Maintaining clear air, water, and soil are important for the future of medicine and food security.
Wednesday, April 22, 2020 marked the 50th anniversary of Earth Day! Many millennia ago, Hippocrates was credited for saying “let food be thy medicine…”; his name is also attached to an oath historically taken by new doctors, the Hippocratic Oath. The principle of “first do not harm” means we must either help or at least not hurt our patients.

A majority of people living on the planet, 75-85% outside the United States according to the WHO, still rely on botanical medicine for their primary healthcare needs. And, about 40% of prescription medicines come from plant extracts or are synthesized from plant compounds. It would be amiss to not doing everything in our power to protect the planet’s biodiversity. Who knows what else could be discovered that could treat, heal, and even cure. The many ways in which plants affect human physiology has still not been fully elucidated; we are continually learning new ways to appreciate and apply them. While we imperfectly understand HOW they work, we know they DO work and are generally safe when unadulterated!

Take, for example, aspirin (acetylsalicyclic acid (ASA)):

This ubiquitous, over-the-counter NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) is modelled after salicin, a constituent (active ingredient) in white willow (Salix alba) bark.  During the early days of research into willow (c. 1828-1838), crude laboratory methods only allowed for the extraction of salicylic acid. Like aspirin, this constituent has anti-clotting and gastric side effects. However, this is not the case with salicin, which is much gentler and longer-lasting (albeit slower-acting) due to the fact that it is metabolized to salicylic acid by the body in its own time. Some studies show willow, at a much lower dose, to be as effective as aspirin for reducing pain and inflammation!

Salicylates (salicin, salicylic acid, methyl salicylate) are a class of simple phenolic compounds found in willow, poplar, birch, wintergreen, and meadowsweet among others. They all possess analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. In their whole forms, willow, wintergreen, and meadowsweet, can be used more safely in therapeutic doses long-term for various forms of arthritis, either internally and / or externally, compared to aspirin. In fact, meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) decreases muscle and joint pain / inflammation while reducing gastric irritation and treating peptic ulcers! The beneficial effects of a plant rarely ever come down to a single constituent, they are a sum of all the different ways the naturally occurring compounds interact with each other and our bodies.

Next time you want to reach for an aspirin, remember where it originally came from and consider channeling Hippocrates…chew on a piece of willow bark or make a drink by decocting it. A tincture works too if you’re in need of something a little stronger.

Everyday can be Earth Day when you respect your Mother [Earth]!

In health and harmony,
Dr. Vanessa