Views:12 Author:Golden Horizon Biologics Publish Time: 2016-09-22 Origin:Golden Horizon Biologics
Native to South America, the Brazilian peppertree is an evergreen shrub that has become an unwelcome visitor in parts of the United States, but some researchers are fascinated by the potential that lurks in the berries of these trees.
The invasive plant has taken over areas of Hawaii, Florida, Texas and California where it forms dense thickets, choking native vegetation. Sometimes the trees can grow as high as 30 feet tall, frustrating residents who say the plant pest causes them to suffer from swollen eyes, itchy rashes and breathing problems.
But where they see a pest, Cassandra Quave sees a cure. A medical ethnobotanist at Atlanta's Emory University, Quave and her team found that an extract from those berries prevents the hard-to-treat bacterium MRSA from forming skin lesions in mice. Although that particular study hasn't been published yet, Quave's work with other plants and their potential has been far-reaching.
In 2015, she researched how extract from the leaves of the European chestnut tree could shut down staph infections, including even the dangerous resistant MRSA strains. MRSA infections can lead to everything from minor skin irritations to death.
"We've identified a family of compounds from this plant that have an interesting medicinal mechanism," Quave said, when the study was released. "Rather than killing staph, this botanical extract works by taking away staph's weapons, essentially shutting off the ability of the bacteria to create toxins that cause tissue damage. In other words, it takes the teeth out of the bacteria's bite."
What is ethnobotany?
As more and more bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics, researchers are looking to older remedies to find new medicines. Ethnobotany studies the relationships between plants and people. Medical ethnobotanists like Quave look to plants as sources for medicine, and often search for solutions to battle the highly evolving, drug-impervious bugs.
Of course, studying the relationship between plants and people is hardly new.
“Wherever humans have lived, they have used nature's resources for medicine," Quave tells MNN. "In some cases, knowledge of which plants to use is passed down orally, from generation to generation between healers to their apprentices. In other cases, it is also recorded in the written record and taught in a more formal setting."
Ayurveda, traditional Chinese medicine, European herbalism, Native American medical traditions and Jamu, a traditional medicine in Indonesia, are all traditional forms of plant-based medicine, Quave says. Their practices are full of details including plant names and the parts of plants used, as well as the best time to harvest, preparation and administration techniques, and on what diseases the plant extracts are most effective.
"The details embedded in traditional knowledge of medicinal plants can give biologists and chemists important clues into the chemistry and potential bioactivity of different species," Quave says.