Some Common Spices and Plants with Antimicrobial and Therapeutic Properties
(This is a synopsis of unrefereed information gleaned from various web resources. Its purpose is to give you an idea of the beliefs and claims made about these substances which have been used since ancient times by many human cultures and civilizations in the ways indicated. Although much of this information may be true, there is no guarantee of that. Some of this information may not be true and there may be unrecognized hazards associated with the use of some of these substances. So, accept this information with caution and always discuss any medical condition or alternative therapy with your physician.)
Scientific Name(s): Eugenia caryophyllata
Common Name(s): Clove , caryophyllus
Uses of Clove
Clove has been used for its antiseptic and analgesic effects and has been studied for use as an anticoagulant and anti-inflammatory effects. However, research reveals little or no clinical data on the use of clove for any indication.
The clove plant grows in warm climates and is cultivated commercially in Tanzania, Sumatra, the Maluku (Molucca) Islands, and South America. The tall evergreen plant grows up to 20 m and has leathery leaves. The clove spice is the dried flower bud. Essential oils are obtained from the buds, stems, and leaves. The buds or cloves are strongly aromatic
Clove has a long history of culinary and medicinal use. The oil was used as an expectorant and antiemetic with inconsistent clinical results. Clove tea was used to relieve nausea. Use of the oil in dentistry as an analgesic and local antiseptic continues today. It also has been used topically as a counterirritant.
Clove buds yield approximately 15% to 20% of a volatile oil that is responsible for the characteristic smell and flavor. The bud also contains a tannin complex, a gum and resin, and a number of glucosides of sterols. The principal constituent of distilled clove bud oil (60% to 90%) is eugenol (4-allyl-2-methoxyphenol). The oil also contains about 10% acetyleugenol and small quantities of gallic acid, sesquiterpenes, furfural, vanillin, and methyl-n-amyl ketone. Other constituents include flavonoids, carbohydrates, lipids, oleanolic acid, rhamnetin, and vitamins.
Clove oil is applied for the symptomatic treatment of toothaches and is used for the treatment of dry socket (postextraction alveolitis).
Clove oil is reported to have antihistaminic and antispasmotic properties, most likely due to the presence of eugenyl acetate. Cloves are also said to have a positive effect on healing stomach ulcers. A 15% tincture of cloves is effective in treating topical fungal, ringworm infections. As with many other volatile oils, clove oil inhibits gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria. Clove oil also has anthelminthic properties.
Scientific Name(s): Cinnamomum verum, C. cassia, C. zeylanicum, C. loureirii.
Common Name(s): Cinnamon, cinnamomon, ceylon cinnamon, Chinese cinnamon, Chinese cassia, Saigon cinnamon
Uses of Cinnamon
Cinnamon is used as a spice and an aromatic. The bark or oil has been used to combat microorganisms, diarrhea and other GI disorders, and dysmenorrhea. Research interest has focused on cinnamon's potential as an insulin-like analog, an anti-inflammatory agent, an antioxidant, and an antimicrobial substance.
Cinnamon spice is derived from the brown bark of the tree by grinding the bark into a fine powder. The plant is native to Sri Lanka, southeastern India, Indonesia, South America, and the West Indies.
The essential oil is primarily composed of 65% to 80% cinnamaldehyde and lesser amounts of other phenols and terpenes, including eugenol, trans-cinnamic acid, hydroxycinnamaldehyde, o-methoxycinnamaldehyde, cinnamyl alcohol and its acetate, limonene, α-terpineol, tannins, mucilage, oligomeric procyanidins, and trace amounts of coumarin. Differing material origins and extraction techniques are reported to alter the chemical composition of the extracts, and hence may impact the intended medicinal (and experimental) effects.
Conflicting evidence exists for the action of cinnamon on Helicobacter pylori . Cinnamon extracts have been shown to exert in vitro activity against some common human pathogens and fungicidal activity against plant pathogens. In vitro inhibition of bacterial endotoxin has been demonstrated by an unidentified component in cinnamon bark. The essential oils of cinnamon were shown to halt mycelial growth and aflatoxin synthesis in Aspergillus parasiticus at a concentration of only 0.1%.
