By Alan on Mar 10 in Blog | Comments Off
When I was growing up my mother grew castor bean plants. I was intrigued by these large plants that grew from a small bean.
Maybe it reminded me of the story of Jack and the bean stock. I remember the pretty mottled beans and the red flowers.
However the word got out about how poisonous that the plants were, especially the beans and she never grew them again.
An Internet search brought me up to date on the plant and the poison. Ricin is one of the most poisonous naturally occurring substances known. The seeds from the castor bean plant, Ricinus communis, are poisonous to people, animals and insects. Perhaps just one milligram of ricin can kill an adult. The symptoms of human poisoning begin within a few hours of ingestion. If death has not occurred in 3-5 days the victim usually recovers. It is advisable to keep children away from the castor bean plant or necklaces made with its seeds. In fact don’t even have them in or around a house with small children. If they ingest the leaves or swallow the seeds, they may get poisoned. The highly toxic seeds beaded into necklaces, cause skin irritation at the contact point. Castor bean plants in a garden should not be allowed to flower and seed.
I realized that castor oil is also produced from the seed of the castor bean. My father said that when he was ill my grandmother would give him a tablespoon castor oil. He said that it would ‘flush the system out’ and that you didn’t even dare cough or ‘stuff’ came out the other end. Although it is still used for constipation, it is not a preferred treatment, because it can produce painful cramps and explosive diarrhea.
Castor oil and its derivatives are still used in the manufacturing of soaps, lubricants, hydraulic and hydraulic and brake fluids, paints, dyes, polishes, pharmaceuticals and some food additives.
Harvesting castor beans has some risk. Allergenic compounds found on the plant surface can cause permanent nerve damage, making the harvest of castor beans a human health risk. India, Brazil, and China are the major crop producers, and the workers suffer harmful side effects from working with these plants. These health issues, in addition to concerns about the toxic byproduct (ricin) from castor oil production, have encouraged the search for alternative sources. Some researchers are trying to genetically modify the castor plant to prevent the synthesis of ricin.
The logical question would be, ‘What got me on this subject when I have been talking about vegetable production for the last 8 weeks?’
On Sunday February 27th I read an article by Ed Yeates in the Deseret News titled, “Superman’s Kryptonite fuses bone?” What I had forgotten was in the fictional world of Superman, the Kryptonite that made Superman weak gave humans superhuman powers. The article talks about how a product derived from castor bean oil, when combined with catalytic ingredient forms a syrup-like material that is being used as a medical adhesive. When set it not only fuses like steel, but allows the bone to grow through it. When a surgeon applies it, within 7-8 minutes of mixing, it will have already set by the time they leave the operating room and by the the 1st post-op morning it is already solid.
Amit Patel, a cardiothoracic surgeon at the University of Utah, uses it to fuse the sternum back together after open heart surgery. He said that in his 1st 50 cases he has seen dramatic results. He doesn’t encourage his patients to return to normal activity too early, but he is getting reports of people resuming their normal activities soon after the surgery. Some are also reporting very little pain. He also relates that when mixed it gives off little heat and that blood vessels and other tissue in the area aren’t harmed by its use.
It was discovered that tribes in the Amazon were using a similar slurry to repair large beaks on birds from natural materials available to make the beaks completely functional. Researchers made it more FDA friendly and introduced it into this country. The Doctors Research Group that developed it actually went to Marvel Comics and received permission to trademark the name Kryptonite for the bones. The article says that it should have useful applications for craniofacial defects. This is what got me especially excited.
I am a retired oral & maxillofacial surgeon. When I first started out in this specialty we were using surgical wire to hold the bones of the face together after reconstructive jaw surgery or with trauma to facial bones. Patients would have to have their jaws wired together for 6-8 weeks to allow the bones to fuse back together. With the reconstructive surgery we would overcorrect the moves because the muscles would be trying to reestablish their old positions. If we didn’t overcorrect the position of the bones until the bones had fused, there would be relapse toward the original position of the bones. Later medical product companies produced small screw and bone plate systems that improved the time required for the jaws to be wired together. We still encouraged patients to be careful the full 6-8 weeks because screws can loosen or bone plates could fracture. In some cases we also had to remove the wires or the screws and plates requiring an additional surgery. Hopefully this new material will be another leap forward in the healing process and stabilization of the surgically treated bones.
This also made me think of other plants that have been found useful for the production of medications. The bark of the willow has been mentioned in ancient texts as a remedy for aches and fever. Hippocrates wrote about it in the 5th century BC. Native Americans also used it. This is because the bark of the willow contains salicin, the precursor to aspirin. Aspirin or acetylsalicylic acid (ASA) was first produced by chemist with Bayer AG in Germany. Not only used for aches and pains, it has become increasingly important in the prevention of heart attack and stroke when taken prophylactically or in minimizing the damage to the heart during a heart attack.
Taxol, used for the treatment of ovarian, breast, lung, head & neck and bladder cancer and for Kaposi sarcoma in AIDS comes from the bark of the Pacific Yew tree. Digitalis, a heart medication, comes from the foxglove plant. The following website will give a list of other plants that medications are produced from: http://chemistry.about.com/library/weekly/aa061403a.htm
Over 100 compounds have been identified for medical purposes from plants. These compounds were derived from less than 100 species of plants. A conservative estimate of the number of flowering plants occurring on the planet is 250,000. Who knows what drugs are remaining to be discovered from these plants.
Ethnomedicine deals with the study of traditional medicines: not only those that have written sources, but especially those, whose knowledge and practices have been orally transmitted over the centuries. Scientists are going to indigenous tribes and asking what plants are used for remedies for various elements and then they go into the field and find the plants and bring them back to the laboratory for study.
What medical wonders may be lurking in the plants that we have growing in our own gardens? Only time will tell. Another interesting article is found at: http://www.rainforesteducation.com/medicines/PlantMedicines/rfmedicines.htm
Psalms 104:14 “He causeth the grass to grow…, and herb for the service of man.”
Next week: Preparing your garden soil
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