Medicinal Herbs

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Asparagus falcatus


Family : Asparagacea

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Asparagus falcatus is an evergreen climbing shrub, up to 7 m high. The roots of this plant form swollen tubers that resemble sweet potatoes. Older stems are light grey and have sharp, hard thorns that are curved backwards. The thorns serve as protection against predators as well as to grip onto the host plant to reach sunlight. Leaves are up to 80 mm long, sickle-shaped, shiny dark green with a prominent vein. It has small, white, fragrant flowers appearing from September to December. The fruit is a red berry. The seed is rounding, shiny and black.


With its tiny, very sweet-smelling flowers, its main pollinators are probably bees and other insects. The attractive red fruit attracts birds and they disperse the seed. Because this plant grows mainly in forest areas, the stem has adapted by producing thorns to help it to grip and climb through the canopies of trees to reach the sunlight.

Uses and cultural aspects

Asparagus falcatus makes an attractive pot plant for a shady area, both indoors and out. It is also a plant that birds love to nest in as it provides perfect shelter and protection, so use it to attract birds to your garden. Its uncommon dark green foliage and uncommon stem are sometimes used in flower decorations. Also an African medicinal herb, the stems and leaves are pounded and used as a fresh poultice on swellings

Aloe vera



Aloe vera is a stemless or very short-stemmed succulent plant growing to 60–100 cm (24–39 in) tall, spreading by offsets. The leaves are thick and fleshy, green to grey-green, with some varieties showing white flecks on the upper and lower stem surfaces. The margin of the leaf is serrated and has small white teeth. The flowers are produced in summer on a spike up to 90 cm (35 in) tall, each flower pendulous, with a yellow tubular corolla 2–3 cm (0.8–1.2 in) long. Like other Aloe species, Aloe vera forms arbuscular mycorrhiza, a symbiosis that allows the plant better access to mineral nutrients in soil.

Medicinal uses

Scientific evidence for the cosmetic and therapeutic effectiveness of Aloe vera is limited and when present is typically contradictory. Despite this, the cosmetic and alternative medicine industries regularly make claims regarding the soothing, moisturising and healing properties of Aloe vera, especially via Internet advertising. Aloe vera gel is used as an ingredient in commercially available lotion, yogurt, beverages and some desserts. Aloe vera juice is used for consumption and relief of digestive issues such as heartburn and irritable bowel syndrome. It is common practice for cosmetic companies to add sap or other derivatives from Aloe vera to products such as makeup, tissues, moisturizers, soaps, sunscreens, incense, razors and shampoos. It has also been suggested that biofuels could be obtained from Aloe vera seeds. Other uses for extracts of Aloe vera include the dilution of semen for the artificial fertilization of sheep, use as fresh food preservative,] and use in water conservation in small farms.

Aloe vera has a long association with herbal medicine, although it is not known when its medical applications were first discovered. Early records of Aloe vera use appear in the Ebers Papyrus from 16th century BCE, in both Dioscorides' De Materia Medica and Pliny the Elder's Natural History written in the mid-first century CE along with the Juliana Anicia Codex produced in 512 CE. Aloe vera is non-toxic, with no known side effects, provided the aloin has been removed by processing. Taking Aloe vera that contains aloin in excess amounts has been associated with various side effects. However, the species is used widely in the traditional herbal medicine of China, Japan, Russia, South Africa, the United States, Jamaica and India. Aloe vera is alleged to be effective in treatment of wounds. Evidence on the effects of Aloe vera sap on wound healing, however, is limited and contradictory. Some studies, for example, show that Aloe vera promotes the rates of healing, while in contrast, other studies show that wounds to which Aloe vera gel was applied were significantly slower to heal than those treated with conventional medical preparations. A more recent review (2007) concludes that the cumulative evidence supports the use of Aloe vera for the healing of first to second degree burns. In addition to topical use in wound or burn healing, internal intake of Aloe vera has been linked with improved blood glucose levels in diabetics, and with lower blood lipids in hyperlipidaemic patients, but also with acute hepatitis (liver disease). In other diseases, preliminary studies have suggested oral Aloe vera gel may reduce symptoms and inflammation in patients with ulcerative colitis. Compounds extracted from Aloe vera have been used as an immuno stimulant that aids in fighting cancers in cats and dogs; however, this treatment has not been scientifically tested in humans. The injection of Aloe vera extracts to treat cancer has resulted in the deaths of several patients.


A popular flavouring leaf that is used widely in Sri Lankan curries known as 'karapincha' is also very medicinal. The leaves, roots, bark, stalk and flowers can be either boiled or powdered together to relieve any type of stomach disorder.