Scientific Name(s): Myristica fragrans
Common Name(s): Nutmeg, mace, magic, muscdier, nux moschata, myristica oil, muskatbaum
Uses of Nutmeg
Nutmeg and mace, widely accepted as flavoring agents, are used in higher doses for their aphrodisiac and psychoactive properties.
Mace and nutmeg are 2 slightly different flavored spices, both originating from the fruit of the nutmeg tree, Myristica fragrans . This slow-growing evergreen grows to more than 20 m and is cultivated in India, Ceylon, Malaysia, and Granada. The fruit, which is called a drupe or a nutmeg apple, is similar in appearance to a peach or an apricot. When the mature fruit splits open, the nutmeg (stony endocarp or seed surrounded by a red, slightly fleshy network or aril) is exposed. The dried aril alone is called mace. The nut is removed and dried to produce nutmeg.
Nutmeg is a widely used food spice that has received attention as an alternative hallucinogen. Nutmeg and mace have been used in Indian cooking and folk medicine. The folk uses of nutmeg have included the treatment of gastric disorders and rheumatism, and it has been used as a hypnotic and an aphrodisiac. During the 6th century AD, nutmeg and mace were imported by Arab traders. By the 12th century, these spices were well known in Europe. At the turn of the 19th century, interest developed in the use of nutmeg as an abortifacient and a stimulant for menses. These properties have been largely discounted but remain a persistent cause of nutmeg intoxication in women.
Nutmeg seeds contain 20% to 40% of a fixed oil, commonly called nutmeg butter. This oil contains myristic acid, trymiristin, and glycerides of lauric, tridecanoic, stearic, and palmitic acids.
Nutmeg also yields 8% to 15% of an essential oil that is believed to be partially responsible for the effects associated with nutmeg intoxication. The essential oil contains myristicin, elemicin, eugenol, and safrole. The essential oils of nutmeg and mace are very similar in chemical composition and aroma, with wide color differences (brilliant orange to pale yellow). Mace oil appears to have a higher myristicin content than nutmeg oil.
Also present in the oil are sabinene, cymene alpha-thujene, gamma-terpinene, and monoterpene alcohols in smaller amounts. Phenolic compounds found in nutmeg are reported to have antioxidant properties. Other isolated compounds include the resorcinols malabaricone B and malabaricone C, as well as lignans and neolignans.
The oils of mace and nutmeg and their individual components have been assessed for their antimicrobial activity in vitro. Activity has been shown against some oral microorganisms, including S. mutans, Porphyromonas gingivalis , and others. Activity against other bacteria includes some strains of Escherichia coli, some strains of Salmonella typhi, Bacillus subtilis, Staphylococcus aureus, and Listeria monocytogenes. Anti-viral effect has also been reported against human rotavirus.
Reports of activity against fungi is conflicting, with no activity against Aspergillus but activity against some dermatophytes has been found.
The spices cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, bay leaves contain eugenol, a clear to pale yellow oily liquid with a pleasant, spicy, clove-like odor, that can be extracted from the essential oils from these plants.
Eugenol is used in perfumeries, flavorings, essential oils and in medicine as a local antiseptic and anaesthetic. Combining zinc oxide and eugenol forms zinc oxide eugenol which can be used as a filling or cement material used in dentistry. It is classified as an intermediate restorative material and has anaesthetic and antibacterial properties. It is sometimes used in the management of dental caries as a "temporary filling".
Scientific Name(s): Origanum vulgare
Common Name(s): Mediterranean oregano, mountain mint, wild marjoram, winter marjoram, wintersweet
Uses of Oregano
Aside from its culinary application, oregano exhibits antimicrobial and antioxidant actions and has possible activity as an antispasmodic and in diabetes. However, there is no clinical evidence to support the use of oregano in any indication.
