Friday, 5 August 2011

Carnivorous plants, homeopathy and Darwin

Blue tit in pitcher plant - BBC

Pitcher plants are one of a group of carnivorous plants which use variety of tactics to trap and 'dissolve' insects or larger things for food. They have various methods of trapping and devouring their dinner and if you are curious have a look at the International Carnivorous Plant Society for lots more photos and info. 

You might be surprised to learn that we use remedies made from some of these peculiar carnivorous plants in homeopathy and in herbal medicine.  

A remedy made from the whole Sundew (drosera rotundiflora) plant has been used for over 200 years in homeopathy to treat respiratory problems. It was mentioned in herbal medical texts from as early as the 12th century where an Italian doctor, Matthaeus Platearius described the plant as a treatment for coughs. It has been used in herbalism for hundreds of years for spasmodic coughs, bronchitis and other respiratory illnesses. Culpeper mentions that the juice from the plant was used to remove warts and corns and that ladies used a mix of the juice with milk for skin to reduce freckles and relieve sunburn.

Close up of Sundew (Drosera Rotundiflora) leaf

The chemical composition of sundew perhaps sheds light on some of the medicinal properties. The plant contains high levels of various flavonoids and in particular quercetin which is the subject of a great deal of research especially looking at inflammation and allergies. 

Here are a couple of examples of current research into its properties

Anti-inflammatory and spasmolytic activity of extracts from Droserae herba

Drosera is also interesting because Charles Darwin did some work and found that very dilute solutions of ammonia salts had an effect on the leaves. Darwin is also known to have been treated by a homeopath and more about this can be found in Dana Ullman's Huffington Post article The surprising story of Charles Darwin and his Homeopathic Doctor  

From the botanists perspective have a look at Talking Plants blog on the Drosera and Darwin story

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