Single constituents - important?

Date: Tue, 21 Jun 1994 17:14:54 EDT
Sender: "Medicinal and Aromatic Plants discussion list <HERB.TREARN.BITNET>
Subject: Re: Yerba santa

Yerba santa is Eriodictyon californicum, also known as mountain balm and various other obscure names. As of 1930 it was a part of the official US pharmacopoeia (don't know how much later than that), and as a native of California and northern Mexico, it was popular among native tribes of that area. According to Daniel Moerman, they used it as an adjunct in many mixtures, but as a simple its use was mostly for all kinds of lung ailments. E. angustifolium was commonly substituted; E. crassifolium and E. tomentosum only rarely.

I'm going to get on my soapbox now and warn you against asking questions such as "What kind of constituents are responsible for its action?" My initial response to that question is three other questions: What will you do with the answer if you get one? Who REALLY knows the answer? Is the answer the same for everybody?

In their haste to extract, purify, and patent the Magic Bullet, pharmaceutical companies tend to oversimplify the action of plant medicines. How else can they make money? But if we could ignore economic issues and be sensible, I think a more educational question would be, "Which of the plant's constituents DOES NOT contribute to its observed effects?" Answering this question with certainty would, IMHO, necessitate a completely new approach to phytomedical research. Sad to say, however, such an approach isn't likely to be economically feasible. I'm afraid we'd be forced to conclude that extraction, purification, and the resulting ownership and marketing are actually deceptive, socially devastating practices that are contrary to the interests of public physical and mental health.

Use the whole, living plant. Within it is an inscrutable balance of dynamic interactions which, together, are clearly compatible with life. If we remove from the plant those constituents which we believe are not part of the healing power of the plant, will the plant still live? I think not, and I choose to take the cosmic hint.