This is known as Eclipta prostrata botanically, and it is a herb used in many forms to cure various diseases. In Sanskrit it is known as 'kasaraja' which refers to growth of the hair. This herb prevents the hair from becoming prematurely grey. Diseases of the skin can also be cured through this herb.



Neem, particularly neem bark, also has been recognized as a valuable source of concentrated antioxidants that help combat the free radicals which have been implicated in a number of age-related disorders. The antioxidants in neem appear to be extremely bio-available with several studies showing that neem contains high levels of glutathione as well as important flavonoids like quercetin and rutin.

Other major uses

Topical treatment for skin and scalp. Neem oil contains high levels of antioxidants combined with long-chain fatty acids and natural glycerides to help soothe even chronically dry, itchy skin or scalp.

Natural inflammatory compounds including nimbidin provide relief from minor muscle and joint pain, probably by moderating prostaglandin levels.

Neem also has been shown to help reduce stomach acid and help improve digestion

Neem chew sticks have been used for thousands of years to promote healthy teeth and gums. New research indicates that antioxidants play a critical role in oral health.

Liver-protecting compounds in neem, including the antioxidant glutathione, help minimize the impact of environmental stress and pollutants


Another important fruit-medicine is the 'nelli'. This is a small, green sour fruit with a very high quantity of vitamin C. There is hardly any disease for which the 'nelli' is not used either singly or in combination with other herbs.

The 'nelli' is given to strengthen the retina and improves weak and defective vision. If dried 'nelli' is soaked overnight and the juice extracted and drunk each morning, it makes a good laxative. Leaves boiled and applied on skin eruptions is said to be beneficial. The ground leaves are said to cure eczema. Two tablespoons of 'nelli' mixed with a tablespoon of bees honey, taken regularly each morning helps reduce bleeding piles, while raw 'nelli', sour as it may be, improves complexion. Half a cup of 'nelli' juice twice a week helps keep bowel movements in order.

These are medicinal properties of just a few of the many invaluable plants found in Sri Lanka. For every ailment there is probably a plant cure with none of the side-effects that strong synthetically processed drugs on the market have. In ancient Sri Lanka such remedies were commonly and effectively used although down the ages many of these medicinal remedies have become extinct.


One of the commonest herbs with an array of medicinal uses is 'Welpenela'. Its botanical term is Cardiospermum halicacabum and some of its other names are heart seed, black liquorice and balloon vine.

It is found aplenty in markets and growing in many a home garden. This small and delicate wiry climber can be used to treat piles, rheumatism, nervous disorders and chronic bronchitis. Its power lies mostly in its leaves which can also be used as a poultice for skin diseases. A paste of the leaves is a dressing for sores and wounds. Crushed leaves can also be inhaled to relieve headaches and the seeds used to relieve fever and body aches.


Ginger is a tuber which is consumed whole as a delicacy, medicine, or spice. It is the rhizome of the plant Zingiber officinale. It lends its name to its genus and family (Zingiberaceae). Other notable members of this plant family are turmeric, cardamom, and galangal. Ginger cultivation began in Asia and is now also grown in India, West Africa and the Caribbean. t is sometimes called root ginger to distinguish it from other things that share the name ginger

Culinary use

Young ginger rhizomes are juicy and fleshy with a very mild taste. They are often pickled in vinegar or sherry as a snack or just cooked as an ingredient in many dishes. They can also be stewed in boiling water to make ginger tea, to which honey is often added; sliced orange or lemon fruit may also be added. Mature ginger roots are fibrous and nearly dry. The juice from old ginger roots is extremely potent and is often used as a spice in Indian recipes and Chinese cuisine to flavor dishes such as seafood or goat meat and vegetarian cuisine. Ginger acts as a useful food preservative, and has been proven to kill the harmful bacteria salmonella. Fresh ginger can be substituted for ground ginger at a ratio of 6 to 1, although the flavors of fresh and dried ginger are somewhat different. Ginger is also made into candy.

Powdered dry ginger root is typically used as a flavoring for recipes such as gingerbread, cookies, crackers and cake, ginger ale, and ginger beer.

Fresh ginger may be peeled before being eaten. For storage, the ginger can be placed in a plastic bag and refrigerated, or frozen for longer term storage.

Medicinal use

The medical form of ginger historically was called Jamaica ginger; it was classified as a stimulant and carminative, and used frequently for dyspepsia and colic. It was also frequently employed to disguise the taste of medicines. Ginger is on the FDA's "generally recognized as safe" list, though it does interact with some medications, including warfarin. Ginger is contraindicated in people suffering from gallstones as it promotes the production of bile. Ginger may also decrease pain from arthritis, though studies have been inconsistent, and may have blood thinning and cholesterol lowering properties that may make it useful for treating heart disease.