Herbs & Plants

Dioscorea communis

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Botanical Name: Dioscorea communis
Family:    Dioscoreaceae
Genus:    Dioscorea
Species:    D. communis
Kingdom:    Plantae
Order:    Dioscoreales

Common Names Black bryony, Lady’s-seal, and Black bindweed

Habitat: Dioscorea communis is a native spontaneous species widespread throughout southern and central Europe, northwest Africa and western Asia, from Ireland to the Canary Islands, east to Iran and Crimea. It  is a typical plant of the forest understory, from the sea to the mountains, usually in dense woods, but it can also be found in meadows and hedges.

It is a climbing herbaceous plant growing to 2–4 m tall, with twining stems. The leaves are spirally arranged, heart-shaped, up to 10 cm long and 8 cm broad, with a petiole up to 5 cm long. It is dioecious, with separate male and female plants. The flowers are individually inconspicuous, greenish-yellow, 3–6 mm diameter, with six petals; the male flowers produced in slender 5–10 cm racemes, the female flowers in shorter clusters. The fruit is a bright red berry, 1 cm diameter. Its fairly large tuber is, like the rest of the plant, poisonous….:

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Edible Uses:
Young shoots are edible and can be used as asparagus substitute, and are usually picked in spring. Top of the shoots and sturdy, meaty parts of staple are used for eating, and the flabby parts are discarded by snapping them off. Young shoots may be eaten raw, but they are usually cooked in hot water for various salads or used in omelette.

Constituents:  The rhizome contains phenanthrenes (7-hydroxy-2,3,4,8-tetramethoxyphenanthrene, 2,3,4-trimethoxy-7,8-methylenedioxyphenanthrene, 3-hydroxy-2,4,-dimethoxy-7,8-methylenedioxyphenanthrene, 2-hydroxy-3,5,7-trimethoxyphenanthrene and 2-hydroxy-3,5,7-trimethoxy-9,10-dihydrophenanthrene)

Medicinal Uses:
According to secondary sources, all components of the black bryony plant, including the tubers, are poisonous due to saponin content. Therefore, it is not typically used internally; however, it has been used as a poultice for bruises and inflamed joints. It has been suggested that black bryony be used topically with caution, due to a tendency for the plant to cause painful blisters.

Known Hazards:  Studies have isolated calcium oxalate deposits and histamines in the berry juice and rhizomes, which may contribute to skin irritation and contact dermatitis associated with black bryony.
Disclaimer : The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplement, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.


Herbs & Plants

Arbutus unedo

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Botanical Name :Arbutus unedo
Family: Ericaceae
Genus: Arbutus
Species: A. unedo
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Ericales

Common Nanmes: Strawberry tree, occasionally cane apple,Irish strawberry tree” or “Killarney strawberry tree”

Habitat :Arbutus unedo is native to the Mediterranean region and western Europe north to western France and Ireland. Due to its presence in South West Ireland.

Arbutus unedo grows to 5–10 m tall, rarely up to 15 m, with a trunk diameter of up to 80 cm.

The leaves are dark green and glossy, 5–10 cm (2–4 in) long and 2–3 cm (0.8–1.2 in) broad, with a serrated margin.

The hermaphrodite flowers are white (rarely pale pink), bell-shaped, 4–6 mm diameter, produced panicles of 10–30 together in autumn. They are pollinated by bees.

Bloom Color: Pink, White. Main Bloom Time: Early fall, Early winter, Late fall, Late winter, Mid fall, Mid winter.  Form: Rounded.

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The fruit is a red berry, 1–2 cm diameter, with a rough surface, maturing 12 months at the same time as the next flowering. The fruit is edible, though many people find it bland and meally; the name ‘unedo’ is explained by Pliny the Elder as being derived from unum edo “I eat one”, which may seem an apt response to the flavour.

When eaten in quantities this fruit is said to be narcotic, and the wine made from it in Spain has the same property.
The tree is common in the Mediterranean region, and the fruit was known to the ancients, but according to Pliny (who gave the tree the name of Arbutus) was not held in much esteem, as the name implies (un ede=one 1 eat), the fruits being considered so unpalatable, that no one tasting them for the first time would be tempted to repeat the experiment. Nevertheless, there is some evidence that at one time the fruit was an article of diet with the ancients. Horace praises the tree for its shade and Ovid for its loads of ‘blushing fruit.’ Virgil recommends the young shoots as winter food for goats and for basket-work.

Gerard speaks of it in his time as growing in ‘some few gardens,’ and says, ‘the fruit being ripe is of a gallant red colour, in taste somewhat harsh, and in a manner without any relish, of which thrushes and blackbirds do feed in winter .’

