What are medicinal and aromatic plants?
Medicinal and aromatic plants are really just as the name suggests- plants with medicinal and/or aromatic qualities. They have a long history of usage and beliefs behind them and are currently in use today for several purposes and in many industries.
What are some benefits of these plants?
There are many important health benefits that can be gained from using these plants, all the way from protection from diseases to aiding in weight loss efforts. These benefits are largely due to the antioxidants present in these plants.
Some examples of these plants are:
- Salvia (Sage)
- Melissa (Lemon Balm)
Some history of medicinal plants
The news that we have about the use of medicinal plants for healing purposes by man are often conflicting: some scholars believe that the first news of a possible use dates back to 10,000 years ago, for others between 5,000 and 8,000 years ago , for most the discovery and use of these plants date back to the beginnings of human development. The use of dyeing plants can be traced back to the Paleolithic era, as shown by the cave paintings.
The Chinese emperor Chen Nong, who reigned in the 17th century BC, the inventor of acupuncture and founder of Chinese medicine, is credited with the first treatise on herbs, the “Pen Ts’ao Ching” (Origin of herbs) in which he describes and classifies 365 herbs, which he probably experimented on himself to ascertain either their healing or toxic virtues.
From ancient Egypt, we have the so-called “Ebers papyrus” written around 1550 BC which includes a list of medicinal plants many of which are still used today such as fennel, thyme, coriander and pomegranate.
In classical antiquity it is in Greece that the art of healing takes shape; Hippocrates (5th century BC) was its main architect, and he classified about 400 species of medicinal plants according to their actions and laid the foundations of modern homeopathy.
The Greeks passed on the use of plant species as a form of therapy to the Romans. In Ancient Rome, herbal medicine finally became a science. Dioscorides, in the first century BC, wrote the treatise “De materia medica”, where he described the uses of healing plants, providing for each the therapeutic properties and the most common applications such as how garlic was useful in the tartare cough, ulcers, toothache, or how the Lily was able to remove wrinkles.
During the Middle Ages the activity carried out by the monastic orders proved to be of fundamental importance, as they continued to cultivate medicinal herbs inside convents and diligently transcribe health manuscripts and notebooks, thus handing down the medical-botanical knowledge of previous centuries.
Very well known is the work carried out by the abbots of Montecassino, of the famous Scuola Salernitana (11th-12th century), to whom we owe the first Hortus salutaris, and of the Benedictine friars who, following the teachings of the abbess Saint Hildegard (1098-1179 ) of the monastery of San Ruperto in Bingen, on the Rhine in Germany, cultivated hundreds of medicinal species in their convents.
In the Medieval era, a great contribution was made by the Maritime Republics, in particular Venice, the western capital for the study of medicinal plants, thanks also to trade with the East and the importation of new species.
The Alchemists of the Middle Ages were responsible for the actual distillation, which they used to search for the elixir of love and the philosopher’s stone.
With the establishment of the first university chairs of experimental botany in Padua and Bologna (1533-1539), the need arises to have available specimens of dried plants to teach students how to recognize medicinal plants. Educational herbaria, or “simple gardens”, are reintroduced in Pisa, Padua and Florence.
Charlemagne, in the 1800s, had a list of medicinal plants compiled, to be cultivated for the welfare of his subjects. It was he who coined the definition of medicinal and aromatic plants.
Properties of medicinal plants
According to the WHO (World Health Organization), medicinal plants are those that contain in one or more of its organs (leaves, flowers, buds, roots, seeds, fruits, etc.) substances that can be used for therapeutic or preventive purposes, or able to carry out precise and defined changes in the physiology of the organism.
The active ingredients are substances produced by the secondary metabolism of the plant and are generally present in small quantities, generally between 0.2 and 3%, depending on the different plants.
The main active ingredients of plants
– Essential oils: they are obtained by distillation, extraction with volatile solvents or by mechanical pressing.
