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…
About the author
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.