People have been growing and using plants since the beginning of time, and for good reason! Nearly all of the vitamins and minerals we need in our diets to thrive and be healthy, happy people come from plants.
Beyond just nutritional value, however, there are thousands of types of plants that have a more medicinal value. Healing plants and medicinal herbs are key components to many of the anti-disease, anti-infection, and anti-cancer drugs that we use today, and many plants have healing powers completely on their own (think essential oils, spices, plants such as aloe vera).
Unfortunately, we don’t know much of anything about most of the plants out there that could potentially cure many of the world’s diseases, if only we took the time and resources to study them.
The annual State of the World’s Plants report says that there are over 28,000 plant species that have medicinal properties, but less than 16% of them have actually been studied and evaluated for their health benefits and medicinal properties.
More research needs to be done on the uses, benefits, and potential side effects of these plants for a couple of reasons:
- We could be missing out on potentially life saving, disease curing medicines simply because we aren’t testing them. For example: Currently, two of the major malaria drugs available are derived from plants. Another 1200 species of plants are used locally in malaria affected areas to fight the parasite, but haven’t actually been studied to determine just how useful they could be.
- Thousands of medicinal plants are used by millions of people, especially in parts of Africa, Asia, and South America every day to treat illness, infection, and disease. By not studying these plants, we don’t know the full story of what they can do, specifically if they come with any potentially harmful side effects, put people’s health and safety at risk.
In the last year alone 1700 new species of various healing plants and others have been discovered.
Why are New Plant Species Important?
Genetic diversity and discovering or purposely breeding new species of plants, especially staple crops and medicinal plants, is vital to protecting the population of the world. If we only grew, used, and ate one species of each plant, we would be putting ourselves at an extremely high risk for crop failure, which could have a devastating impact on food supply and the global economy. Not only that, but our diets would eventually begin to lack important nutrients from a lack of variety.
Medicinal Plants List May Surprise You
Many people don’t realize just how often plants are used to make some of the most important drugs that we have, such as anti-malaria drugs, a disease that kills 400,000 people every year. Other surprising drugs made from medicinal plants are:
- Anti-cancer drugs Vimblastine and Vincristine are derived from Madagascar periwinkle.
- Blood thinner warfarin is derived from a coumarin from sweet clover.
- Mulberry contains iminosugars use to study diabetes.
- Maize contains specific starches used in the treatment of diarrhea.
- Borage is used to treat stomach disorders.
- A rhizome of ginger contains compounds called gingerols which are used for mild gastrointestinal complaints.
- Valerian root is used in sleep medications and as a sleep aid itself
- Alkaloids from the poppy are used to make the pain killer codeine.
- Essential oils are used for their anti-oxidant compounds to treat a number of conditions and diseases.
Many of these New Healing Plants are at Risk
Despite only being discovered last year, many of these plants are already at risk for distinction from climate change and wildfires. Though wild fires are an important part of the germination process for many plants, these new herbs are not yet adapted and many get destroyed in the blaze.
Climate change is also changing the ecosystems of these plants faster than they are able to adapt. If we don’t take action to protect medicinal plants, we could lose the ability to make the life-saving drugs that they are used for.
As mentioned earlier, more studies need to be done to determine the efficacy, safety, and best practices surrounding many of the medicinal plants that grow in various regions of the earth. Funding is the largest barrier towards having these healing plants studied, so advocacy from the public is key.
Join us in spreading the word about the potentially healing pharmacy growing right under our feet, and remember before trying any new supplement, oil, or herb, no matter where you got it from or how natural it is, to do your research and talk to a health care practitioner to ensure your safety.