Boraginaceae: Mucilages

HERB 531


Some Boraginaceae also produce mucilages Mucilages are a subtype of carbohydrates called heteropolysaccharides.

Hetero = different; poly = many; saccharides = sugar units: they are made of many different simple sugars bonded together in complex patterns


Boraginaceae: Allantoin

  • Allantoin is a ‘nitrogenous’ compound: contains nitrogen
  • Cell proliferant: encourages growth of healthy cells
  • Discourages the formation of scar tissue
  • Emollient, vulnerary (speeds wound healing)
  • Found in Comfrey, Hound’s Tongue, Lungwort


The Mustard Family: Brassicaceae

  • This family was formerly known as the Cruciferae, because of the cross-shaped petal arrangement in the flowers
  • Characteristics: 4-petaled flowers with 6 stamens: 2 short and 4 long; seed pods are siliques or silicles
  • Examples: Mustards, Watercress, Wasabi, Horseradish, Radish, Shepherd’s Purse, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage
  • Contain varying amounts of glucosinolates

Brassicaceae: Glucosinolates

  • Derived from various amino acids
  • Pungent, volatile sulfur compounds
  • High concentrations in Mustards
  • Lesser amounts in Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage
  • Sulforaphane helps prevent cancer


  • Glucobrassicin (richest known source: Brussels Sprouts)
  • The human body changes it into I3C
  • Two units of I3C combine in the stomach acid to form DIM
  • Many studies indicate that DIM is strongly antimutagenic and anticarcinogenic

The Mint Family: Lamiaceae

  • Characteristics: square stems; opposite, simple leaves; flowers are irregular & perfect, with four stamens (one pair longer than the others); have five fused petals forming a tube with lobes
  • Examples: Peppermint, Spearmint, Basil, Horehound, Catnip, Thyme, Rosemary, Lavender, Pennyroyal, Marjoram
  • Distribution: mainly temperate, arid, montaine, & Mediterranean climates worldwide

Lamiaceae: Essential Oils

  • Essential oils (volatile oils) are mixtures of monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes* with other constituents dissolved therein
  • Found in all kinds of plant parts: flowers, leaves, fruits, seeds, barks, woods, roots, rhizomes
  • The Lamiaceae family yields many familiar oils: Lavender, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Peppermint …

Essential Oils: Antiseptics

  • Plants produce essential oils to protect themselves from bacterial, fungal, or viral infection, and as communications molecules
  • Essential oil constituents which are synthesized as a response to infection are called phytoalexins
  • Notable antiseptic constituents are found in members of the Mint family, such as Thyme, Lavender, Rosemary, and the Sages (Garden Sage & White Sage)

Antiseptic Monoterpenes

  • Thymol is a powerful antiseptic (20 x stronger than phenol)
  • Antifungal
  • Antibacterial
  • Relatively non-toxic
  • Can irritate mucosa, skin
  • Thyme, up to 40% of the oil
  • Bee Balm (up to 80%)

Medicinal Monocots (Class Liliopsida)

The Lily Family: Liliaceae

  • Phylum Magnoliophyta
  • Class Liliopsida (the monocots)
  • Subclass Liliidae
  • Order Liliales
  • Family Liliaceae

Characteristics: leaves with parallel venation; flowers regular; flower parts in multiples of three; often form bulbs

Liliaceae: The Allium Genus

  • Family Liliaceae; some newer systems recognize a separate Onion family, the Alliaceae
  • Unique aroma from volatile sulfur compounds released when tissues are bruised
  • Have bulbs or corms
  • Numerous small flowers arranged in umbels, emerge from a ‘wrapper’ which is a modified bract

Sulfur Compounds in Garlic

  • An amino acid, cysteine, is the parent of the sulfur compounds known as ‘cysteine sulfoxides’
  • One cysteine sulfoxide, alliin, is the stabile, storage form of Garlic’s potent antimicrobial compound, allicin
  • In oil or water, allicin is transformed into compounds that benefit the cardiovascular system and blood lipids: sulfides, ajoenes, & dithiins
  • Alliin (major cysteine sulfoxide in Garlic) +
  • Alliinase (an enzyme in fresh, whole Garlic or correctly dried Garlic powders)
  • Allicin- the active antibiotic compound Allicin- sulfides, ajoene, dithiins, etc.


Death Camas Bulbs

Inulin in Liliaceae Bulbs

  • Many Liliaceae & Alliaceae bulbs contain inulin
  • After cooking, they lose their pungency but retain the sweet, mucilaginous character of the inulin (the same oligosaccharide which is found in some Asteraceae roots)

(Potentially) Toxic Liliaceae

  • Lily-of-the-Valley (Convallaria) contains cardiac glycosides which stimulate the heart, milder than those in Foxglove (Digitalis), but still potentially fatal in large quantities
  • Veratrum (Hellebore) contains toxic steroidal alkaloids that depress the central nervous system & cardiac function; used in homeopathy, it is generally too strong for herbal medicine
  • Death Camas (Zigadenus) contains steroidal alkaloids; the bulbs, closely resembling Wild Onions, are fatal if ingested

Cardiac Glycosides in Lily of the Valley

  • Contains ~ 40 different glycosides based on several different aglycones; variable
  • Convallatoxin is highly active, but generally, no more than 10% of the amount ingested can be absorbed
  • Positive inotropic effect; used for mild cardiac insufficiency

Ginger: A Pungent Monocot

  • Subclass Zingiberidae; Order Zingiberales; Family
  • Zingiberaceae; Genus Zingiber
  • Distribution: subtropical & tropical, cultivated worldwide
  • Ginger plants are sterile; have been propagated vegetatively since antiquity

(Potentially) Toxic Liliaceae

  • Gingerols make up the resinous fraction – the main pungent constituents of Ginger
  • Complex essential oil also present
  • Ginger is an anti-inflammatory COX-2 modulator
  • Antiemetic
  • Antioxidant

[6]-Gingerol, one of several gingerols in the rhizome. Gingerols belong to a class of polyphenolic compounds known as ‘phenylpropanoid derivatives.’

Another Zingiberaceae: Turmeric

  • Genus Curcuma
  • An ancient cultigen, currently planted throughout the tropics
  • Usually does not fruit; cultivated vegetatively
  • Antioxidant, Antimutagenic, Antimicrobial, Hepatoprotective, Anti-inflammatory, COX-2 modulator Choleretic*

Turmeric: Curcuminoids

Curcumin (one of the curcuminoids) is the major orange pigment from Turmeric. Classified as a phenylpropanoid derivative, it is rather similar to the gingerols from Zingiber.


The Grass Family: Poaceae

  • Few grasses are used medicinally
  • One popular exception is Wild Oats, Genus Avena (A. sativa, A. fatua)
  • Seeds are harvested in the ‘milky’ stage
  • A gentle nervine tonic, Avena helps to calm and rebuild a stressed nervous system
  • Also rich in silica and other minerals; used in formulas to nourish the musculoskeletal system Contains a sedative indole alkaloid, gramine; triterpene saponins; phytosterols; B vitamins; & heteropolysaccharides (soluble fiber)

© Lisa Ganora 2005

5005 S. Macadam Ave, Portland, OREGON • • DEAC ACCREDITED