Medicinal Dicots

HERB 531

Order Caryophyllales

  • About ten families from this order are the only ones known to make betalain alkaloids, instead of anthocyanins
  • In all other families, the red/blue/purple spectrum is due to anthocyanin compounds
  • There are two kinds of betalains: purple betacyanins & yellow betaxanthins
  • Betalain alkaloids are very potent antioxidant & anticarcinogenic compounds

Betalain Alkaloids: Betacyanins

  • Pokeberries
  • Beets, Spinach, Chard
  • Purslane
  • Amaranth
  • Prickly Pear fruit

Betalain Alkaloids: Betaxanthins

  • Yellow pigments similar in structure to the purple betacyanin pigments
  • Dietary sources: Yellow Beets, Chard
  • Also found in Purslane, an excellent wild food/herb common in gardens
  • Prickly Pear cactus flowers a good source

Solanaceae: The Nightshade Family

Nightshade Flowers

Steroidal Alkaloids

  • Antifungal, antibacterial, insecticidal compounds for the plants
  • Isolated alkaloids damage intestinal & gastric mucosa
  • Characteristic of the Solanaceae In sprouting Potato eyes & Tomato leaves & unripe fruits

Tropane Alkaloids

  • Hyoscyamine
  • Scopolamine (hyoscine)
  • Atropine
  • Belladonna
  • Henbane
  • Thorn Apple (Datura)
  • Brugmansia

Datura: Tropane Alkaloids

  • Jimsonweed, Locoweed, Sacred Datura
  • Ayurveda prescribed Datura for asthma thousands of years ago
  • Known in Europe as ‘Potter’s asthma cure’
  • Old remedy for hemorrhoids (salve)
  • Antispasmodic
  • Narcotic anodyne
  • Psychotropic

Cayenne Peppers

  • Family Solanaceae
  • Genus Capsicum
  • Many species, including C. anuum & C. frutescens
  • Many, but not all, species in this genus make a group of spicy compounds called capsaicinoids; these are only found in the Capsicum genus
  • Carotenoids, which are very widely distributed, provide the yellow/orange/red colors of Peppers
  • Capsaicin & relatives are powerful topical analgesics: herpetic neuralgia, arthritis
  • Diaphoretic, stimulant, rubefacient, antiseptic
  • Capsanthin & capsorubin, the red pigments, are powerful antioxidants
  • Herb is beneficial to the cardiovascular system

The Asteraceae Family

  • Order Asterales; Subclass Asteridae
  • Many medicinal plants belong in the large Asteraceae family, formerly called the ‘Compositae’ or the ‘Daisy family’
  • Flowers from this family are composites with numerous tiny disk flowers (in the center) & often ray flowers (surrounding them; larger, and usually infertile)
  • Asteraceae make many different kinds of medicinal compounds

A Few Characteristic Compounds of the Asteraceae

  • The sesquiterpene lactones
  • The inulins (a type of oligosaccharide)
  • The pyrrolizidine alkaloids

Asteraceae: Sesquiterpene Lactones

Bitter principles/digestive bitters in many Asteraceae including:

  • Chicory
  • Elecampane
  • Dandelion
  • Yarrow
  • Wild Lettuce
  • Blessed Thistle & Milk Thistle
  • Wormwood
  • Artichoke
  • Arnica

Allergic Reactions to Sesquiterpene Lactones (Contact Dermatitis)

Contact with the sap of any of these Asteraceae can produce skin irritation in sensitive people:

  • Arnica, Artichoke, Aster
  • Cardoon, Chrysanthemum, Cosmos
  • Daisy, Elecampane, Endive
  • Feverfew, Gaillardia (Blanket Flower), Grindelia
  • Matricaria, Roman Chamomile, Rudbeckia
  • Sunflowers, Yarrow

Oligosaccharides from Asteraceae Roots

  • Inulins: short chains of fructose units bonded together (oligo = short)
  • Also called FOS – fructooligosaccharides
  • A type of soluble dietary fiber
  • Abundant in Chicory, Jerusalem Artichoke, Burdock,
  • Dandelion, & Elecampane roots
  • May influence blood sugar stability
  • Feeds colon bacteria, increases butyrate
  • Reduces serum LDL, triglycerides

Oligosaccharides: Dandelion

Bitter principles for digestive system:

  • sesquiterpene lactones
  • Roots contain inulin
  • May influence blood sugar stability
  • Nourish beneficial colon bacteria
  • Help normalize blood lipid levels
  • Nourishing liver tonic
  • Diuretic, but conserves potassium
  • Flowers good source of antioxidant carotenoids

Asteraceae: Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids

  • Some Asteraceae produce a class of alkaloids known as pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs)
  • Some PAs are broken down in the liver and release toxic pyrrole units
  • Both acute and chronic exposure to pyrroles can damage blood vessels in the liver, lungs, and heart
  • Veno-occlusive disease (VOD), liver failure, or death may result
  • Weed species (e.g., Senecio) have caused outbreaks of VOD via contaminated grain crops

Asteraceae: Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids

  • Some PAs are considerably more toxic than others – ‘macrocyclic esters’ are especially toxic
  • Medicinal Asteraceae containing smaller PA concentrations or less toxic types include Coltsfoot and Petasites*
  • Some PAs are completely non-toxic

Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids: Echinacea

  • Echinacea is an Asteraceae genus having non-toxic PAs
  • Its medicinal compounds include a special group of lipid derivatives (isobutylamides or alkylamides), antioxidant polyphenols, and immunomodulating polysaccharides

Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids: Boraginaceae

  • Some members of the Boraginaceae family also produce pyrrolizidine alkaloids
  • Generally, these species do not make the most toxic kinds of PAs (macrocyclic esters)
  • Comfrey and Borage are medicinal examples

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