Address: Herbario de Plantas Medicinales Unidades de Investigación Médica en Farmacología del IMSS. Specialty: Taxonomic Coverage: Medicinal plants. Plantas medicinales del herbario IMSS: su distribución por enfermedades / Abigaíl Aguilar-Contreras [et al.]. Other Title: Su Medicinal plants — Mexico. Aguilar, A., Camacho, J.R., Chino, S., Jácquez, P. and López, M.E. Herbario medicinal del Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social. IMSS, México, DF. Aguilar.
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Aside from tomatl and corn, many other plants widely used in Europe and North America are in fact based on traditional knowledge of the Aztecs and other Mexican indigenous groups. Aguacatl or avocado and chilli are just two of the many examples. Medicinal plants are an important element of indigenous medical systems in Mexico as well as in many other countries. Today one finds such plants on Mexican markets and many people in rural and urban areas regularly use herbal medicines.
Plant-derived medical drugs from all over the world are at the centre of a discipline – pharmacognosy – which is both interested in pure compounds used as pharmaceuticals and in complex mixtures from plants plant extracts used as phytopharmaceuticals and derived from medicinal plants botanical drugs. Plants have yielded many important medicines in the past and research groups all over the world but only a few in the UK look to discover new lead compounds or complex extracts for future drug development.
This requires biological testing of plant extracts and isolation of their active components, as well as toxicological, pharmacokinetic and ultimately clinical studies. Very often clinical studies are also conducted. Overall, this is a very long, time-consuming and generally very expensive process of uncertain outcome.
Europe has for many years profited from the exchange with other continents and many of the pure natural products and some of the phytotherapeutic preparations used today are derived from plants used in indigenous cultures. Ethnobotany and Ethnopharmacology investigate the relationship between humans and plants in all its complexity.
Ethnobotanists live with the members of a community, share their everyday life and, of course, respect the cultures which host them.
They have a responsibility both to the scientific community but maybe even more importantly also to the indigenous cultures. A complex set of methods are used which are derived from the social and cultural sciences including the taking of detailed field notes, quantitative assessments of reported uses, cognitive and symbolic analyses of plant usage and the natural sciences collection of plant samples – voucher specimens, that allow for precise determination of the plant species.
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Ethnobotanical studies have a multitude of theoretical and applied interests and in fact only very few are in any way directly linked with projects eel the area of drug discovery. Therefore, the role of the ethnobotanist is not only in the search for new drugs but also as someone who acts as a spokesperson for indigenous interests and helps that such knowledge can still be used by future generations Heinrich So, what is known about the classical and modern Aztecs?
An herhario historical example from 16th century Mexico is an herbal written in Nahuatl by the Aztec healer Martin de la Cruz from Tezcoco, who was at the Colegio de Santa Cruz in Tlatelolco. It includes numerous colour illustrations of medicinal plants see picture, right.
Today it is possible to identify many of these plant species and, in fact many are still used today. He – the personal physician to Philip II of Spain- was sent to Mexico and between gathered information on plants, animals and minerals of the New World. The complete work was never published and the original manuscript was destroyed during a fire at the Escorial palace. Abridged and amended versions have been published among others by Reccho and by Francisco Ximenez.
There are only two important sources on the medicinal plants in 17th and 18th century New Spain: However, ethnopharmacology is also concerned with the medicinal plant use of modern populations as my research group has done in studies with Mexican and Central American indigenous groups Aguilar et alArguetaLeonti et al.
All Mexican indigenous groups widely use medicinal plants and Aguilar et al. Such data can, on the one hand, meficinal used to develop new ideas for medicines [or as pharmacists call it a medicinal drug] or in a variety of ways to further the autochthonous development of such medicines. One of the most famous examples of a drug development project driven by traditional knowledge is the mediicnal of psilocybin and derivates from the hallucinogenic mushroom Psilocybewhich for centuries has been used by the Mazatec Indians in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Wasson — had been trained as a journalist and in literature studies. He later worked in a bank and most notably thanks to his wife Valentina Pavlovna Guercken — he became interested in ethnobotany.
This brought him in contact with the US-American ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes —who while doing his PhD dissertation in the Mazatec region learned about the use of hallucinogenic mushrooms commonly known by the Aztec name as teonanacatl. These experiences were publicized very widely and the in they were even reported in detail in the US-magazine Life.
