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Nature's Anti-Inflammatory Arsenal: A Comparative Study

Updated: Apr 22

Introduction: 

In my extensive research on medicinal plants, I have discovered their uses and how that has been used in the history of the plants and tied this back to their internal chemical properties. Furthermore, the research of plants from various locations around the world has given me deep insight into the sheer variety of herbal plants that have promising health benefits for the future of herbal medicine. While this opportunity to immerse myself into the world of medicinal plants has been eye-opening, I believe that the comparison of similar plants is essential in distinguishing how certain herbs can be used for different things and how their origins have led to their modern-day uses and functions.

Turmeric: 

Turmeric (Curcuma Longa) has a history of over 6000 years in the field of medicine, originating in India,  and was first named by Marco Polo in 1280 due to its similarity to a saffron spice. Turmeric had and has great significance in the country of India, where turmeric has great cultural importance as well, but this notion of the importance of turmeric has spread to the world. Turmeric thrives in a tropical climate with high humidity and warm weather, thus its origins in South Asian countries.

Its plant structure is in the form of rhizomes that grow into the ground as roots. The rhizomes of the turmeric plant are often yellow-brown, and branch off into several nodes that stem from the main ‘mother rhizome’ that exists at the base of the plant. 

Turmeric’s most common use in the health field is to provide ailment to a variety of inflammatory diseases. Some examples of diseases that turmeric is often used to heal or relieve are osteoarthritis, swelling, and other inflammations occurring in or on the body. 

The main molecules responsible for turmeric’s popularity in relieving inflammatory-related diseases are the curcuminoids present once the rhizome of the plant is harvested and ground into a spice. The most abundant curcuminoids within turmeric are curcumin, demethoxycurcumin, and bisdemethoxycurcumin, although there are other analogs of curcuminoids that may exist within turmeric. These are all molecules that enable the turmeric spice to display its shown traits.

Ginger:

Ginger’s (Zingiber officinale) origins are unique, in that they are quite unclear to most historians since ginger doesn’t grow in the wild, however, many suspect that the plant’s origins date back to extensive use in India and China. The use of ginger spice dates back to 3000 years ago, and the production of ginger roots dates back to over 5000 years ago. Ginger’s value was extremely high back in the 13th century due to how it could provide a variety of health benefits and treat such a large amount of diseases that the people of the time faced.

Similar to turmeric, ginger is harvested through its rhizomes and horizontal stems. It also thrives in a similar climate and environment to turmeric, which is largely attributed to its development in South Asia.

Although with some anti-inflammatory properties, ginger is most commonly used for nausea relief. Some examples of its real-life application are during pregnancy, post-chemotherapy, or for bloating. Ginger is taken in many forms and is often used for its culinary uses in addition to its aforementioned properties. One opportunity for ginger is its possible use in antiemetic drugs.

Ginger can provide these anti-nausea effects because of the presence of several accumulated bioactive molecules within the spice. The main molecules responsible for this are gingerols and shogaols. This is in contrast with turmeric, which has curcuminoids that primarily provide the anti-inflammatory benefits of the plant.

Boswellia:

Boswellia (Boswellia serrata, also known as Frankincense) grows in dry and mountainous regions of India and the Middle East as opposed to the humid and tropical environments in which both ginger and turmeric plants thrive. The plant is drought-resistant and is often used for incense production. These incensees are mainly used in traditional churches and certain ceremonies. In the modern day, the plant needs high amounts of government involvement to conserve the amount of Boswellia plants available. This is due to excessive farming in the past, in addition to infestations and poor harvesting practices.

The plant’s most common use in terms of traditional medicine is to provide treatment for immune-system-related diseases or disorders. An example of this is that the tree’s bark is used to treat stomach illnesses obtained from the contraction of viral/infectious bacteria, and in the past, the plant was used to treat leprosy, which is caused by infections from bacteria.

The Boswellia plant can provide these benefits due to its anti-oxidant capabilities which stem from its plant material and molecular structure. Extracts of the plant contain regulatory cells that are largely responsible for immune system defense and maintenance. A more detailed explanation of numerous studies discovering the various ways that the cells within the plant are able to defend the body against foreign particles can be found on NCBI.

Willow Bark:

Last but not least, Willow Bark (Salix alba) can be dated back to the year 400 BC and is most commonly used in China and Europe. It was recommended to chew on this bark to reduce one’s risk of inflammatory-related symptoms. One interesting fact about this plant is that the bark contains salicin, which is a compound that was used to produce aspirin in the 1800s. The Willow Bark belongs to a group of trees and shrubs that are known for their pain-relief effects. The plant is often harvested and the extract is then used for its pain-relief compounds. The climate that the plant is grown in is sort of a middle-ground to those previously mentioned since it grows in mostly temperate and slightly moist environments.

Some common disorders that Willow Bark is used to treat are headaches, low back pain, osteoarthritis, and cramping. These effects are most similar to those of turmeric. One important thing to note about the possible risks of taking Willow Bark for those under the age of eighteen is the possibility of developing Reye syndrome, which is also attributed to taking aspirin. Reye syndrome is a rare condition that can cause liver damage and swelling to the brain.

Several compounds within the willow bark tree allow the herb to produce an extensive amount of health benefits. An example of one group of compounds within Willow Bark are flavonoids, which provide numerous benefits such as anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancerous, and much more. This in combination with the salicin compound mentioned previously allows the herb to relieve excessive pain in the body and is the reason for its popularity for hundreds of years.

Conclusion:

I believe that the differences between the plants I researched allow me to decipher how they can be used in different circumstances. The difficulty in growing, harvesting, and application plays a large factor in how it can be used in traditional medicines around the world. Some key differences that I noticed were the bioactive compounds within the plants and how they have a role in producing the plants’ respective health benefits. Perhaps, if bioactive compounds within plants of similar capabilities were extracted and used for medicine, the effects would be even more enhanced. This idea is similar to how the presence of salicin in Willow Bark interacts with flavonoids to boost the health benefits even more. Although this is a hypothetical idea, I am curious to research more and learn about how the differences between plants can be used in the future to produce herbal medicines that are even better than current medicine.



References

The Amazing and Mighty Ginger - Herbal Medicine. (n.d.). NCBI. Retrieved February 18, 2024, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92775/

Antioxidant and Ex Vivo Immune System Regulatory Properties of Boswellia serrata Extracts. (2017, February 20). NCBI. Retrieved February 19, 2024, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5366763/

Ginger Benefits. (n.d.). Johns Hopkins Medicine. Retrieved February 18, 2024, from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/ginger-benefits

Turmeric. (n.d.). CC GROW. Retrieved February 18, 2024, from http://www.phytotheca.com/phytotheca/turmeric/

TURMERIC: Overview, Uses, Side Effects, Precautions, Interactions, Dosing and Reviews. (n.d.). WebMD. Retrieved February 18, 2024, from https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-662/turmeric

Willow bark Information. (n.d.). Mount Sinai. Retrieved February 19, 2024, from https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/herb/willow-bark



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