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Medicinal Plants

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Autor:   •  February 21, 2011  •  3,126 Words (13 Pages)  •  1,652 Views

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Medicinal Plants in North Carolina

"The garden is the poor man's apothecary"

-German Proverb

The popularity of medicinal plants across the world is rapidly increasing. In Asian cultures, in particular China, herbal medicines have been common for thousands of years. For Americans, "natural" remedies are relatively new and exciting. The more intrigued the United States becomes with medicinal plants, the more the rest of the world needs to worry about the preservation of them. Plants have been used for their healing powers for at least 5000 years (China). It is probable that for as long as humans had the capacity to understand that nature could heal, they took advantage of it. Having the capacity to understand that a plant can heal and knowing for what it can heal are two separate ideas. Much of the world, in particular the United States, has misinterpreted, misused and/or abused plants and their medicinal forms. In this paper, I will strive to educate you on the importance of several medicinal plants found in North Carolina. My goal is to equip you with the knowledge needed to obtain the benefits of plants, while heightening your awareness of the dangers they face. So sit back, grab a glass of fermented grape juice (great "medicinal" fruit) and enjoy reading.

There are several plant families known for their medicinal properties that are found in North Carolina. I will provide a thorough examination of three species from the Ranunculaceae and Araliaceae. To start, the Ranunculaceae, or Buttercup family, has both poisonous and medicinal species contained in it. One of the medicinal plants found in this family is Cimicifuga americana, named by Michaux in 1803. Its genus was changed to Actaea and the species name to podocarpa, however its classification is still not agreed upon. It has several common names with "Mountain Bugbane," "American Bugbane"and "Yellow Cohosh" being the most widely used. C. Americana is found in from northern Georgia all the way up to western Pennsylvania with a disjunct population in Illinois (Natureserve). Its broad endemic is centralized in the south and central Appalachian mountain range. Specifically, it is found in rich coves in hardwood forests. In the south, it is not found anywhere with an elevation under 2500 feet, hence, in North Carolina, it is found mostly only in the mountains. In the North, however, it is found in cool, wet areas with Northern hardwoods and sometimes with Hemlock on slopes or wooded streams (Natureserve).

Cimicifuga americana can be identified as having mostly glabrous stems 60-250 centimeters long, with glabrous, broad leaves with shallow grooves. The leaves are alternate and the leaf blade is 3-ternately compound with 32-100 leaflets. The terminal leaflet is ovate and 3-lobed, with 3 veins rising from the base. The leaf base is cuneate to cordate, margins dentate to serrate, apex acute to acuminate, and its surfaces are usually all glabrous. It has a panicular inflorescence with bracteoles present along the pedicel. It flowers during late summer and early fall (August-October). It has 5 sepals with the 3 outer sepals having a pinkish rim with the inner 2 yellowish green. Petals are typically 2 and sessile with yellowish with white lobes, and ovate. Stamens are 40-70, with pistils 3-8. Fruits are obovate-shaped follicles which are laterally compressed. Seeds are pale brown and covered with whitish scales (Eflora). Problems are occuring with C. americana because it is commonly confused with C. racemosa. However, there is a way to tell these two plants apart and also a benefit of being able to do so.

As I mentioned earlier, the world is beginning to see rapid decline in the population of many plants but especially those used for their medicinal qualities. C. americana is not widely used in herbal medicine, however because it is mistaken for a related species, C. racemosa, its abundance is being threatened by wild collection from legal or illegal harvesting. It is thought to contain the same compounds as C. racemosa but this is not known for sure. There are no known cultivated populations but it is known that a transplanted individual can live 20 years or more. The sustainable harvest levels are unknown (nps.gov). It reproduces mostly by seed, and requires a 1-Ð... year dormancy period. On Natureserve, it is listed as G4, or "apparently secure" but is also listed as endangered in Pennsylvania and rare in Illinois. It is speculated that this is due to the harvesting of C. racemosa, allowed by the USDA. Reports have been filed for permits for harvesting C. racemosa as follows: 1997: 2,200 lbs., 1998: 12,000 lbs., 1999: 2,150 lbs., and more importantly a poacher was found on the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina with about 500 lbs. of C. racemosa on him. It is assumed, especially with poachers and other illegal harvesters, that the wrong plant is being collected and causing the decline in C. americana populations. Experts suggest marking and dying the roots of existing plants in order to keep track of populations and just how much they are declining. Right now, most of the research performed is highly speculative but it is nevertheless accepted that it is at risk. The next species I will discuss is also declining globally due to its highly sought after medicinal properties.

Cimicifuga racemosa is another member of the Buttercup family, and a quite popular one as well. It was originally in the Cimicifuga genus, named by Linnaeus in 1818, however was renamed Actaea racemosa when it was discovered to have been named earlier by Linnaeus in 1753. It goes by several common names, including "Black Cohosh," "Snakeroot," "Black Bugbane," and "Macrotys." It occurs in 25 states in the eastern half of the US and 2 Canadian provinces, with the concentration being greatest in the Blue Ridge area of the Appalachian mountain range. Its ideal habitat is similar to C. americana in that it does well in rich coves but also ravines in deciduous forests. More specifically, it is found in oak-hickory, red and northern hardwood forests, and thrives in soils with a pH neutral to basic (Natureserve). As we learned in class, North Carolina is known for acid soils due to lack of glaciation, however in the areas that lack this characteristic this plant is found in abundance, especially in the Blue Ridge and Black Mountains. Superficially, black cohosh looks much like C. americana and being able to distinguish the two is not an easy task. Like yellow cohosh, it is a glabrous, herbaceous perennial, growing 0.75-2.5 m tall.

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