Tree-ting Maladies

2 March 2015

Whether it’s oodles of oxygen or resources for our building and textile industries, plants are the silent contributors to our community. Yet many plants possess more unique qualities than their ability to photosynthesise, demonstrating they can do much more than contribute to our environment and economy. These over-achieving plants not only help the environment thrive but are also able to treat a range of symptoms from your self-induced hangover to your university-induced headache.

Lavender (Lavandula)
A common ingredient in many perfumes, candles and other hygiene masking products, lavender has also been used throughout history for medicinal purposes. In Ancient Greece, lavender was used to treat almost every disease, from a small head cold to the cure for insane individuals. Though it’s unlikely any plant or chemical could have such a wide therapeutic benefit, it’s been found that this plant does indeed have an impact on the autonomic nervous system. Responsible for controlling most of your body, the autonomic nervous system is divided into two parts – the
I’m so chill parasympathetic division and the I’m highly strung and probably need to get laid sympathetic division. When inhaled, a study found that lavender oil appeared to decrease autonomic arousal, turning down the volume of the highly strung division. As a consequence, both heart rate and blood pressure were found to decrease and an overall relaxing effect was achieved. To summarise, when faced with a stressful situation a good sniff of lavender oil or your neighbour’s alluring potted plant will add a bit of calm to any stressful storm.

Aloe Vera (Aloe Barbadensis Miller)
There’s no denying that succulents are on trend and with the not-so-surprising reveal that paw-paw cream is essentially just petroleum jelly, this succulent’s popularity is on the rise. Not only does aloe vera look super cute sitting on your desk, the elongated leaves are filled with a gel that’s rich in compounds and appears to heal many dermatological conditions. Have sunburn? Spread that aloe vera gel like peanut-butter. Eczema? Sooth that scratch with some aloe. The list goes on. Though the mechanism is not exactly known, it appears that the compound acetyclated glucomannan may be responsible for accelerating healing and reducing inflammation. Though aloe vera gel has long been used topically for healing wounds, several studies have found that it may also be beneficial for internal ingestion as it decreases cholesterol and relieves chronically high blood sugar levels. So go on, suck on this succulent.

Willow Tree (Salix Alba)
Whether it is Grandmother Willow, guiding Pocahontas on her moral journey, or willow bark tea curing headaches since Ancient Egypt, the willow tree has always found a way to ease our minds. Yet unlike Grandmother Willow, the willow trees we encounter today have not provided us with age-old wisdom. Instead, scientists have found that the bark of the willow tree contains a chemical known as salicylic acid, a potent anti-inflammatory agent. By drinking willow bark tea, an individual could relieve headaches, fever and pain. This chemical is able to inhibit all the symptoms commonly associated with inflammation by inhibiting an enzyme involved in the inflammatory pathway. Despite its therapeutic benefit, salicylic acid also produced gastric irritation and thus, the prodrug aspirin was made and is still readily used today. Though the bark was once brewed as a tea, enthusiasts should stick to T2 to find their leafy loves and the pharmacist for all their drug needs.

Korean Pears (Pyrus pyrifolia)
Recently, it has been discovered that pears may play a greater role in our everyday life. Not only are pears full of vitamins and all that healthy goodness we probably should be eating rather than banana bread from House of Cards, the CSIRO has recently discovered that this nutritious snack may be the cure for every university student’s nightmare – the dreaded hangover. Pears, in particular the Korean kind, appear to affect two enzymes that are crucial when metabolising alcohol. By acting on enzymes such as alcohol dehydrogenase and aldehyde dehydrogenase, Korean pears are able to lower blood alcohol levels, metabolising this glorious toxin in top speed and thus reducing the severity of your hangover the next day. Yet this fruit cannot work miracles, with effects only being found in individuals that ingest juice made from Korean pears prior to a piss-up. Maybe cold-pressed juice isn’t such a fad after all.

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