Common or wild oregano is a perennial plant native to the Mediterranean region and Asia and cultivated in the United States. Its creeping rootstock produces a square, downy, purplish stem with opposite ovate leaves. Stems can grow up to 76 cm tall and are dotted with small depressions. Purple, 2-lipped flowers grow in terminal clusters from July to October.
Oregano has been a common ingredient in Spanish, Mexican, and Italian dishes as a spice and flavoring agent for hundreds of years. Its initial purpose was as a warming digestive and circulatory stimulant. It has been used in perfumery for its volatile oil contents, especially in scenting soaps.
The antiseptic qualities of aromatic and medicinal plants and their extracts have been recognized since antiquity. It has been suggested that an infusion of the fresh herb is beneficial in treating an upset stomach and indigestion, headache, colic, and nervous complaints, as well as for coughs and other respiratory ailments. An infusion of the flowers has been used to prevent seasickness. The oil has been used externally in liniments and lotions and to ease toothache. It has also been used as an ant repellent.
Oregano contains oleanolic and ursolic acids, flavonoids and hydroquinones, caffeic, rosemarinic, and lithospermic acid, tannins, and phenolic glycosides. Phenolic compounds represent 71% of the total oil. The polar phenols thymol and carvacrol are responsible for many of the properties of the essential oil, as well as p-cymene and terpinene.
Studies have compared the effects of oregano essential oil, thymol, and carvacrol on fungi. All 3 completely inhibited fungal growth of Aspergillus and Penicillium species. Oregano oil also appears to have some activity against Candida species, possibly because of its carvacrol content.
The volatile oils of oregano have demonstrated in vitro antibacterial activity against a wide range of gram-positive and gram-negative microorganisms including Listeria, Pseudomonas, Proteus, Salmonella, and Clostridium species, as well as some methicillin-resistant Staphylococci. Low to moderate activity against Helicobacter pylori has been reported. Oregano oil appears to inhibit organisms at relatively low concentrations, and its activity could be due to the phenolic components thymol and carvacrol.
There are also various reports describing antiparasitic activity of oregano.
The oil of Origanum vulgare has been shown to eradicate common parasites in chickens and pheasants. In vitro experiments have shown activity against Trypanosoma cruzi.
The spices oregano and thyme contain Thymol (and a closely related substance called carvacrol), which have been shown to possess bacteriocidal, fungicidal, molluscicidal and insecticidal properties.
The main therapeutic application for thymol is in dental preparations to kill odor-producing bacteria. It is also employed as a preservative on the strength of its antimicrobial and antioxidant properties. In the mollusc Lymnaea acuminata, lethal doses of thymol affected the activity of key nervous tissue enzymes, and this was postulated to be the cause of toxicity As yet, no mechanism of action has been identified for thymol lethality, or that of related monoterpenoids, towards insects.
Recently, thymol was shown to have a direct agonist effect on heterologously expressed human GABAA receptors resembling that of the anaesthetic propofol.
The active ingredients of Listerine include essential oils (thymol, eucalyptol, menthol, methyl salicylate) with anti-fungal activity. This early ad for Listerine recommends its use for treating dandruff.
Scientific Name(s): Allium cepa
Common Name(s): Onion
Uses of Onion
Onion is used as an antimicrobial, cardiovascular-supportive, hypoglycemic, antioxidant/anticancer, and asthma-protective agent. However, few clinical trials are available to support the use of onion for any indication. In folk medicine, onion has been used for asthma, bronchitis, whooping cough, and similar ailments. Other uses include the treatment of stingray wounds, warts, acne, appetite loss, urinary tract disorders, and indigestion. Onion skin dye has been used as an egg and cloth coloring.
The onion plant is a perennial herb growing to about 1.2 m, with 4 to 6 hollow, cylindrical leaves. On top of the long stalk, greenish-white flowers are present in the form of solitary umbels growing up to 2.5 cm wide. The seeds of the plant are black and angular. The underground bulb, which is used medicinally, is comprised of fleshy leaf sheaths forming a thin-skinned capsule. The onion is one of the leading vegetable crops in the world.
