Monday, June 22, 2009

Herbs: Casca-de-anta


scientific name: Drimys winteri other common names: Winter's cinnamon, canelo, aktarcin

growing areas: Native to Brazil; grows in forests from southern Mexico to Cape Horn, at the very tip of Argentina; also grown as an ornamental plant in England
physical description: It is a tree that grows up to 30 feet in height. It produces a lot of small white flowers with yellow centers and a small seed pod. The flowers have a fragrant scent, like jasmine, and the seeds are fleshy and aromatic. The leaves have a peppery taste and are used as a condiment.

traditional uses: The tree is named after Captain John Winter, who used the bark in the area of the Strait of Magellan to treat the crew of his ship, Elizabeth, for scurvy during the voyage of Sir Francis Drake's fleet around the world in the sixteenth century. His discovery of it as a remedy led to a great demand for the botanical in Europe.

In Brazil, according to Taylor, the bark is used as a treatment for respiratory ailments, asthma, gastrointestinal disorders such as dyspepsia, nausea, vomiting, and colic. It has sometimes been substituted for quinine to treat malaria. In Costa Rica, the bark is chewed to relieve toothaches, and an infusion is used to treat stomach disorders, said Morton.

availability and dosage: The bark is used as an infusion. It is not believed to be available in the United States.

contraindications: None noted.

special precautions: Consult your physician before beginning any use of an ethnobotanical substance for medicinal purposes. medical research: As with many botanical substances, studies done of the properties of casca-de-anta have relied on animal test subjects, not humans. But in using mice and guinea pigs, researchers in Brazil have come up with some findings that they believe point the way to further study of the plant as a human medicine, particularly in the treatment of diseases affecting the throat and lungs. In one case, mice who were suffering from a chemically induced swelling of the paw were shown to have significantly increased survival rates when given an extract of the plant. From this, the researchers concluded that the bark of casca-de-anta contained substances that had anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic properties, thus confirming its use as a folk medicine for the management of breathing problems such as asthma. In a different study, this time using guinea pigs suffering from chemically induced inflammations of the trachea, a major constituent of the bark known as polygodial was shown to interfere with constriction in the airway of the animals.

Another animal study, using mice, indicated that polygodial extracts had an antinociceptive action on animals suffering from the effects of acetic acid given internally. The acid has the effect of causing abdominal contractions, but in the test the plant extracts appeared to diminish the muscle activity, more so than aspirin and acetaminophen, two drugs used in the study for comparison.

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