Jamaican medicinal plants have tremendous economic potential

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Jamaican medicinal plants have tremendous economic potential

Dr Henry
Lowe

Sunday, August 09, 2020

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PLANTS have had historical significance as medicine since the beginning of civilisation. The oldest medical pharmacopeias of the African, Arabian, and Asian countries solely utilise plants and herbs to treat pain, oral diseases, skin diseases, microbial infections, multiple types of cancers, reproductive disorders, among myriad other ailments.

In 2011 the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that between 65 per cent and 80 per cent of the world's population, who do not have access to Western medicine, solely utilise botanical preparations as medicine, despite the lack of safety and efficacy data. Due to the abundance of plants, plant-derived medicines provide biodiversity, convenience, availability and affordability, and have safer side-effect profiles than synthetic drugs.

Jamaica is of particular interest because it has approximately 52 per cent of the established medicinal plants that exist on earth. This makes the island particularly welcoming for rigorous scientific research on the medicinal value of plants and the development of phytomedicine thereof. This could have great economic and medicinal implications, not only for Jamaica, but for the region.

Plant-based decoctions have been a significant part of Jamaican traditional folklore medicine, primarily to treat the common cold, flu, headache, nausea, pain, reproductive system and digestive issues. Both clinical and anecdotal evidence support the wide therapeutic window of these plants, which may also be used to treat some diseases that are of significant global burden including COVID-19, influenza viruses, herpes simplex viruses 1 and 2 (HSV-1 & HSV-2), human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), acquired immunodeficiency virus (AIDS), and hepatitis viruses B and C. Some Jamaican plants and their major medicinal value include:

• Ball moss/“Old man's beard” (Tillandsia recurvata) — with antiviral activity against HIV;

• Aloe vera/“Sinkle bible” (Aloe barbadensis miller) — with antiviral activity against the human influenza viruses, the common cold, herpes simplex virus types 1 and 2 (HSV-1 and 2), varicella-zoster virus (VZV), and cytomegalovirus (CMV);

• Ganja (Cannabis sativa) — with antiviral activity against HIV/AIDS wasting syndrome, hepatitis viruses, human coronavirus, common cold. Cannabis also has bioactivity against cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and neurodegenerative diseases;

• Guinea hen weed (Petiveria alliaceae) — antiviral activity against HIV, common cold, human influenza viruses, hepatitis C.

• Ginger (Zingiber officinale) — antiviral activity against human influenza viruses, parainfluenza virus type 3, vaccinia virus, HSV 1, HSV 2, human rhinovirus type 2, vesicular stomatitis virus;

• Turmeric (Curcuma longa) — with antiviral activity against hepatitis C, epstein-barr virus (EBV), HIV-1, human influenza viruses, parainfluenza viruses 1, 2 and 3, adenovirus and respiratory syncytial virus, H1N1, H6N6;

• Moringa (Moringa oleifera) — antiviral activity against influenza viruses, HSV-1 and 2, HIV/AIDS, epstein-barr virus (EBV), hepatitis B virus;

• Lignum vitae (Guaiacum officinale) — with antiviral activity against HIV;

• Garlic (Allium sativum); and

• Sorrel (Hibiscus sabdariffa) — with antiviral activity against human influenza viruses, and HSV-2 virus.

The active compounds in these plants that are responsible for the therapeutic effects of phytoantivirals include alkaloids, anthraquinones, coumarins, polyphenols, phenolic acids, lignans, naphthoquinones, peptides, alkaloids, nitrogenated compounds, polysaccharides and terpenes.

The wide biodiversity of plants that Jamaica offers puts us in a position to make a significant contribution to phytomedicine and drug development. There are possibly hundreds of thousands of undiscovered plants that may have thousands of undiscovered bioactive molecules against many of the aforementioned diseases. This could have great economic and medicinal implications, not only for Jamaica, but for the region.

— Dr Henry Lowe is a Jamaican scientist, businessman and philanthropist who has gained worldwide recognition for his cancer research and use of Jamaican plants to produce neutraceuticals.


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