– Alkaloids: are the most powerful active ingredients, represented by complex molecules that are distinguished by the presence of a nitrogen atom. They are normally considered poisons. Their use in the medical field is however widespread but only with controlled doses.
– Heterosides or glucosides: they represent the most important active ingredients and those that justify the use of many plants in pharmacology and phytotherapy, characterized by the combination of a sugar, glycon, with a non-sugary, aglycone or genine part which constitutes the substance pharmacologically active.
– Saponins: These are glycosides with a strong surfactant action: they reduce the surface tension of the water forming foam. Therefore due to their detergent properties they are mainly used for cosmetic purposes.
– Tannins: they are non-nitrogenous substances soluble in water and alcohol; they have an astringent, anti-inflammatory and haemostatic action to stop inflammation, stop small cutaneous or mucosal bleeding, against diarrhea.
– Resins: they are the result of the secretion of some specialized plant cells (present especially in conifers) and arise from the polymerization and oxidation of essential oils.
– Vitamins: Present only in plants, they cannot be synthesized through the metabolic processes of man. The best intake of these precious elements must occur by consuming fresh and raw foods.
– Fibers: they are active principles consisting of polymers with different chemical-physical properties. Cellulose and non-cellulosic polysaccharides fall into this category.
– Bitter principles: they are substances of various kinds characterized by a bitter taste. The latter is its peculiarity. They promote digestion and appetite
– Mineral salts and inorganic substances: They are particularly important for the body’s osmotic activity and for supporting tissues (potassium salts, calcium salts, iron salts and silicic acid salts).
– Trace elements: consist of elements required by the body in very small quantities but at the same time very important for all physiological activities, growth and healthy constitution (Cobalt, Magnesium, Manganese, Copper, Zinc, etc.)
More about aromatic plants
These are plants with a pleasant scent, rich in essential oils. These scents are released from the plants either to defend themselves against phytophagous insects or to attract those that carry pollen.
The aromatic substance is most often concentrated in various parts of the plant itself. For example, in the Dill it is in the seeds, in the Melissa in the leaves, in the Marjoram and in the Oregano in the flowers and so on.
Another distinction is in the type of species: tree, shrub or herbaceous (in turn, annual, biennial or perennial).
The use of plants or parts of them to obtain coloring substances dates back to very ancient times; it is an ancient art that has recently returned in vogue for its ecological and creative aspect.
The dyeing is done by immersion with a bath in which the coloring products are dissolved. Many are the “colorable” materials like leather, wood, hair. But the most important use is for textile fibers and cosmetic products.
For natural dyeing, different parts are used depending on the plants: flowers, leaves, roots, barks, fruits.
Among the examples of plants that can be employed to obtain color, we have: Walnut (leaf and husk) for brown, gray and beige; Hypericum (top) yellow and orange; Calendula and Chamomile for yellow; Horsetail for yellow and gray; Hibiscus (flowers) gray; Nettle for green; Water lily (roots) for black; Poppy (flowers) for red; Pomegranate (bark) for yellow.
These are flowers that can be used in the kitchen for the preparation of salads, soups, sweets and desserts, ice creams, cocktails, accompaniment to main courses, etc.
It is important to check the origin of the flowers before using them in the kitchen, do not use flowers gathered on the edge of the road or taken from the florist, they could be contaminated with smog and chemicals.
Calendula, Viola, Dill, Hibiscus, Sunflower, Rose, Gladiolus, Begonia, Lavender, Mint, Primula, Rosemary, Sage, Tulip are just some of the most common edible flowers.
Our medicinal and aromatic plants are for sale and comprise the following: saffron, thyme, salvia, rosemary, melissa, various types of mint, turmeric, lavender, basil, citronella, juniper, cumin, oregano, artemisia, fennel, cloves, anise, and . Soaps, lotions, perfumes, elixirs and tonics will also be purchaseable either in our store or online.