In Spain, a sugar and spirit have been extracted from the fruit and a wine made from it in Corsica.

In the neighbourhood of Algiers it forms hedges, and in Greece and Spain the bark has been used for tanning. The wood of the tree makes good charcoal.
Landscape Uses:Container, Espalier, Pest tolerant, Hedge, Standard, Specimen. Requires a nutrient-rich well-drained moisture-retentive soil in sun or semi-shade and shelter from cold drying winds, especially when youn. Grows well in heavy clay soils and in dry soils. Most species in this genus require a lime-free soil but this species is fairly lime tolerant. Succeeds in fairly exposed maritime positions[166, 200]. A tree in a very exposed position at Rosewarne in N. Cornwall was looking rather tattered in April 1987 but it was 4.5 metres tall and carrying a very good crop of immature fruit[K]. Tolerates industrial pollution. Plants have withstood temperatures down to -16°c without injury at Kew. They grow very well in S.W. England, fruiting well in Cornwall. Plants resent root disturbance and are best placed in their final positions whilst young. Give them some protection in their first winter. The strawberry tree flowers in November and December, the fruit takes 12 months to ripen and so the tree carries both mature fruit and flowers at the same time and is incredibly beautiful at this time. The flowers have a soft honey scent. There are a number of named varieties developed for their ornamental value. ‘Elfin King’, ‘Croomei’ and ‘Rubra’ are all small forms that fruit well when smal. The variety ‘Rubra’ was 1.2 metres tall at Kew in late 1990 and was laden down with fruits and flowers. ‘Elfin King’ only reaches a height of 1 metre, comes into bearing when young and fruits well. It is ideal for container culture. ‘Croomei’ is said to be a more reliable fruiting form. Special Features:Attracts birds, Not North American native, Attractive flowers or blooms.

Seed – best surface sown in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe. Stored seed should be soaked for 5 – 6 days in warm water and then surface sown in a shady position in a greenhouse. Do not allow the compost to become dry. 6 weeks cold stratification helps. The seed usually germinates well in 2 – 3 months at 20°c. Seedlings are prone to damp off, they are best transplanted to individual pots as soon as they are large enough to handle and should be kept well ventilated. Grow them on in a greenhouse for their first winter and then plant out in late spring after the last expected frosts. Basal cuttings in late winter. Cuttings of mature wood of the current season’s growth, November/December in a frame. Poor percentage. Layering of young wood – can take 2 years.
Edible Uses:
Fruit – raw or cooked. Sweet but insipid. The Latin name ‘unedo’ means ‘I eat one (only)’ and suggests that the fruit is not very palatable, though another report says that the fruit is so delicious that a person only needs to eat one. It does have a somewhat gritty skin, but the fruit itself has the texture of a lush tropical fruit and has a delicate pleasant flavour. For those people with sensitive taste buds, this is a fruit that can be enjoyed when eaten in moderate quantities. The fruit contains about 20% sugars and can be used to make delicious and nourishing jams and preserves. It is ripe in November/December and is about 15mm in diameter. When fully ripe it falls from the tree and so it is advisable to grow the plant in short grass in order to cushion the fall of the fruit.

Medicinal Uses:
Antiseptic;  Astringent;  Diuretic.

The strawberry tree is little used in herbalism, though it does deserve modern investigation. All parts of the plant contain ethyl gallate, a substance that possesses strong antibiotic activity against the Mycobacterium bacteria. The leaves, bark and root are astringent and diuretic. They are also a renal antiseptic and so are of use in the treatment of affections of the urinary system such as cystitis and urethritis. Their astringent action makes them of use in the treatment of diarrhoea and dysentery and, like many other astringent plants, a gargle can be made for treating sore and irritated throats. The leaves are gathered in the summer and dried for later use. The flowers are weakly diaphoretic.

Other Uses:

Tannin is obtained from the leaves, bark and fruit. The bark contains 45% tannin. Wood – used for turning, Greek flutes etc. It makes a good charcoal.
Arbutus unedo serves as a bee plant for honey production, and the fruits are food for birds. The fruits are also used to make jams, beverages, and liqueurs (such as the Portuguese medronho, a type of strong brandy).

The Garden of Earthly Delights, a painting by Hieronymus Bosch, was originally listed by José de Sigüenza, in the inventory of the Spanish Crown as La Pintura del Madroño – “The Painting of the Strawberry Tree“.