The onion is believed to have been domesticated in central Asia. Onions were used as early as 5,000 years ago in Egypt, as depicted on ancient monuments; ancient Greek and Roman records also refer to the onion. During the Middle Ages, onions were consumed throughout Europe. They later were thought to guard against evil spirits and the plague, probably because of their strong odor. Onion skin dye has been used for egg and cloth coloring for many years in the Middle East and Europe. Columbus was said to have brought the onion to America. Folk healers used the onion to prevent infection. The combination of onions and garlic cooked in milk is a European folk remedy used to clear congestion. Onions also are used in homeopathic medicine.
Onions contain 89% water, 1.5% protein, and vitamins, including B1 , B2 , and C, along with potassium. Polysaccharides such as fructosans, saccharose, and others are also present, as are peptides, flavonoids, and essential oil. Onion contains alliin and similar sulfur compounds, including allylalliin and methyl and propyl compounds of cysteine sulfoxide. Sulfur and other compounds of A. cepa have been analyzed. Prostaglandins also have been identified in onion.
Onion has reported antibacterial, antiparasitic, and antifungal actions. Growth of oral pathogenic bacteria, including Streptococcus mutans, Porphyromonas gingivalis, and Prevotella intermedia, organisms associated with dental caries and periodontitis, was prevented by onion extracts. Onion juice or oil also have inhibited growth of other gram-positive bacteria and gram-negative bacteria such as Klebsiella pneumoniae. Antifungal actions of onion include inhibition of yeasts and a number of molds.
The antibacterial, antiparasitic, and antifungal actions of onion is believed to be due to a number of sulfur containing compounds such as alliin, allylalliin, diallyl disulfide and the methyl and propyl compounds of cysteine sulfoxide.
Onions are also noted for their ability to make you cry. This effect is due to one of these propyl sulfoxides which is converted to propanethial-S-oxide which then escapes from the onion in vapor form and hydrolyzes to sulfuric acid when it reacts with moisture, causing the familiar eye irritation and lacrimation.
The health promoting reputation of onions is legendary and may be due to other compounds found in the bulb. For instance, prostaglandins, which have profound physiological effects in animals, also have been reported to exist in onion. (Al-Nagdy S, Abdel Rahman MO, Heiba HI. Comp Biochem Physiol C . 1986;85:163-166).
Scientific Name(s): Allium sativum
Common Name(s): Garlic, allium, stinking rose, rustic treacle, nectar of the gods, camphor of the poor, poor man's treacle
Uses of Garlic
Evidence suggests that garlic may beneficially affect cholesterol and lipids. Among its traditional uses, it has been employed for its antiseptic and antibacterial properties. Other potential areas of use include GI disorders and oncology.
A perennial bulb with a tall, erect flowering stem that grows to 2 to 3 feet. The plant produces pink to purple flowers that bloom from July to September. The bulb is odiferous.
The name Allium comes from the Celtic word all meaning burning or smarting. Garlic was valued as an exchange medium in ancient Egypt; its virtues were described in inscriptions on the Great Pyramid of Cheops. The folk uses of garlic have ranged from the treatment of leprosy in humans to managing clotting disorders in horses. Physicians prescribed the herb during the Middle Ages to cure deafness and the American Indians used garlic as a remedy for earaches, flatulence, and scurvy.
Fresh garlic is a source of numerous vitamins, minerals, and trace elements, although most are only found in minute quantities. Garlic contains the highest sulfur content of any member of the genus Allium. Two trace elements, germanium and selenium, are found in detectable quantities and have been postulated to play a role in the herb's antitumor effect.
Garlic contains about 0.5% of a volatile oil composed of sulfur-containing compounds (diallyldisulfide, diallyltrisulfide, methylallyltrisulfide). The bulbs contain an odorless, colorless, sulfur-containing amino acid called alliin (S-allyl-L-cysteine sulfoxide), which has no known pharmacologic activity. When the bulb is ground, the enzyme allinase is released, resulting in the conversion of alliin to 2-propenesulfenic acid, which dimerizes to form allicin. Allicin gives the pungent characteristic odor to crushed garlic and is believed to be responsible for some of the pharmacologic activity of the plant.
