Ecology Of Medicinal Plant

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When a child in the developed world feels sick, usually her/his parents take the child to visit a doctor. The doctor then prescribes a medicine of some sort, and the family leaves the hospital with a soon to be healthy child. The advanced medicines such as pills, syrups, inhalants, eg., have progressed human society to fight diseases and illnesses. The majority of humans have become solely dependent upon Western medicine, resulting in the decrease use of plants for both physical and spiritual healing. Before the engineering of modern medicine, civilizations and cultures were reliant upon the medicinal properties in plants. To this day, there are still some individuals and indigenous groups who utilize plants for healing properties.

Some indigenous groups of the world still use plants for physical healing, spiritual, cultural purposes. Scientists and engineers have studied the chemical properties of the plants possessing healing abilities to create modern medicine that many individuals use today. In fact, 40% of the world’s pharmaceutical medicine originates from medicinal plants; therefore, studying the properties of plants can be of assistance in the medical field (“Pharmaceutical industry,” 2).

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Embryophytes have an interconnected relationship with other living species on Earth influencing the behavior of fauna and environmental conditions. Understanding the fundamental units of embryophytes and their possessed phytochemicals can help scientists learn how they adapt to their changing environment. Humans can learn medicinal benefits of plants through studying the phytochemicals found within plants, and their adaptations to both terrestrial and aquatic environments. Phytochemicals such as polyphenols, flavonoids, alkaloids, polysaccharides, stilbenoids, glycosides, and essential oils have been proven to prevent, treat, or cure many diseases or illnesses that humans may contract. The scale of these sicknesses range from the common runny-nose or cough, to life-threatening diseases such as diabetes, cancer, or Alzheimer’s disease (Xiao 2015, 4). The phytochemical I will examine is the alkaloid.

Alkaloids are a secondary metabolite that have evolved in nature in response to threats of herbivores, harmful microbes, or other competing plants. They are a nitrogen containing base, and stabilize and toughen leaves within plants. Usually, alkaloids have some degree of toxicity; therefore, plants containing alkaloids are either toxic or beneficial in medicinal properties. Doctors are studying and applying the properties of alkaloids to treat cancer, parasitic diseases, pathogenic bacteria, and neuronal disorders (Wink 2019, 1-4). Alkaloids are remarkable compounds because they assist in treatments and managements for the incurable neurodegenerative diseases such as Lew body, vascular dementia, Huntington’s, Pick’s Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s diseases. Currently, there are two of the five known drugs to treat dementia that are derived from the enzyme Acetylcholinesterase found in plant alkaloids. One example of using alkaloids for neurodegenerative diseases is through the alkaloid nicotine. Alkaloid nicotine is being proven to control cholinergic and cognitive functions present in dementia through mimicking the action of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine at the nicotinic receptors (Howes 2013, 1331). Scientists and doctors are still researching alkaloids within plants to find their potential relationship within the regulation of the human cholinergic functions.

Although alkaloid compounds may promote healthy biological activities, some alkaloid plants were used for lethal purposes such as murder, abortions, executions, and suicide in early African civilizations (Ndhlala & et al., 2013). One plant containing alkaloid compounds used for death is the Conium maculatum (figure 1). The C. maculatum is native to Western Asia and North Africa, but has been introduced to other parts of the world such as Australia, New Zealand, and other parts of Africa. This plant is extremely toxic that it is considered a health threat to both humans, and livestock (Ndhlala & et al.). The phytochemicals present in plants can either be toxic and impose a threat to other living species, or the chemicals can be deadly.

Indigenous people were the first to use native plants for healing purposes. However, indigenous peoples’ methods and rituals involving the plants are different from the technological integrations of today’s medicinal practices. The methods of the indigenous peoples’ are traditional, and generally consist of the application of plant to human skin. Typically, healers of the tribe cut the leaves, or sometimes grind them into a pulp to apply to a wound for disinfection and healing of the open skin. Other times, the healers would simply put the leaves on the forehead to soothe a headache (Roth & Lindorf 2002, 30-31). The healers believed when the plants were pulverized, the plants would release a greater amount of healing substances; therefore, occasionally people would eat the pulp as well. Another common method of integrating plants into healing practices is through hot water and leaves to make the infamous tea (figure 2). Infusions are a method similar to tea, but with the plant mixture remaining in the water. Healers and shamans are careful to utilize their knowledge of the plants around them because boiling some poisonous substances can remove the toxicity of the plant (Roth & Lindorf, 31). Indigenous groups accumulated knowledge of their native plantae over thousands of years, and knew how to treat or protect toxic components of their plants.

Indigenous groups not only used the plants for medicinal purposes, but for spiritual and cultural purposes as well. Unfortunately, indigenous groups lose the availability of their cultural keystone species as tropical regions continue to face threats from agriculture, deforestation, cattle-ranching, gold-mining, and road building. Additionally, as the demand for the medicinal plants increases due to the demand in pharmaceutics, indigenous groups have begun selling their medicinal plants for profit. Individuals understand the economic value of medicinal plants, as these plants are used for many pharmaceuticals. The United States spent $344.5 billion on pharmaceutical drug expenditure in 2018 alone (“Statista,” 2019). Many indigenous people live in poverty and understand that the medicinal plants provides a way to make economic profit. The indigenous groups lose the value of their medicinal practices as they assimilate to a lifestyle of the communities surround them. This results in a detached value of their native plants, and placing the medicinal plants on the market.

In conclusion, plants perform a variety of functions. Functions that have evolved from millions of years ago to better adapt the plant from or for herbivores, pathogens, competition within other plants, or other environmental stress factors. The phytochemicals that equip plants to survive in nature are the same phytochemicals that exhibit medicinal properties that humans use today for biological health, or lethal purposes. Even though most pharmaceutical drugs that are engineered from doctors and scientists derive from medicinal plants, indigenous people were the first people to use these plants. Plants are of relevance to both indigenous, and non-indigenous peoples.

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Ecology Of Medicinal Plant. (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 24, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/ecology-of-medicinal-plant/
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