The consumption of herbal medicines is increasing steadily throughout the world as an alternative treatment for alleviating a number of health problems including heart diseases, diabetes, high blood pressure and even certain types of cancer. In India use of herbal drugs is much more because of their easy accessibility.
Unlike drugs, herbal products are not regulated for purity and potency. There are neither studies on their effectiveness nor control over the quality and safety of these preparations. As per Food and Drug Administration mandates, only medicines have to be proven to be safe before being released into market. Herbal products do not fall under the category of medicine as long as they are not marketed for the prevention of any disease.
Herbs of economic importance
There are about 400 species of aloe. Among them, particularlyAloe vera has been widely used in phytomedicines. The botanical name of Aloe Vera is Aloe barbadensis miller. It belongs to Asphodelaceae (Liliaceae) family, and is a shrubby or arborescent, perennial, xerophytic, succulent; pea- green colour plant.
Benefits of aloe vera
The Aloe Vera plant has been known and used for centuries for its health, beauty, medicinal and skin care properties. Phytomedicine describes aloe as an herb which has anti-inflammatory, antiproliferative and anti-aging effects. The Greek scientists regarded Aloe Vera as the universal panacea. The Egyptians called Aloe “the plant of immortality”. Also, aloe has been purported to have positive effects on wound healing, recovery from burn injury, cell growth and immune modulation.
Risks associated with the use of aloe vera
But, in recent years several cases of aloe-induced hepatotoxicity were reported. The clinical manifestation, laboratory findings and histological findings of three persons admitted to the hospital for acute hepatitis taking aloe preparation for months, met diagnostic criteria of toxic hepatitis. Upon discontinuation of the oral aloe preparations, liver enzymes returned to normal level. So, Aloe should be considered as a causative agent in hepatotoxicity.
Aloe should not be used during pregnancy except under medical supervision after benefits and risks have been evaluated according to WHO guidelines. People who are on steroids, pills for irregular heartbeat, diuretics, digoxin should not use Aloe. Also, people with intestinal disorders, pregnant and nursing mothers and children below 12 years should not use Aloe. On May 9, 2002, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a final rule banning the use of aloe and cascara sagrada as laxative ingredients in over-the-counter drug products. Rectal bleeding or failure to have a bowel movement within 24 hours after use of a laxative may indicate a serious condition.
Chronic use may cause dependence and need for increased dosages, disturbances of water and electrolyte balance (hypokalaemia), and an atomic colon with impaired function. One should be aware about the species of aloe used, as the juice of the leaves of certain species is poisonous, for example Aloe venenosa is poisonous.
Curcuma longa is the most important species for the food industry and has a wide distribution in India. Curcuma longa is a small perennial herb native to India bearing many rhizomes on its root system.
Benefits associated with the use of tumeric
Turmeric is known to possess antibacterial, anticancer and antifungal activities. It is well recognized as the best anti-oxidant, hypoglycaemic, colorant, antiseptic and wound healer. It is the spice that gives Indian curries their characteristic bright yellow-orange colour. Turmeric is anti-inflammatory to the mucous membranes, which coat the throat, lungs, stomach and intestines. Regular use of turmeric can benefit from Colitis, Crohn’s disease, diarrhoea, and post-giardia or post salmonella conditions.
Turmeric can also benefit skin conditions including: eczema, psoriasis and acne as a potent detoxifier. Although, turmeric gives the energy of the Divine Mother and grants prosperity of health, and is effectual for purification as well as purifying the path of the subtle body, still some adverse effects are reported when it is consumed along with some prescription drugs.
Risks associated with the use of tumeric
Turmeric may increase the risk of bleeding or potentiate the effects of warfarin therapy. Also, use of turmeric is contraindicated during pregnancy as it can cause uterine stimulation5. The active constituent of turmeric, curcumin is reported in some studies to produce a marked increase in serotonin and noradrenalin levels at 10 mg/kg dose in frontal cortex and hippocampus also increased the dopamine levels in frontal cortex and striatum parts of mice brain.
