examples include:

  • Volatile chemicals being produced at the appropriate time, concentration, and amount as defence against herbivores.
  • The above behavioral responses affecting, and being affected by, neighboring plants, shaping plant communities.
  • The capability to custom-modify the quality and quantity of their nectar to attract the right species of ants to protect them, a capability that requires plants to sense the presence of different ants, and to monitor and modify their own activity accordingly.
  • The ability to anticipate the future as demonstrated, for example, in the way plants rely on light cues to remember the exact number of warm days or daylight hours (i.e., photoperiodic control) that have passed to develop their leaves and flower.
  • The ability to learn to make new associations through multiple cues and to respond adaptively. Conditioned learning of this type has been demonstrated in the pea plant (Pisum sativum L.).
  • Various types of foraging behavior for sunlight and nutrients exemplify how plants can be goal-oriented. Example: the ability of the pea plant to modify root-growth in response to varying nutrient concentrations.
  • The capability to manipulate herbivores to adopt cannabalistic behaviour by releasing certain chemicals, as demonstrated by some tomato plants (Solanum lycopersicum L.).

These capabilities are indeed fascinating, but do they demonstrate intelligence? This clearly hinges upon our definition of intelligence, and according to the study author’s definition, I would judge that they do not. The problem is with the word “intentional”. I would agree that to be “goal-oriented” is not enough for a behaviour to demonstrate intelligence, it must be intentional. And does not intention imply consciousness? None of the behaviours described above demonstrates intention. It may be there at some level (if not individual then within the community), but it has not been shown to be there.

But I am more interested in a further facet of this debate. Just say that we all agreed that plants possess some form of intelligent consciousness (remember, intention requires consciousness), would that be be anything like ours, something we as human beings could relate to? Because this is what some herbalists fancy. That plants can talk to us and we can understand them; even that they may feel well-disposed towards us.

I have little doubt it would not. I know quite a lot at an experiential level about fish, which are more closely related to us than are plants. I swim with them often and sometimes I catch them to eat. Some species are curious about people, most are not, and some will swim away very fast at the first sight of a human being. I like them. But they cannot “like” me, even the curious ones, they are merely curious in some kind of fishy way. Why on Earth should intelligent fish like human beings? If I were an intelligent fish I would have a great big prejudice against them, wouldn’t you? But fish are most probably incapable of emotion. Their behaviour is goal-oriented (even intentional) and flexible, but whatever form their “thoughts” take, they are nothing like mine. I can hardly conceive of what it is like to think like a fish. Tell me, what part of the above reasoning cannot be applied to plants?

For some herbalists there is the romantic temptation to anthropomorphise plants or to project their own thoughts and feelings onto them, but beware! Subjective realities, while valid in some terms and for some purposes, often boil down to simple flights of fancy.

[1] Khattar, J., Calvo, P., Vandebroek, I. et al. Understanding interdisciplinary perspectives of plant intelligence: Is it a matter of science, language, or subjectivity?. J Ethnobiology Ethnomedicine 18, 41 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13002-022-00539-3

Phytotherapy for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

Flax (Linum usitatissimum L.). Public domain photo from Pikist.com.

Azin and Khazali (2021) of Shahid Beheshti University, Tehran, Iran, carried out a literature review of studies concerning the potential role of herbs in the treatment of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a frequently encountered female complaint.

The 31 studies reviewed collectively covered 25 different herbs, two Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and one Ayurvedic formulae, and four isolates from herbs (berberine, curcumin, soy isoflavone and quercetin).

Of the 25 herbs in the studies, 9 are native to the area of interest of this blog, the Mediterranean and Near East: aloe vera (Aloe
barbadensis
), anise (Pimpinella anisum), fennel (Foeniculum
vulgare
), fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum), flax seed (Linum usitatissimum), hazelnut (Corylus avellana), liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), nettle and pomegranate (Punica granatum).

Of the studies done with these herbs, three were done with human subjects, the other with animal models. Two were done with women with PCOS. Some of the studies showed clinical benefits for PCOS, others showed improved hormone profiles consistent with better potential PCOS outcomes, others still improved secondary complications of PCOS such as metabolic syndrome.

The table below summarises in very basic form some data from the review.