The tree makes up part of the Coat of arms of Madrid (El oso y el madroño, The Bear and the Strawberry Tree) of the city of Madrid, Spain. In the center of the city (Puerta del Sol) there is a statue of a bear eating the fruit of the Madroño tree. The image appears on city crests, taxi cabs, man-hole covers, and other city infrastructure. The fruit of the Madroño tree ferments on the tree if left to ripen, so some of the bears become drunk from eating the fruits.


Disclaimer : The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplement, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.


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More Than 8 Hours Sleep is Risk of Alzheimer’s

How your morning lie-in could double risk of Alzheimer’s.

Those who sleep for more than eight hours a day are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s, research suggests.

The danger affects both those who enjoy regular lie-ins in the morning and those who take naps in the afternoon, a study found.

The reason for the trend remains unclear. It could be that excessive sleep is an early sign of Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.

Staying in bed could also be a sign of depression, which is known to increase the risk of dementia in the elderly.

But it is also possible that excessive sleep actually increases the risk of developing the disease.
Researchers urged doctors to be on the look-out for long sleep as a warning that a patient is at risk.
Alzheimer’s affects an estimated 750,000 Britons and this is expected to rise as the population lives longer.

The latest research into the disease was carried out by experts at the University Hospital of Madrid in Spain.
They studied 3,286 men and women aged 65 or over.
Each one was asked about their health and lifestyle, such as how many hours of sleep they averaged over a 24-hour period, including afternoon naps.

The volunteers were then followed for more than three years, during which 140 went on to develop Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.
The results showed those who averaged more than eight or nine hours of sleep a day were twice as likely to have developed dementia.

In a report on their findings, published in the European Journal of Neurology, the researchers said: ‘We found a significant association between long sleep duration and dementia.

‘Long sleep may be an early symptom of dementia, or could lead to an increased risk of it. But the mechanisms underlying this association are not readily explainable.’

Dr Susanne Sorensen, head of research at the Alzheimer’s Society, said: ‘This report demonstrates that sleeping longer than normal and feeling sleepy during the day is linked to getting dementia within three years.
‘There is no apparent physiological link and it is unlikely that sleeping more than normal is a direct risk factor for dementia; it may simply be an early sign of a yet undiagnosed condition. As currently only a third of people with dementia ever receive a formal diagnosis, more research is now needed to investigate these results.’

Alzheimer’s destroys chemical messengers in the brain.
It starts with the build-up of deposits called plaques and tangles which can disrupt normal messaging systems by causing inflammation.

The cause remains unknown but research suggests keeping the mind active, such as by doing quizzes, puzzles or crosswords, may help protect against this.

Earlier this week a report found that exercising regularly and sticking to a Mediterranean diet rich in fruit, vegetables, oily fish and nuts could cut the risk of Alzheimer’s by 80 per cent.

A study earlier this year found too much sleep is also linked to type two diabetes.
Regular lunchtime siestas increased the risk by 26 per cent, possibly by disrupting the body’s hormonal balance.

:Mail Online. Dated:Aug.15.2009

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Think Before Taking Multivitamins

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Excessive multivitamin use could increase prostate cancer risk.


Go slow on those multivitamins guys!

Men need to be cautious about taking multivitamins more than once a day, for a new study has found doing so may increase the risk of prostrate cancer.

The researchers conducting the study also found that though there was no link between multivitamin use and the risk of developing localised prostate cancer, men who took multivitamins more than once a day were 32 per cent more likely to develop advanced prostate cancer.

They also found that such men were 98 per cent more likely to die from the disease. However, the researchers warn that the study had its limitations.

They pointed out that it was not designed to determine whether multivitamins actually caused cancer; it did not ascertain which multivitamins were taken; and the results failed to establish a relationship between dose and response.

Moreover, other studies have shown no connection between prostate cancer and multivitamins. Harvard Men’s Health Watch, which published the study, suggests that a good diet and other lifestyle changes may help lower prostate cancer risk.

The publication also suggests that though the new study cautions against excessive multivitamin use, it does not show harm from a daily supplement that sticks to the recommended daily amounts of the standard vitamins.

Source:The Times Of India

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Why boys are brats

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The first Indian genetic study on a common behavioural disorder explores why inattentiveness and hyperactivity are more common in boys than in girls. G.S. Mudur reports .

Mothers who carry a ‘faulty’ version of the MAOA gene prefentially hand it down to their sons.

The exact biological basis for boys appearing naughtier than girls has long eluded scientists, but Calcutta-based geneticist Kanchan Mukhopadhyay has stumbled upon something that may at least partly explain why more boys than girls get into trouble in school and at home.