Curcumin was found to inhibit monoamine oxidaze activity in the mouse brain. These findings suggest that the antidepressant effects of curcumin may involve the central monoaminergic neurotransmitter systems
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is a plant species in the genus Foeniculum. It is a member of the family Apiaceae (formerly the Umbelliferae). It is a hardy, perennial, umbelliferous herb, with yellow flowers and feathery leaves.
It is a highly aromatic and flavourful herb with culinary and medicinal uses. Fennel may be an effective diuretic and a potential drug for treatment of hypertension. Fennel can be made into a syrup to treat babies with colic (formerly thought to be due to digestive upset), but long-term ingestion of fennel preparations in babies is a known cause of thelarche.
Ancient Romans regarded fennel as the herb of sight. Root extracts were often used in tonics to clear cloudy eyes. Extracts of fennel seed have been shown in animal studies to have a potential use in the treatment of glaucoma. On account of its carminative properties, fennel is used medicinally with purgatives to allay their side effects, and is also one of the main ingredients of the wellknown compound liquorice powder. Fennel can act as a diuretic and a natriuretic. The results of study conducted on genital organs of male and female rat had confirmed the oestrogenic activity of the fennel seed extract. Fennel has been reported to increase milk secretion, promote menstruation.
Fennel is found to show some allergic reactions. Occupational rhinitis and asthma in an atopic individual is reported which mainly involved sensitivity to unique allergens present in fennel
The common garlic is a member of the same group of plants similar to onion. The name is of Anglo-Saxon origin, being derived from gar (a spear) and lac (a plant), in reference to the shape of its leaves. Its botanical name is Allium sativum and belongs to family Liliaceae.
Garlic has been used for its medicinal properties since ages. It is an extensively used herbal medicine. Garlic in its natural form contains an antibiotic called allicin. It also contains sulfides. Garlic is said to fight against certain types of cancers. Garlic is used as diaphoretic, diuretic, expectorant, and stimulant. Many marvellous effects and healing powers have been ascribed to garlic. It possesses stimulant and stomachic properties in addition to its other virtues.
Topical application of garlic is also prevalent, as garlic has antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties. Syrup of garlic is an invaluable medicine for asthma, hoarseness, coughs, difficulty of breathing, and most other disorders of the lungs, being of particular virtue in chronic bronchitis, on account of its powers of promoting expectoration.
Inspite of having invaluable applications in the field of medicines, garlic is reported to have interactions with anticoagulant therapy. Garlic may increase the risk of bleeding or potentiate the effects of warfarin therapy. Garlic reinforces warfarin action by heterogeneous mechanisms. It should thus not be used in patients on oral anticoagulant and/or antiplatelet therapy.
Garlic had proved to change pharmacokinetic variables of paracetamol, decreased blood concentrations of warfarin and produced hypoglycaemia when taken with chlorpropamide. It is essential to inform physician if one suffers from type II diabetes as garlic may increase the effectiveness of drugs that reduce blood sugar levels. The most common side effects of garlic are it may produce bad breath, heartburn, flatulence, gastrointestinal irritation and nausea.
Cardamom (or cardamon) refers to several plants of the similar genera Elettaria and Amomum in the ginger family Zingiberaceae.They are recognised by their small seed pods, triangular in cross-section and spindle-shaped, with a thin, papery, outer shell and small black seeds. Elettaria pods are light green while Amomum pods are larger and dark brown.
Both forms of cardamom are used as flavouring agents in both food and drinks, as cooking spices and as a medicine. E.cardamomum (the usual type of cardamom) is used as a spice, a masticatory, and in medicine; it is also smoked sometimes. Green cardamom is broadly used in South Asia to treat infections in teeth and gums, to prevent and treat throat troubles, congestion of the lungs and pulmonary tuberculosis, inflammation of eyelids and also digestive disorders.
It is also used to break up kidney stones and gall stones, and was reportedly used as an antidote for both snake and scorpion venom. Amomum is used as a spice and as an ingredient in traditional medicine in traditional Chinese medicine. Cardamom is a popular traditional flavouring agent for baked goods and confectionery.
Dermatitis from skin exposure to cardamom has been reported. Few papers reported cases of allergic contact dermatitis to cardamom elicited by terpenes present in the seeds