Pharmacopoeia Shakespeariensis

Image: L. Müeller/C.F. Schmidt, Köhler's Medizinal-Pflanzen, edited by Gustav Pabst, 1887.

Image: L. Müeller/C.F. Schmidt, Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen, edited by Gustav Pabst, 1887.

Continuing the eth­no­botan­ical theme of pre­vi­ous posts, another great source of inform­a­tion regard­ing folk uses of plants is the writ­ings of the Bard of Avon, England’s very own quill­meister, William Shakespeare. Take, for example, this line from Hamlet (Act 4, Scene V); Ophelia (to Laertes), ‘There’s rose­mary, that’s for remem­brance…’ . Old wives’ tale, or sage advice (sorry, pun acknow­ledged, but unin­ten­tional)? Work by Mark Moss and Lorraine Oliver sug­gests the lat­ter. They have demon­strated that per­form­ance on cog­nit­ive tasks is sig­ni­fic­antly related to con­cen­tra­tion of absorbed 1,8-cineole (euca­lyptol: 1,3,3-trimethyl-2-oxabicyclo[2,2,2]octane – a con­stitu­ent of rose­mary– Rosmarinus offi­cinalis — essen­tial oil). The effects were found for both speed and accur­acy out­comes; which isn’t exactly ‘remem­brance’, but related. Of more dir­ect involve­ment in treat­ing brain-related dis­orders is news that a semi-purified extract of the root of Withania som­ni­fera ‘reverses Alzheimer’s dis­ease patho­logy by enhan­cing low-density lipo­pro­tein receptor-related pro­tein in liver’. I’m not entirely sure what this means, but I do know it is wel­come and encour­aging news for Alzheimer’s dis­ease (AD) suf­fer­ers, because AD is the ‘most com­mon form of demen­tia… for which there is no cure… and which wor­sens as it pro­gresses and even­tu­ally leads to death… and is pre­dicted to affect 1 in 85 people glob­ally by 2050’. OK, so much for the AD trans­genic mice – in which test-organisms the work was per­formed – what about the human suf­fer­ers? No doubt treat­ment for those mam­mals is still some years away (at least in an offi­cially sanc­tioned, state-approved, med­ical practitioner-prescribed, Western-style medi­cine approach…). In the mean­time, I guess we just have to com­fort ourselves with the know­ledge that W. som­ni­fera is a nootrop­ical agent, which is one that ‘improves men­tal func­tions such as cog­ni­tion, memory, intel­li­gence, motiv­a­tion, atten­tion, and con­cen­tra­tion’. Presciently, W. som­ni­fera gets sev­eral men­tions in Michael Adams et al.’s sur­vey of ‘plants tra­di­tion­ally used in age related brain dis­orders’. It will be inter­est­ing to dis­cover what dementia-fighting prop­er­ties the other >150 spe­cies sur­veyed therein might have…

Nigel Chaffey. ORCID 0000-0002-4231-9082

Nigel is a botanist and full-time academic at Bath Spa University (Bath, near Bristol, UK). As News Editor for the Annals of Botany he contributes the monthly Plant Cuttings column to that august international botanical organ. His main goal is to inform (hopefully, in an educational, and entertaining way...) about plants and plant-people interactions.

1 Response

  1. Lane Simonian says:

    The com­pounds that con­tain both methyl (CH3) and phenol groups (OH) are most effect­ive in treat­ing Alzheimer’s dis­ease because they scav­enge peroxynitrites–the toxin respons­ible for the dis­ease. Peroxynitrites oxid­ize choline trans­port sys­tems, the enzyme choline acet­yl­trans­ferase, and mus­car­inic acet­ylcholine rececptors, which leads to a huge defi­cit in acetylcholine–a com­pound crit­ical for the stor­age and retrieval of short-term memor­ies. Peroxynitrites also oxid­ate recept­ors involved in mood (sero­tonin and opioid), sleep (melatonin), social recog­ni­tion (oxy­to­cin), alert­ness (dopam­ine), and smell (olfact­ory). By nitrat­ing NMDA recept­ors, per­oxyni­trites allow for the influx of cal­cium and the efflux of glutam­ate which kills brain cells. Methyl groups (which are found in all the med­ic­a­tions cur­rently pre­scribed for Alzheimer’s dis­ease) weakly inhibit the form­a­tion of per­oxyni­trites and bind to them. Phenols strongly inhibit the form­a­tion of per­oxyni­trites and through hydro­gen dona­tion con­vert per­oxyni­trites into water and a nitro­gen diox­ide anion. Phenols also par­tially reverse peroxynitrite-mediated oxid­a­tion and nitra­tion and thus par­tially reverse Alzheimer’s dis­ease. Methyphenol com­pounds include eugenol in vari­ous essen­tial oils (rose­mary, bay laurel, holy basil, clove, cin­na­mon leaf, etc.), sapon­ins in Bacopa mon­nieri (brahmi or water hyssop), and withafer­ins in Withania som­ni­fera (Aswagandha root). Rosemary essen­tial oil in con­junc­tion with lemon, orange, and lav­ender essen­tial oils delivered via aro­ma­ther­apy have helped improve cog­nit­ive func­tion in patients with Alzheimer’s dis­ease (Jimbo, et al. The effects of aro­ma­ther­apy on patients with Alzheimer’s dis­ease) and Bacopa mon­nieri has shown sim­ilar effect­ive­ness in another clin­ical trial (Goswami, et al. Effect of Bacopa mon­nieri on cog­nit­ive func­tions in Alzheimer’s dis­ease patients). The effect­ive treat­ment of Alzheimer’s dis­ease lies in nat­ural products not syn­thetic medications.