Mukhopadhyay has been looking for genes that might help unravel the complexity of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) — a behavioural disorder so common that psychiatrists expect two children in every class of 40 to have it. It’s a condition marked by inattentiveness, impulsive action and hyperactivity, and surfaces typically during early school years. Most children diagnosed with ADHD while in school continue to have the symptoms in adolescence and adulthood.

Now, in a study of a medium-sized gene on the human chromosome X — one of the two sex chromosomes — Mukhopadhyay and her colleagues have detected a possible mechanism that might explain why ADHD is four times more common in boys than in girls. The researchers at the Manovikas Biomedical Research and Diagnostic Centre, Calcutta, have discovered that mothers who carry a “faulty” version of the gene preferentially hand it down to their sons.

“This is an effort to understand better the biochemical changes in the brain that accompany ADHD,” said Swagata Sinha, a psychiatrist and a member of the research team. “When we treat patients with ADHD today — whether through behaviour therapy or medication — we find that some respond well, while others do not respond. A clearer picture of what’s going on inside the ADHD brain may help us improve therapy.”

In their study, the Manovikas Centre researchers analysed the genetic alphabets on a gene that makes an enzyme called monoamine oxidase (MAOA) in a group of 64 boys and nine girls with ADHD who were brought to their clinic as outpatients. They also examined the corresponding genes in both the parents of 67 children.

“We picked the MAOA gene because it has long been viewed as a candidate gene implicated in ADHD,” Mukhopadhyay told KnowHow.

Nearly a decade ago, researchers in the US had shown that mice that lack MAOA show aggressive behaviour. Several other studies have also pointed to a role for MAOA in human behaviour and brain physiology, perhaps through its action of altering the levels of various brain chemicals that neurons use to signal each other.

The study by the Manovikas Centre researchers has shown that one version of the gene that causes the MAOA enzyme to have lower-than-normal activity is associated with ADHD. Patients with ADHD are more likely to have this version of the gene than people without ADHD. Their findings were published in a recent issue of the American Journal of Medical Genetics: Neuropsychiatric Genetics.

The researchers caution that their findings need to be validated through larger samples of patients and that the presence of the variant of the gene that makes only low activity enzyme can at best only predispose people to ADHD. “Several genes are likely to be involved in ADHD — one gene alone cannot explain it,” said Mukhopadhyay.

Previous studies have suggested that environmental triggers may act on people who are already genetically predisposed to ADHD. And while ADHD had long been viewed as a problem emerging from a chemical imbalance in the brain, an imaging study three years ago revealed that there may also be subtle anatomical differences in areas of the brain that control behaviour changes observed in ADHD. In that study, US researchers had used a new brain mapping study to detect what they described as abnormal brain anatomy in a small set of children with ADHD.

The researchers at the North Shore Long Island Jewish Health System in New York found abnormalities in the circuitry in several regions of the brain such as frontal cortex, basal ganglia and the cerebellum.

“These areas are involved in the processes that regulate attention, impulsive behaviour and hyperactivity — the key symptoms of children with ADHD,” said Manzar Ashtari, associate professor of psychiatry and radiology at the clinic.

The evidence for the role of environmental triggers was bolstered by another study in the US last year which showed that genetic variations may determine how children respond to potential toxins in the environment. The study by researchers at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital suggested that genes can predispose a child to negative effects of environmental exposure to lead.

The study found that only children with certain variations of a gene that helps control the levels of a brain chemical called dopamine appear specially vulnerable to the adverse effects of lead on attentiveness.

Increasing lead exposure tended to impair performance in boys more than in girls. Boys appear more vulnerable than girls. “This is consistent with the fact that boys have higher rates of ADHD than girls,” said Tanya Froehlich at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.

The Calcutta study has also revealed a possible additional mechanism to explain why boys have more ADHD than girls. The study has indicated that the version of the MAOA gene associated with low-activity enzyme is “preferentially transmitted” from mothers to boys with ADHD.

“It is still unclear why this variant of the gene is preferentially transmitted to boys,” Mukhopadhyay said. However, the researchers also point out that their study included only nine girls, and a larger study would be needed to ascertain that such transmission does not occur in girls.

The MAOA gene lies on the X chromosome which both boys and girls get from their mothers. In principle, this alone could explain why ADHD is less common in girls than in boys. The sex chromosome is XX in girls and XY in boys.

“Boys have only one copy of the X chromosome. If they get the low-activity version, they have nothing else to compensate for its low activity. But girls have two X chromosomes. In the event that one X has the low-activity enzyme, the other can compensate by producing normal levels,” said Mukhopadhyay.

Source:The Telegraph (Kolkata,India)