Plants as medicine

Brent Montecillo (The Freeman) - August 22, 2016 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines - Herbal medicines have lately become a significant industry. People have high trust in ‘herbal’ stuff. They take the word to mean either safe or inexpensive or effective, or all three.

For centuries, natural remedies have been used to fight common ailments. In fact, medicinal drugs are said to be simply synthetic formulations of substances found in nature. In short, today’s medicines are proof of humankind’s continuing trust in nature.

In a study, nearly four out of 10 adults say they have used some form of alternative remedy. ‘Alternative’ refers to medication or procedure without the use of synthetic drugs or modern medical technology. Of the alternative or natural remedies, perhaps plants are the most commonly resorted to for alleviating physical discomforts.

As appealing as the notion of natural remedies is for some, however, not all such remedies are safe or effective. In fact, herbal supplements have to be regulated by government – just like its drug or pharmaceutical counterparts – to ensure that required safety standards are met. And, generally, herbal products are not allowed to make claims of medicinal value.

Herbal supplements are considered as food products. And so the manufacturers that produce these products aren’t required to perform clinical trials or follow the strict manufacturing and labeling regulations required for pharmaceutical drugs. What’s more, some herbal remedies may interact with over-the-counter or prescription medications.

Experts recommend consulting a doctor before trying herbal supplements. But such recommendation often goes unheeded. Again, people think these are safe, and so there is no need to consult a doctor. They argue that the ingredients of these herbal supplements are plants that have been traditionally used, anyway. 

In the Philippines, the so-called traditional medicine is heavily reliant on plants, and is necessarily influenced by religion, mysticism, magic, superstition, and folkloric herbalism. Local traditional-medicine practitioners – the arbularyo, the tambalan, and the faith healer – prescribe various herbs for various ailments. Curiously, patients often report of getting healed. 

Traditional medicine is so widespread in the country, prompting the Department of Health to launch, in 1992,  the Traditional Medicine Program, which aims to promote an effective and safe use of traditional medicine. There is now the Philippine Institute of Traditional and Alternative Health Care, tasked to promote and advocate the use of traditional and alternative health care modalities through scientific research and product development.

The government’s Traditional Medicine Program has since endorsed ten medicinal plants to be used as herbal medicine in Philippines due to their health benefits.

Akapulko (Cassia alata) is a medicinal plant called “ringworm bush or scrub” and “acapulco” in English. It is a herbal medicine for treating tinea infections, insect bites, ringworms, eczema, scabies and itchiness.

Ampalaya (Momordica charantia) is also called “bitter melon” or “bitter gourd” in English. It has been found to be effective in the treatment of diabetes, hemorrhoids, coughs, burns and scalds, and is presently being studied for anti-cancer properties.

Bawang (Allium sativum) is “garlic” in English. Also known as “ahos” in other parts of the country, it is a used to treat infection with its antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and anti-hypertensive properties. It is also widely used to reduce cholesterol level in blood.

Bayabas (Psidium guajava), or “guava” in English, is commonly used as antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, antioxidant hepato-protective, anti-allergy, antimicrobial, anti-plasmodial, anti-cough, anti-diabetic, and anti-genotoxic in folkloric medicine.

Lagundi (Vitex negundo), known as “five-leaved chaste tree” in English, is used for treating cough, colds and fever. It is also used as a relief for asthma and pharyngitis, rheumatism, dyspepsia, boils, and diarrhea.

Niyog-niyogan (Quisqualis indica L.) is a vine known as “Chinese honey suckle” in English. It is used for eliminating intestinal parasites.

Sambong (Blumea balsamifera), whose English name is “Ngai camphor” or “Blumea camphor,” is used for treating kidney stones, wounds and cuts, rheumatism, anti-diarrhea, anti spasms, colds and coughs and hypertension.

Tsaang Gubat (Ehretia microphylla Lam.), “wild tea” in English, is taken as tea to treat skin allergies including eczema, scabies and itchiness wounds in child birth.

Ulasimang Bato or Pansit-Pansitan (Peperomia pellucida) is known for its efficacy in treating arthritis and gout.

Yerba Buena (Clinopodium douglasii), known as “peppermint” in English, is used as analgesic to relieve body aches and pains due to rheumatism and gout. It is also used to treat coughs, colds and insect bites. (FREEMAN)

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