Clover, broccoli, and an AIDS-busting plant

Nigel Chaffey starts a series celebrating the human life-sustaining potential of plants…

Kew’s State of the World’s Plants report for 2016 estimates there to be 369,400 species of flowering plants (p. 9). Its 2017 report (p. 22) states that medicinal uses are recorded for 28,187 species. That gives some idea of the medicinal value of angiosperms. But, what of the other 341,213? And how many more species await investigation (let alone exploitation)? Nobody knows, but the following round-up gives an idea of the plant potential that exists to help improve the human condition.

Trifolium pratense with insect. Photo: Guttorm Raknes / Wikpedia.

Cool news then is that fermented extract from red clover (Trifolium pratense, presumably, but not specified by scientific name in the journal article…) is effective in dealing with hot flushes, one of the many symptoms associated with the menopause in women.

Broccoli

Broccoli and its cross section. Photo: Fir0002 / Wikipedia.

Sulforaphane extract from broccoli (Brassica oleracea, presumably, but not specified by scientific name in the journal article…) offers hope for control of type 2 diabetes. Particularly for those sufferers for whom the usually-prescribed drug metformin may result in kidney damage. See, your ‘greens‘ are good for you.

Justicia procumbens

Justicia procumbens, commonly known as Water Willow, a small plant endemic to India. Photo:
Jeevan Jose / Wikipedia.

Justicia gendarussa, a medicinal plant from south-east Asia, contains a compound – named patentiflorin A – that is proving to be more effective than AZT (3’-azido-3’-deoxythymidine, azidothymidine) against HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), the virus that can lead to development of AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. And it’s good to see the paper including the scientific name for the plant studied (cf. the previous two articles, on red clover and broccoli!*).

* This underlines an important point in trying to establish what the plant sources of medicines actually are; it is essential that scientific names are given instead of letting the reader guess what plant is intended.

I am a botanist and former Senior Lecturer in Botany at Bath Spa University (Bath, near Bristol, UK). As News Editor for the Annals of Botany I contributed the monthly Plant Cuttings column to that august international botanical organ - and to Botany One - for almost 10 years. I am now a freelance plant science communicator and Visiting Research Fellow at Bath Spa University. I continue to share my Cuttingsesque items - and appraisals of books with a plant focus - with a plant-curious audience. In that guise my main goal is to inform (hopefully, in an educational, and entertaining way) others about plants and plant-people interactions, and thereby improve humankind's botanical literacy. Happy to be contacted to discuss potential writing - or talking - projects and opportunities. [ORCID: 0000-0002-4231-9082]

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