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 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.

Reference List

Lambert, M. N. T., Thorup, A. C., Hansen, E. S. S., & Jeppesen, P. B. (2017). Combined Red Clover isoflavones and probiotics potently reduce menopausal vasomotor symptoms. PLOS ONE, 12(6), e0176590.

Axelsson, A. S., Tubbs, E., Mecham, B., Chacko, S., Nenonen, H. A., Tang, Y., … Rosengren, A. H. (2017). Sulforaphane reduces hepatic glucose production and improves glucose control in patients with type 2 diabetes. Science Translational Medicine, 9(394), eaah4477.

Zhang, H.-J., Rumschlag-Booms, E., Guan, Y.-F., Wang, D.-Y., Liu, K.-L., Li, W.-F., … Rong, L. (2017). Potent Inhibitor of Drug-Resistant HIV-1 Strains Identified from the Medicinal Plant Justicia gendarussa. Journal of Natural Products, 80(6), 1798–1807.

Bennett, B. C., & Balick, M. J. (2014). Does the name really matter? The importance of botanical nomenclature and plant taxonomy in biomedical research. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 152(3), 387–392.