Uses of Garlic
Evidence suggests that garlic may beneficially affect cholesterol and lipids. Among its traditional uses, it has been employed for its antiseptic and antibacterial properties. Other potential areas of use include GI disorders and oncology.
The antiseptic and antibacterial properties of garlic have been known for centuries. As recently as World War II, garlic extracts were used to disinfect wounds. During the 1800s, physicians routinely prescribed garlic inhalation for the treatment of tuberculosis.
Garlic extracts inhibit the growth of numerous strains of Mycobacterium, but at concentrations that may be difficult to achieve in human tissues. Preparations containing garlic extracts are used widely in Russia and Japan. Both gram-positive and gram-negative organisms are inhibited in vitro by garlic extracts. The potency of garlic is such that 1 mg is equivalent to 15 Oxford units of penicillin, making garlic about 1% as active as penicillin.
Garlic extracts have shown antifungal activity when tested in vitro and their use has been suggested in the treatment of oral and vaginal candidiasis. In an attempt to quantitate the in vivo activity of garlic extracts, one research group administered 25 mL of fresh garlic extract orally to volunteers. Serum and urine samples were tested for antifungal activity against 15 species of fungal pathogens. While serum exhibited anticandidal and anticryptococcal activity within 30 minutes after ingestion, no biological activity was found in urine. The findings suggest that while garlic extracts may exhibit some antifungal activity in vivo, they are probably of limited use in the treatment of systemic infections.
Scientific Name(s): Pimpinella anisum
Common Name(s): Anise, aniseed, sweet cumin
Uses of Anise
Anise is used as a flavoring in alcohols, liqueurs, dairy products, gelatins, puddings, meats, and candies, and as a scent in perfumes, soaps, and sachets. The oil has also been used to treat lice, scabies, and psoriasis. Anise frequently is used as a carminative and expectorant. Anise also is used to decrease bloating and settle the digestive tract in children. In high doses, it is used as an antispasmodic and an antiseptic and for the treatment of cough, asthma, and bronchitis. However, research reveals no clinical data regarding the use of anise for any of these applications.
Anise has a history of use as a spice and a fragrance. It has been cultivated in Egypt for at least 4,000 years. Records of its use as a diuretic and treatment of digestive problems and toothache are seen in medical texts from this era. In ancient Greek history, writings explain how anise helps breathing, relieves pain, stimulates urination, and eases thirst. The essential oil has been used commercially since the 1800s. The fragrance is used in food, soap, creams, and perfumes. Anise often is added to licorice candy or used as a “licorice” flavor substitute; it is also a fragrant component of anisette liqueur.
Anise oil (1% to 4%) is obtained by steam distillation of the dried fruits of the herb. The highest quality oils result from anise seeds of ripe umbels in the center of the plant. A major component of the oil is trans-anethole (75% to 90%), responsible for the characteristic taste and smell, as well as for its medicinal properties.
The volatile oil also has related compounds that include estragole (methyl chavicol, 1% to 2%), anise ketone (p-methoxyphenylacetone), and beta caryophyllene. In smaller amounts are anisaldehyde, anisic acid, limonene, alpha-pinene, acetaldehyde, p-cresol, cresol, and myristicin (the psychomimetic compound previously isolated from nutmeg).
Constituents of the whole seed include coumarins, such as umbelliferone, umbelliprenine, bergapten, and scopoletin. Lipids (16%) include fatty acids, beta-amyrin, stigmasterol, and its salts. Flavonoids in aniseed include rutin, isoorientin, and isovitexin. Protein (18%) and carbohydrate (50%) are also present. Terpene hydrocarbons in the plant also have been described.
