Agarwood

Agarwood

Aqualaria crassna (Thymelaeaceae)

Characteristics

There are 17 species in the genus Aquilaria, large evergreen trees, and nine are known to produce agar wood. Aquilaria crassna is one source of agar wood, a resinous heartwood, used for perfume and incense. The resin is produced by the tree as an immune reaction in response to infection by mould. Prior to infection, the heartwood is odorless, relatively light and pale colored. As the infection progresses, the tree produces the dark aromatic resin, called agar (not to be confused with the edible, algae-derived agar), which results in a very dense, dark, resin-embedded heartwood.

Distribution

Native to Southeast Asia and New Guinea. Cultivated in plantations in some tropical regions.

Natural Medical Properties

Agar wood is an astringent, stimulant, tonic herb that relieves spasms, especially of the digestive and respiratory systems, and lowers fevers.

In Western, Chinese and Indian medicines the incense is used against cancer, especially of the thyroid gland. In China it is applied as a sedative against abdominal complaints, asthma, colic and diarrhoea, and as an aphrodisiac and carminative.

The grated wood enters into various preparations used especially during and after childbirth, and to treat rheumatism, smallpox and abdominal pains. Decoctions of the wood are said to have anti-microbial properties, e.g. Against Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Shigella flexneri.

Did you know?

First grade agarwood is one of the most expensive natural raw materials in the world, with prices for superior pure material as high as US$ 100’000 per kg. The current global market for agarwood is growing rapidly.

Further reading:

Literature

World Flora Online
WorldChecklist of Selected Plant Families
A working list of all plant species

Teak

Teak

Tectona grandis (Lamiaceae)

Characteristics

Large tree, deciduous, up to 40 m tall. High-quality wood. Greyish-brown branches. Leaves ovate, 15-45 cm long, 8-23 cm wide, margins entire, papery, hairy on lower surface. Flowers small, fragrant, white, arranged in dense clusters at the end of the branches.

Distribution

Native to India and Southeast Asia but naturalized in many countries in Africa and the Caribbean. Myanmar’s teak forests account for nearly half of the world’s naturally occurring teak.

Natural Medical  Properties

Did you know?

Teak’s natural oils make the timber termite, pest and weather resistant. The wood is durable even when not treated with oil or varnish. It is used in the manufacture of outdoor furniture and boat decks.

Teak is propagated mainly from seeds. Germination of the seeds involves pretreatment to remove dormancy arising from the thick pericarp. Pretreatment involves alternate wetting and drying of the seed.

Further reading:

Literature

World Flora Online
WorldChecklist of Selected Plant Families
A working list of all plant species

Indian Sandalwood

Indian Sandalwood

Santalum album (Santalaceae)

Characteristics

Evergreen tree, 4-9 m tall. Up to one hundred years old. It parasitizes the roots of other tree species with a haustorium adaptation on its own roots, but without major detriment to its host. Bark reddish to brown (to black), smooth in young trees, becoming cracked with a red reveal. Heartwood pale green to white (“album”). Leaves thin, opposite, ovate, glabrous. Fruit is produced after three years, viable seeds after five. Seeds are distributed by birds.

The plant is widely cultivated because of its valuable wood. Indian Sandalwood (Santalum album) is the primary source of sandalwood and the derived oil. The woods are heavy, fine-grained and unlike many other aromatic woods, they retain their fragrance for decades. Indian Sandalwood still commands high prices for its essential oil, but due to lack of sizeable trees it is no longer used for fine woodworking as before.

Distribution

Native to southern India and Southeast Asia. Now cultivated in India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Australia and some parts of Oceania.

Natural Medical  Properties

Sandalwood contains 3 – 6% essential oils (predominantly the sesquiterpenols alpha- and beta-santalol), resin and tannins.

It is an aromatic, bittersweet, astringent herb that cools the body, calms the mind, relieves spasms and improves digestion.

It has diuretic, analgesic, antiseptic, expectorant and stimulant effects.

The wood or essential oil is taken internally in the treatment of genito-urinary disorders, fever, sunstroke, digestive problems and abdominal pain.

A paste of the wood is used externally to treat skin complaints.

Sandalwood oil is little used in modern herbalism, its main application is in aromatherapy.

Did you know?

The high value of the species has caused its past exploitation to the point where the wild population is vulnerable to extinction.

