Essential oils may have been developed by the plant to keep grazing animals away, or to attract pollinating insects, or may act internally as individual pesticides or fungicides. This is not known in any specific detail, but what is known from chemical analysis and from chromatography is that the oils are compounds. Each consists of very many organic constituents which unite in a delicate, complex balance to produce a wide range of therapeutic and olfactory qualities. Eucalyptus, for instance, contains no less than 250 different constituents; and in a 1978 chromatograph of Australian tea tree oil, prepared for the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, researchers identified 40 compounds. These included cineol, terpinene and cymene, as well as something called viridiflorene which had not previously been reported as occurring in nature.
Drugs Containing Natural Substances
Most of us are aware that plants contain chemical substances of various kinds many of which have been extracted and used for the benefit of mankind. The following are but a few of those used in conventional medicine.
- The simple aspirin, for instance, was originally derived from the willow tree, Salix, thus its chemical name, salicylic acid.
- Quinine, still used in the treatment of malaria, was originally derived from the bark of a South American tree, Cinchona.
- Morphine and codeine, used for pain control, are both derived from the milky juice of the unripe fruit capsules of the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum). This is thought to be the oldest medicine of all.
- One of the commonest ingredients of many laxatives is derived from the dried pods and leaves of senna, a species of Cassia tree.
- Digitalis, a crude drug once prescribed for many cardiac ills, originally derived from the simple cottage-garden flower, the purple foxglove. The more sophisticated Digitoxin and Digoxin are yielded by the white foxglove.
- The contraceptive pill was originally derived from Mexican Yams.
Despite the development of the synthetic drug industry where drugs have been refined in the laboratory from the basis of plant compounds, many pharmacologists and drug manufacturers are turning once again to the plant world. Some are disenchanted with the strong chemicals and side-effects of modern drugs, but many have rediscovered the potential of plants and are seeking cures proving elusive in the test-tube.
Feverfew and the evening primrose are but two of the plants which have come to recent prominence and which are now under proper scientific evaluation. Feverfew has long been considered a herbal cure for migraine and these properties are now being investigated by the drug industry. The acid in the oil from the evening primrose is proving useful in such varied areas as eczema, heart disease and pre-menstrual tension: it is being prescribed in National Health Service hospitals in Britain.
Another plant remedy which is receiving current scientific attention is the Madagascar periwinkle, which contains a cancer fighting substance used in the treatment of leukaemia. Russian research is achieving success in treating skin cancer with cotton-seed oil.
Aromatherapy may be thought of by some as an alternative form of therapy – as merely a beauty massage treatment even – but this is not the case. It consists of the medicinal use of natural plant compounds, exactly as do the conventional medicines described earlier.
Aromatherapy bible is your complete guide to aromatherapy oils offering comprehensive information about list of the aromatherapy oils and its extracts.