Anise has been evaluated for its antimicrobial action against gram-negative and gram-positive bacteria and also a few fungi. Anise is used in dentifrices as an antiseptic and in lozenges and cough preparations for its weak antibacterial effects.
Scientific Name(s): Sassafras albidum
Common Name(s): Sassafras, saxifras, ague tree, cinnamon wood, saloop
Uses of Sassafras
Sassafras has been used historically for a variety of illnesses, and is now banned in the US, even for use as a flavoring or fragrance.
Sassafras is the name applied to three species of trees, two native to eastern Asia and one native to eastern North America. Fossils show that sassafras was once widespread in Europe, North America and Greenland. The trees grow up to 100 feet in height and 6 feet in diameter, though they are usually smaller. Sassafras bears leaves 10 to 15 cm long that are oval on older branches but mitten-shaped or three-lobed on younger shoots and twigs. All parts of the tree are strongly aromatic. The drug is from the peeled root of the plant (root bark).
Native Americans have used sassafras for centuries and told early settlers that it would cure a variety of ills. The settlers then exported it to Europe, where it was found to be ineffective.
Over the years the oil obtained from the roots and wood has been used as a scent in perfumes and soaps. The leaves and pith, when dried and powdered, have been used as a thickener in soups. The roots are often dried and steeped for tea, and sassafras was formerly used as a flavoring in root beer. Its use as a drug or food product has been banned by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as carcinogenic; however, its use and sale persist throughout the United States. Medicinally, sassafras has been applied to insect bites and stings to relieve symptoms.
The main constituent of sassafras oil is safrole, which chemically is p-allyl-methylenedioxybenzene, which comprises up to 80% of the oil. Volatile oil also contains anethole, pinene apiole, camphor, eugenol and myristicin.
The plant contains less than 0.2% total alkaloids (primarily boldine and its derivatives and reticuline) along with tannins, resins, mucilage and wax. Six alkaloids, aporphine and benzylsoquinoline derivatives, have been found in root bark. Two antimicrobial neolignans, magnolol and its related isomer (isomagnolol), from related species S. randaiensis have been isolated.
Sassafras Uses and Pharmacology
Sassafras has been used as a sudorific agent, a flavoring agent for dentifrices, root beers and tobaccos, and for treatment of eye inflammation. Extracts of the roots and bark have been found to mimic insect juvenile hormone in Oncopeltus fasciatus. The oil has been applied externally for relief of insect bites and stings and for lice. Other external uses include treatment of rheumatism, gout, sprains, swelling and cutaneous eruptions. A recent report compares safrole (the main constituent from sassafras oil), to indomethacin for anti-inflammatory activity and pain treatment in mice.
The plant has been reported to have antineoplastic activity and to induce cytochrome P-488 and P-450 enzymes. Sassafras is said to be antagonistic to certain alcohol effects. Alcohol extracts of the related S. randaiense exhibit antimicrobial and antifungal activity in vitro, and this activity appears to be due to the presence of magnolol and isomagnolol.
Scientific Name(s): Morinda citrifolia
Common Name(s): Morinda, noni, hog apple, Indian mulberry, mengkoedoe, mora de la India, pain killer, ruibarbo caribe, wild pine
Uses of Noni
Morinda has been used for heart remedies, arthritis, headache, digestive and liver ailments.
The morinda plant, native to Asia, Australia and Polynesia, is a 3 to 8 m high tree or shrub. Its evergreen leaves are oblong and 10 to 45 cm in length. The plant's white flowers are tubular, with conelike heads. The fruit is yellow-white in color, oval in shape, about the size of a potato and has a “bumpy” surface. The ripened fruit has a characteristic cheese-like, offensive odor. Each fruit contains 4 seeds, 3 mm in length.
It is believed that Polynesian healers have used morinda fruits for thousands of years to help treat a variety of health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis and aging. Ancient healing manuscripts cite the fruit as a primary ingredient in natural healing formulations. Today, fruit preparations are sold as juice, in dried “fruit-leather” form and as a dry extract in capsules.