Further reading:

Literature

World Flora Online
WorldChecklist of Selected Plant Families
A working list of all plant species

Shampoo ginger

Shampoo ginger

Zingiber zerumbet (Zingimberaceae)

Characteristics

Perennial herb, leafy stem up to 1.2 m tall. From autumn until spring it goes dormant above ground as the leafy stems shrivel and die away, leaving the pale brown rhizomes at ground level. In the spring, the plant springs up anew. 10-12 blade-shaped leaves, 15-20 cm long, alternate. Among the leafy stems, the conical flower heads burst forth on separate and shorter stalks. These appear in the summer, after the stem has been growing for a while. The flower heads are initially green, 3-10 cm, with overlapping scales, enclosing small yellowish-white flowers that poke out a few at a time. As the flower heads mature, they gradually fill with an aromatic, slimy liquid and turn a brighter red color.

Distribution

Native to tropical Asia and Australasia but can be found in many tropical countries. The earliest evidence of its cultivation is from the Austronesian people who carried it with them during the Austronesian expansion (ca. 5000 BP) as canoe plants, reaching as far as Remote Oceania.

Natural Medical Properties

A decoction of the rhizome is used in the treatment of asthma.

A decoction is used as a carminative to treat colic.

It is employed as a ‘hot’ remedy for coughs, asthma, worms, leprosy, and other skin diseases.

The rhizome is applied externally to rheumatic joints.

The essential oil in the rhizome contains zerumbone, which has spasmolytic and bacteriostatic properties.

Did you know?

The rhizomes of Shampoo ginger have been used as food flavoring and appetizers in various cuisines while the rhizome extracts have been used in herbal medicine. Perhaps the most common use of the plant is as a shampoo and conditioner. The clear fragrant juice present in the mature flower heads that resemble red pinecones is used for softening and bringing shininess to the hair. It can be left in the hair or rinsed out and can also be used as a massage lubricant.

Further reading:

Literature

World Flora Online
WorldChecklist of Selected Plant Families
A working list of all plant species

Taro

Taro

Colocasia esculenta (Araceae)

Characteristics

Perennial, tropical plant. Primarily grown as a root vegetable for its edible, starchy corm. Leaves up to 40×35 cm and sprout from the rhizome, dark green above and light green beneath, highly water-repellent. Taro is one of few crops (along with rice and lotus) that can be grown under flooded conditions.

Distribution

Native to Southern India and Southeast Asia but is widely naturalized in tropical and subtropical regions around the world. Taro corms are a food staple in African, Oceanic and South Asian cultures.

Natural Medical  Properties

The plant is antibacterial and hypotensive.

A decoction of the leaves is drunk to promote menstruation.

A decoction, together with some parts of other plants, is taken to relieve stomach problems and to treat cysts.
In New Guinea, the leaves are heated over a fire and are applied as a poultice to boils.

The sap of the leaf stalk is used in treating conjunctivitis

The scraped stem, together with some parts of other plants, is used to create an appetite.

The plant is used to treat wounds.

Did you know?

Taro is believed to have been one of the earliest cultivated plants.

Further reading:

Literature

World Flora Online
WorldChecklist of Selected Plant Families
A working list of all plant species

Golden Shower

Golden Shower

Cassia cf. fistula (Fabaceae)

Characteristics

Medium-sized tree, 10-20 m tall, with fast growth. Leaves deciduous, 15-60 cm long, pinnate. Flowers yellow. Fruit is a legume, 30-60 cm ling. Wood very strong and durable, has been used to construct “Ehela Kanuwa”, a site at Adams Peak in Sri Lanka.

Distribution

Native to the Indian subcontinent and adjacent regions in Southeast Asia. It is a popular ornamental tree and widely grown in tropical and subtropical areas around the world.

Natural Medical  Properties

The ripe pods and seeds are widely used in both traditional and conventional medicine as a laxative. The root-bark, leaves and flowers also have laxative properties, but to a lesser extent.

In modern medicine, the fruit pulp is sometimes used as a mild laxative in paediatrics.

The fruit pulp and leaves are rich in anthraquinone derivatives (around 2%), and glycosides, which are responsible for the laxative properties.

The fruit pulp is rich in pectins and mucilage.

In-vitro and in-vivo tests have shown that the seed powder has amoebicidal and cysticidal properties against Entamoeba histolytica and that it could cure intestinal amoebiasis of humans. The aqueous fraction of the pods has produced a significant decrease in glycaemia.
Aqueous and methanolic bark extracts have shown significant antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities.

An alcohol extract of the leaves has shown antibacterial activity in vivo against Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, plus accelerated wound healing.

A water extract of the leaves has shown antifungal activity against the human skin pathogens Trichophyton spp., Epidermophyton floccosum and Microsporum ferruginum.

The pods are used as a remedy for malaria, blood poisoning, anthrax, diabetes and dysentery.

The pods contain a sweet, sticky pulp.

A decoction of this is taken as a cure for kidney stones, as a vermifuge and as a laxative.