Their research received great attention in the media and while no new drug was medicimal based on the compounds from Psilocybe, the example serves as an example of how such drug discovery programmes may work. For example, the potential of novel anti-diabetic medications is enormous. In Mexico alone a total of species have records of a popular use in the treatment of this syndrome.
For centuries the Aztecs and many other Mexican indigenous groups have used ripe fruits and the nopales or nopalitos, tender cladodes both as a food and a medicine. Ill-defined extracts from Opuntia species are now widely available over the internet as a treatment for diabetes and related metabolic disorders and chemically and pharmacological characterised extracts are currently under development.
Seven other species from Mexico — Cecropia obtusifolia Bertol. EricaeaeBrickellia veronicaefolia Kunth A. Gray AsteraceaeParmentiera aculeata KunthSeem Bignoniaceae — have been studied in some detail, too, but have not yet resulted in useable, licensed ddl or nutraceuticals Andrade Cetto and Heinrich An exciting example deel research driven by traditional knowledge is nerbario discovery of a new drug and medicimal target which may help to control pain.
This is technically called a receptor the transient receptor potential vanilloid type 1 protein -TRPV1. This example shows the close links between modern biochemistry and the local and traditional use of a plant. These channels were originally cloned while searching for a molecular target of the pungent compound capsaicin from Mexican hot chilli spicy varieties of Capsicum annum L.
Of course, chilli and paprika have a long tradition of use in Meso- and South American cultures, famously as a spice, but also as a medicine including for chronic inflammatory conditions.
Multiple medical uses were recorded during the Aztec period, including uses for dental problems, infections of the ear and various types of wounds as well as digestive problems. Consequently, chillies were also an important element of tribute requested by the Aztec rulers.
During the colonial period these uses continued and developed further. More recently uses as a rubefacient to locally stimulate blood circulation became a central use of C. In chemical and pharmacological terns the development of Capsicum spp. Euphorbium has had a medical history of more than years. This makes resiniferatoxin RTX one of the most ancient drugs still in use today Appendino et al Some of its uses, like its application on nerves to suppress chronic pain or on dental cavities to mitigate tooth ache, can be linked directly to the biochemical studies discussed below.
The pharmacological interest in this species goes back to the discovery that its key constituent resiniferatoxin has effects on the TRP channel similar to capsacin and this links the history of the drug development of these two botanical drugs for a review see Heinrich The example shows how intrinsically linked such development projects are and, of course, they are complex research and development processes.
Central are the questions who owns this information and who receives benefits from it. It is now generally accepted that if research from a plant which is used locally in one area results in economic benefits normally for a company the people in the region of origin should receive some sort of financial recompensation.
These developments result in a considerable challenge to ethnobotanists and ethnopharmacologists and increase their responsibilities. Simultaneously the need for basic scientific investigations on medicinal plants using in indigenous medical systems becomes ever more relevant.
Thus, Aztec knowledge is now part of complex global network of information and may well result in further benefits to humankind. Not all medicinal plants are safe and some are even highly toxic. A range of Aristolochia birthwort species are utilised in Mexico and Central America but from research on Chinese and European Aristolochia species it is well known that these species contain toxic compounds aristolochic acidswhich cause nephropaties and kidney cancer.
The Popoluca of Veracruz, for example, utilise six Aristolochia species esp.
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Similar uses are also known from the Isthmus-Sierra Zapotec. While these plants may have beneficial effects in terms of treating these illnesses, most importantly the chronic or continuous use is likely to have serious health risks.
This example highlights the benefits of research on medicinal plants and how phytochemical and pharmacological information can be used to guide health care. Scientists and all of us have the responsibility to make such information available in such a way that it can be used in helping those who need it most; sadly this includes the Modern Aztecs and other indigenous groups in Mexico.
Heinrich Mexican plants with hypoglycaemic effect used in the treatment of diabetes. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 99 3: Design,14, 1. Discovery, Development and Modification of Bioactivity. Robert Verpoorte invited review in press. Sticher Medicinal plants in Mexico: Social Science and Medicine Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology La historia del Chilli.
ISBN 7. Heinrich Indigenous medicinal plants in Mexico: The example of the Nahua Sierra de Zonglicia.
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