Morinda citrifolia fruits contain essential oils with hexoic and octoic acids, paraffin and esters of ethyl and methyl alcohols. Ripe fruit contains n-caproic acid, presumably responsible for its distinctive odor, known to attract insects such as Drosophilia sechellia. Fresh plants contain anthraquinones, morindone and alizarin. A new anthraquinone glycoside from morinda heartwood has recently been described. Hawaiian researcher Ralph Heinicke discovered a small plant alkaloid he termed “xeronine.” Damnacanthal, morindone and alizarin are present in cell suspension cultures.
Morinda citrifolia has been used medicinally for heart remedies, arthritis (by wrapping the leaves around affected joints), headache (local application of leaves on forehead), GI and liver ailments.
Alcoholic extracts of M. citrifolia leaves displayed good anthelmintic activity in vitro against the human parasite Ascaris lumbricoides . Lyophilized aqueous root extracts of the plant showed central analgesic activity, among other effects, suggesting sedative properties of the plant as well.
Scientific Name(s): Gaultheria procumbens
Common Name(s): Wintergreen, teaberry, checkerberry, gaultheria oil, boxberry, deerberry, mountain tea, Canada tea, partridgeberry
Uses of Wintergreen
In addition to being used as a flavoring, wintergreen and its oil have been used in topical analgesic and rubefacient preparations for the treatment of muscular and rheumatic pain. However, research reveals no clinical data regarding the use of wintergreen for any condition.
Wintergreen is a perennial evergreen shrub with thin, creeping stems from which leathery leaves with toothed, bristly margins arise. It is a low-growing plant native to eastern North America and usually is found in woodland and exposed mountainous areas. Its small, waxy, white or pale pink flowers bloom in late summer, developing a scarlet fruit. The aromatic leaves and fruits are edible.
American Indians reportedly used wintergreen for treating back pain, rheumatism, fever, headaches, and sore throats. The plant and its oil have been used in traditional medicine as an anodyne, analgesic, carminative, astringent, and topical rubefacient.
Wintergreen oil is obtained by steam distillation of the warmed, water-macerated leaves. It is used interchangeably with sweet birch oil or methyl salicylate for flavoring foods and candies. The highest amount of methyl salicylate typically used in candy flavoring is 0.04%.
Wintergreen berries have been used to make pies. A tea made from the leaves was used as a substitute for black tea, Camellia sinensis, during the Revolutionary War. Wintergreen tea has been used to relieve cold symptoms and muscle aches.
Wintergreen oil contains approximately 98% to 100.5% of the methyl ester, methyl salicylate. The plant has little odor or flavor until the methyl salicylate is freed. During steam distillation, the gaultherin (also described as primeveroside or monotropitoside) present in the leaves is enzymatically hydrolyzed to methyl salicylate. The purified methyl salicylate is subsequently obtained through distillation. In addition, the sugars D-glucose and D-xylose are obtained. The yield of oil from the leaves is in the range of 0.5% to 0.8%.
Scientific Name(s): Zingiber officinale Roscoe; occasionally Z. capitatum
Common Name(s): Ginger, ginger root, black ginger, zingiberis rhizoma
Uses of Ginger
Ginger and its constituents have antiemetic, cardiotonic, antithrombotic, antibacterial, antioxidant, antitussive, antihepatotoxic, anti-inflammatory, antimutagenic, stimulant, diaphoretic, diuretic, spasmolytic, immunostimulant, carminative, and cholagogue actions. Ginger is used to promote gastric secretions, increase intestinal peristalsis, lower cholesterol levels, raise blood glucose, and stimulate peripheral circulation. Traditionally used to stimulate digestion, its modern uses include prophylaxis for nausea and vomiting (associated with motion sickness, hypermesis gravidarum, and anesthesia), dyspepsia, lack of appetite, anorexia, colic, bronchitis, and rheumatic complaints. Ginger can be used as a flavoring or spice as well as a fungicide and pesticide.