The pulp is extracted from the pods by bruising them and then boiling them in water, after which the decoction is evaporated. It may be obtained from fresh pods by opening them at the sutures and removing the pulp with a spatula.

The pulp is apt to become sour if long exposed to the air, or mouldy if kept in a damp place.

The bark or leaves are widely applied to skin problems.

Broken bones and tropical ulcers are bandaged with bark scrapings and leaf sap.
The heartwood is traditionally applied as an anthelmintic.
A decoction of the roots is applied to purify wounds and ulcers.

In India the roots are used to treat fevers.
The concentration of sennoside in the leaves of Cassia fistula is highest soon after the onset of the rainy season, when new leaves have appeared, and flowering started.

The sennoside content of the pods is highest at the mid-stage of fruit maturation, when the pods are pale brown.

Did you know?

Various species of bees and butterflies are known to be pollinators of the Golden shower tree, especially carpenter bees (Xylocopa).

It is both the national tree and national flower of Thailand.

Further reading:

Literature

World Flora Online
WorldChecklist of Selected Plant Families
A working list of all plant species

Crape jasmine

Crape jasmine

Tabernaemontana divaricata (Apocynaceae)

Characteristics

Evergreen shrub, up to 2 m tall. Dichotomously branched. Stem excludes a milky latex when broken. Leaves large, shony, deep green, 15 cm long, 5 cm wide. Flowers white, waxy, in small clusters on the stem tips. The flowers have the characteristic “pinwheel” shape also seen in other genera in the family Apocynaceae. The leaves of this plant are eaten by the caterpillars of the oleander hawk-moth (Daphnis nerii).

Distribution

Native to India and now cultivated throughout Southeast Asia, the warmer regions of continental Asia and Pacific Islands. In some areas, it is even grown as a house plant for its attractive flowers and foliage.

Natural Medical Properties

No known.

Did you know?

The plant contains several alkaloids and is toxic and medicinal (like many other plants in the family Apocynaceae).

Further reading:

Literature

World Flora Online
WorldChecklist of Selected Plant Families
A working list of all plant species

Simpleleaf chastetree

Simpleleaf chastetree

Vitex trifolia (Lamiaceae)

Characteristics

Large coastal shrub or small tree, less then 5 m tall. Stem covered by soft hairs. Leaves opposite, compound (composed of 3 linear leaflets which range between 1-12 cm in length). Upper surface of the leaves is green, lower surface grayish green. Flowers born in clusters up to 18 cm in length. Individual flowers purple to violet, two-lipped, approx. 5 mm long.

Distribution

Native along coastlines from tropical East Africa as far east as French Polynesia.

Natural Medical Properties

Did you know?

Simpleleaf chastetree is related (same family) to many herbs like basil, rosemary, mint etc.

Further reading:

Literature

World Flora Online
WorldChecklist of Selected Plant Families
A working list of all plant species

Ruellias

Ruellias

Ruellia sp. (Acanthaceae)

Characteristics

Evergreen perennial, up to 1 m tall, forming colonies of stalks with lance-shaped leaves (15-30 cm long, 2 cm wide), opposite. Flowers trumpet-shaped, metallic blue to purple, with five petals.

Distribution

Native to Mexico, the Caribbean and South America. Grown around the world as an ornamental. It has become a widespread invasive plant in Florida, where it was introduced as an ornamental.

Natural Medical Properties

No known.

Did you know?

The risk of introduction of Mexican Ruellia is very high. Even though this species has been listed as invasive in many areas of the world, it is still widely commercialized as an ornamental.

Further reading:

Literature

World Flora Online
WorldChecklist of Selected Plant Families
A working list of all plant species

Beach cabbage

Beach cabbage

Scaevola taccada (Goodeniaceae)

Characteristics

Shrub, up to 4 m tall. Typical of littoral zones where it grows very close to the sea exposed to the salt spray, usually on sandy soil. Leaves slightly succulent, about 20 cm long, crowded at the stem tips, glabrous. Flowers, white, bloom whole year round, flowers fan-like shape. Fruits, white, float in seawater and are propagated by ocean currents. Beach cabbage is one of the pioneer plants in new sandbanks and atolls in tropical areas.

Distribution

Native to coastal locations in the tropical areas of the Indo-Pacific. It is a common beach shrub throughout the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean and the tropical islands of the Pacific Ocean

Natural Medical Properties

No known.

Did you know?

In some islands of the Pacific, Beach cabbage is used to prevent coastal erosion as well as for landscaping. It is also planted on the beach crests to protect other cultivated plants from the salt spray.

Further reading:

Literature

World Flora Online
WorldChecklist of Selected Plant Families
A working list of all plant species