Medicinal plants: Cultivation ensures freedom from risk

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Medicinal plants: Cultivation ensures freedom from risk and protects the environment

The great trust of the population in the effectiveness and good tolerance of herbal medicinal products led to a steadily growing demand for medicinal plants. The game population of some species is therefore considered endangered. In order to protect the environment and still ensure a constant quality of the raw materials, medicinal plants are therefore cultivated with the help of science.

The selection and cultivation of medicinal plants also makes sense for other reasons, explained Prof. Dr. Maximilian Weigend, Director of the Botanical Gardens of the University of Bonn, recently in Munich: "Breeding and the controlled cultivation of species rich in active ingredients result in natural products that can be harvested in high pharmaceutical quality and in sufficient quantities." The researcher demonstrated the advantages of such successful domestication on Example of comfrey and bearberry.

The comfrey species, which grow wild in nature (Symphytum officinale), contain in their roots, in addition to the ingredients allantoin and rosemary acid, which are pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory for blunt injuries, also known as pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA). But in higher doses they are harmful to the liver. The task of the research was therefore to develop a comfrey variety that contains a high content of medicinal substances, but no PA.

The result was the high-performance variety Symphytum x uplandicum, a patented comfrey in which the above-ground parts are processed into medicinal products, not the roots. The comfrey ointment produced from this variety offers not only good effectiveness because of the optimal amount of active ingredients, but also a high level of safety, since hardly any PA is contained.

Based on this positive experience, Prof. Weigend subsequently made the bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), which is used against bladder infections, the subject of his research. There was a lot of choice especially for this medicinal plant, "since inferior material often comes onto the market here," says the scientist. Chinese imports are particularly problematic. The scientific task was to identify a cultivar as rich in arbutin as possible. In a two-year trial, plants were wildly collected, analyzed and cultivated at 18 locations. According to the botanist, there is now nothing standing in the way of applying for a patent for a variety. (KFN)

Photo credit: fotolia © Maikaefer

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