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Aromatic and Medicinal Plants Page

11. Medicinal plants of the Caryophyllaceae and Boraginaceae families

The Caryophyllaceae or pink family group plants that usually have four to five petalled flowers that are usually white or pink in colour. Examples from this family include sandwort (Arenaria serpyllifolia), common chickweed (Stellaria media), sand spurrey (Spergularia rubra), nail wort (Paronychia argentea), smooth rupture-wort (Herniaria glabra), viscid sandwort (Alsine tenuifolia).

Sandwort (Arenaria serpyllifolia) is an annual herb that is usually found in dry and sandy places. It is found throughout Europe especially in the Mediterranean region. It usually flowers between March and May.

Common chickweed (Stellaria media) is found as a cosmopolitan and inhabits gardens, disturbed land and even fields. It flowers between January and June?? Traditionally it was used as an ointment for the treatment of chilblains, and skin problems. Although, it is sometimes used for culinary purposes, its safety is debatable due to the high content of saponins.

Sand spurrey (Spergularia rubra) is another cosmopolitan plant. It grows in waste and unculivated places, that are usually sandy in nature, and flowers between February and June. In folk medicine, it was used in the treatment of kidney stones due to its strong diuretic properties.

Nail wort (Paronychia argentea) is native to the Central and West Mediterranean. It grows on dry and waste lands, and flowers between February and June.

Smooth rupturewort (Herniaria glabra) is native of central Europe, the Mediterranean, North Africa and Asia. It is rarely found in open places, and flowers between April and August. Traditionally, it was used to treat urinary complaints and hernias, as the name implies. An infusion of this plant prevents the formation of kidney stones. It contains a triterpenoid saponin, rutin (flavonoid) and an essential oil. As a result, the plant has antiseptic, antispasmodic and diuretic properties.

Viscid sandwort (Alsine tenuifolia) is an annual herb, that flowers between March and June. It is spread all over the European continent including the Mediterranean, and grows on uncultivated land.

The Boraginaceae or borage family is made up of herbs or small shrubs with bristly stems and leaves. Examples in this family include borage (Borago officinalis), common comfrey (Symphytum officinale), purple alkanet (Anchusa asurea), yellow gromwell (Neatostema apulum), viper's bugloss (Echium vulgare) and southern hound's tongue (Cynoglosum creticum).

Borage (Borago officinalis) is an annual herb that grows in waste places, fields and roadsides. It is a native of the Mediterranean and central Europe. The characteristic blue flowers with prominent black anthers, bloom between January and May. In Maltese folk medicine, borage flowers were used in the treatment of coughs, and for flu and bronchitis in the form of a poutlice. The leaves have diuretic properties. The flowering stems contain tannins, mucilage and minerals, that attribute to the diuretic, anti-inflammatory and diaphoretic properties. The seeds contain a fixed oil, called borage oil, that is rich in gamma-linolenic acid. This fatty acid is beneficial in some forms of cancer and premenstrual syndrome.

Common comfrey (Symphytum officinale) is an erect plant with purple-violet to white flowers. It is native to Europe and grows in damp shady places. The flowers bloom between December and May. In folk medicine, it was used as an astringent and to treat wounds and bruises. The roots and leaves contain the active compounds. These include an essential oil, mucilage, alkaloids and allantoin. It has anti-inflammatory, sedative, astringent and emollient properties. Due to its toxic alkaloids, long term administration of comfrey leads to liver damage.

Purple alkanet (Anchusa azurea) is a herb with bunches of blue flowers that are an important food source for bees, like borage. It grows in the Mediterranean region especially in fields and waste places. This plant was used in traditional medicine, for the treatment of cough, and diuretic especially in the presence of kidney stones. It contains alkaloids, mucilage and pigments. It is used for its expectorant properties in the treatment of chesty cough, bronchitis and throat infections. This plant has also culinary uses, especially in salads.

Yellow gromwell (Neatostema apulum) is a native of the Mediterranean region and dwells on rocky and arid places. It flowers at early spring. In Maltese folk medicine, this medicinal plant has been used in the treatment of cough, and as a diuretic.

Viper's bugloss (Echium vulgare) is a herb with a long spike of blue flowers that bloom in early spring. It is found in most of Europe and West Asia and grows dry open habitats, roadsides and valleys. This plant was used in traditional medicine as for purple alkanet and yellow gromwell. It contains the same alkaloids as yellow gromwell, hence the same medicinal properties. The roots have been used as a red fabric dye.

Southern hound's tongue (Cynoglosum creticum) is native to the Mediterranean and Atlantic Islands. It is usually found in dry places in valleys and flower between February and May. It was used for rheumatic pain and as a poultice in the treatment of burns. It contains alkaloids.

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