A native of tropical Asia, this perennial is cultivated in tropical climates such as Australia, Brazil, China, India, Jamaica, West Africa, and parts of the US. The rhizome is used medicinally and as a culinary spice. The rhizome is harvested between 6 and 20 months; taste and pungency increase with maturity. The plant carries a green-purple flower in terminal spikes; the flowers are similar to orchids.
Medicinal use of ginger dates back to ancient China and India; references to its use are found in Chinese pharmacopoeias, the Sesruta scriptures of Ayurvedic medicine as well as Sanskrit writings. Once its culinary properties were discovered in the 13th century, use of this herb became widespread throughout Europe. In the Middle Ages, it held a firm place in apothecaries for travel sickness, nausea, hangovers, and flatulence.
Ginger and its constituents are stated to have antiemetic, cardiotonic, antithrombotic, antibacterial, antioxidant, antitussive, antihepatotoxic, anti-inflammatory, antimutagenic, stimulant, diaphoretic, diuretic, spasmolytic, immunostimulant, carminative, and cholagogue actions as well as to promote gastric secretions, increase intestinal peristalsis, lower cholesterol levels, raise blood glucose, and stimulate peripheral circulation. Traditionally, ginger is used as an acrid bitter to strengthen and stimulate digestion. Modern uses include prophylaxis for nausea and vomiting (associated with motion sickness, hyperemesis gravidarum and surgical anesthesia), dyspepsia, lack of appetite, anorexia, colic, bronchitis, and rheumatic complaints. The food industry uses ginger oil as a spice and ginger extract in the manufacturing of ginger ale. In China, ginger root and stem are used as pesticides against aphids and fungal spores.
Ginger is in the official pharmacopoeias of Austria, China, Egypt, Great Britain, India, Japan, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. It is approved as a nonprescription drug in Germany and as a dietary supplement in the US.
It had long been believed that the “pungent principles” of ginger were also responsible for its pharmacologic activity, and this has been found to be accurate. The characteristic aroma of ginger is due mainly to the presence of zingiberol in the volatile oil.
The major constituents in ginger rhizomes are carbohydrates (50 to 70%), which are present as starch. The concentration of lipids is 3 to 8% and includes free fatty acids (eg, palmitic, oleic, linoleic, linolenic, capric, lauric, myristic), triglycerides, and lecithins. Oleoresin provides 4 to 7.5% of pungent substances as gingerol homologues, shogaol homologues, zingerone, and volatile oils. Volatile oils are present in 1 to 3% concentrations and consist mainly of the sesquiterpenes beta-besabolene and zingiberene; other sesquiterpenes include zingiberol and zingiberenol; numerous monoterpenes are also found. Amino acids, raw fiber, ash, protein, phytosterols, vitamins (ie, nicotinic acid and vitamin A), and minerals are among the other constituents.
Analyses of the oleoresins have resulted in the identification of a class of structurally related cardiotonic compounds called gingerols, which upon dehydration, form shogaols and degrade further to zingerone. -gingerol and -shogaol are the main components however, the pharmacologically active compounds - and -dehydrogingerdione, and - and -gingerdione have also been identified.
Human clinical trials have examined ginger's antiemetic effects related to kinetosis (motion sickness), perioperative anesthesia, and hyperemesis gravidarum. However, little is still known regarding its human pharmacology in these settings. Animal studies have described enhanced GI transport as well as anti-5-hydroxytryptamine (5HT 3 ) and possible CNS antiemetic effects.
Ginger has been reported to have weak fungicidal, strong antibacterial, and anthelmintic properties. Active constituents have been shown to inhibit reproduction of Escherichia coli, Proteus species, Staphylococci, Streptococci, and Salmonella but to stimulate the growth of Lactobacilli. In vitro anthelmintic activity has been documented for the volatile oil of Z. purpureum and activity has also been reported against parasites, such as Schistosoma and Anisakis.
The cytotoxic compound zerumbone and its epoxide have been isolated from the rhizomes of Z. zerumbet . This plant, also a member of the family Zingiberaceae, has been used traditionally in China as an antineoplastic.