HerbClinical benefits for PCOSImproved hormone profileImproved complications of PCOSHuman/
Animal
Aloe vera**A
Anise**A
Fennel*A
Fenugreek**H
Flax seed**H
Hazlenut**A
Liquorice**A, H
Nettle*A
Pomegranate**A
Citation:

Azin F. & Khazali H. (2021). Phytotherapy of polycystic ovary syndrome: A review. International Journal of Reproductive BioMedicine Volume 20, Issue no. 1, https://doi.org/10.18502/ijrm.v20i1.10404

Antidiabetic Herbs: A Review

Fenugreek flower (Trigonella foenum-graecum – L.). One of the plants discussed in this review, for which there is scientific evidence indicating antidiabetic effects. Public domain photo from Pxfuel.com.

This open access 2018 review by Paolo Governa and co-workers from the University of Siena and the Italian Society of Phytotherapy provides an overview of the use of medicinal plants in the management of diabetes, with particular regard to evidence of clinical effectiveness of medicinal plants in controlling diabetes-related symptoms.

The authors emphasise the following species enlisted in WHO monographs with indication of use for diabetes:

  • Holy basil, Ocimum tenuiflorum L., leaves.
  • Fenugreek, Trigonella foenum-graecum L., seeds.
  • Onion, Allium cepa L., bulb.
  • Neem, Azadirachta indica A. Juss., leaves.
  • Bitter melon, Momordica charantia L., fruit.
  • Korean ginseng, Panax ginseng C.A. Meyer, roots.
  • American ginseng, Panax quinquefolius L., roots.
  • Rehmannia glutinosa (Gaertn.) DC., roots.

Many of these are used of diabetes in traditional medical systems or described in pharmacopoeias for this use. The authors consider that for the first two, holy basil and fenugreek, their use in diabetes is supported by clinical data.

The authors also discuss some other species which are attracting the interest of the scientific community for their promise in treating diabetes.

The authors comment that there is a crucial need for stronger evidence-based data.

Citation

Governa P, Baini G, Borgonetti V, Cettolin G, Giachetti D, Magnano AR, Miraldi E, Biagi M. Phytotherapy in the Management of Diabetes: A Review. Molecules. 2018; 23(1):105. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules23010105

Medicinal Plant Use in Bouira Province, Northern Algeria

Al Asnam, Bouira, northern Algeria. Attribution: Bouizriphotography, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Medour et al. (2002)[1] carried out an ethnobotanical survey of medicinal plant use in two rural municipalities in the province of Bouira, Northern Algeria. This is a biodiverse, mountainous, Berber-speaking region with a rich ethnobotanical knowledge system.

Bouira is a province of Northern Algeria. Image taken from the cited paper [1].

Data were compiled from 69 informants among the local population and on 136 plant species. Data were gathered and data analyses were provided on:

  • Socio-demographic profile of the informants.
  • Diversity of medicinal plants.
  • Toxic plants.
  • Plant parts used, mode of preparation and administration.
  • Diseases groups, treated diseases and number of use reports.
  • Relative frequency of citation of the plant species recorded.
  • Frequency of use of the plant species recorded.
  • The percentage of informants claiming the use of a certain plant species for the same major purpose.
  • Consensus among informants for plant use for the different disease categories recorded.

Among the many interesting data provided in this quantitative survey, the most interesting for me were those on the most used medicinal plants for various types of symptoms or conditions. These are summarised in the table below, taken from the cited paper [1].

Medicinal plants used for various types of symptoms or conditions. Table taken from the cited paper [1].

Of particular interest to me personally are the reported uses of several plants commonly found in my own bio-region of Ibiza, Balearic islands, Spain, namely:

Allium sativum: Hypertension.
Cynara cardunculus
: Diabetes.
Ditricchia viscosa
: Arthritis.
Juniperus oxycedrus
: Furuncles.
Lavandula stoechas
: Colon pain.
Mentha spicata
: Flu.
Olea europaea
: Arthritis.
Papaver rhoeas
: Colon pain.
Pinus halapensis
: Flu.
Urtica dioica
: Hair loss.

[1] Meddour, R., Sahar, O., Abdoune, N., & Dermouche, M. (2022). Quantitative ethnobotanical investigation of medicinal plants used by local population in the rural municipalities of Haizer and El Asnam, province of Bouira, Northern Algeria. Mediterranean Botany, 43, e71190. https://doi.org/10.5209/mbot.71190