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The Roots of WellbeingWith an increasing weight of scientific evidence pointing to the idea that simply being amongst botanical environments can have a marked benefit on mental and physical health, we take a look at 5 threatened plants that are making a vital contribution to human well-being across the world.
11 species under threat
Reviving of Aboriginal foods - A new health craze? - Australia
Using native foods to promote nutritional security - Cuba
Two species under threat
Home to the shady under storey of temperate forests across the world, a variety of viola species have been incorporated into traditional medical systems - from being used to treat conjunctivitis in Japan to boils and abscesses by indigenous groups in Canada.
Under threat through habitat destruction and over-harvesting from the wild.
Unbeknown to most Western gardeners, where it is simply as an ornamental pond plant, Houttuyinia is in fact one of the most widely used medicinal plants in East Asia.
The leaves and roots emit a powerful smell, often described as a blend of orange peel and coriander, betraying its use as a popular culinary herb in Vietnam and Southern China. The leaves are sliced and sprinkled onto duck egg salads, while its spreading rhizomes are cooked as a spicy root vegetable.
The whole plant is powerfully antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal, and is believed to have a stimulating effect on the immune system. Used to treat a wide variety of afflictions from cancer to cobra bites, the plant plays a central role in Chinese, Tibetian and Ayurvedic medical systems.
During the recent SARS outbreak in China, scientists investigating the plants used in traditional medicine in the search for answers to this previously unknown disease, discovered Houttuyinia had a unique anti-SARS effect, owing to its anti-inflammatory properties. In fact, it soon became one of the ingredients in the SARS prevention formulas recognized by the Chinese Ministry of Public Health, along with seven other traditionally used plants.
BGCI is supporting botanic gardens around the world who are pioneering research and conservation of traditional medical systems, in the search of cures for the world's major diseases.
Investment into Traditional Medicine stepped up - China
Traditional Medicine leads to new drug discovery - India
Conserving threatened medicinal species - Peru
Two species under threat
Prized by florists and gardeners for its silvery, aromatic leaves, to Australia's Aboriginal population the Eucalyptus was far more than a mere ornamental.
Almost all parts of the plant have a traditional use, from the inner bark which was woven into nets to catch dugongs and sea turtles, to the scented flowers which were blended into a sweet drink. The leaves of the Ghost Gum (Eucalyptus papuana) were even used as a fish-catching poison. Soaked in water the leaves release a mild tranquiliser which temporarily stuns fish, causing them to float to the surface where they are easily caught.
The leaves are a powerful anticongestant and antiseptic and can be used to treat headaches, coughs, colds and stomach aches, either made into a steam inhalation, bath or an infusion.
Botanic gardens around the world, supported by BGCI, are major force for environmental education efforts. A key part of this is the promotion of the sustainable use of wild plant species such as the Eucalyptus in Australia.
Aboriginal Heritage at Sydney's Botanic Gardens
Australia opens its first 'Biopark'
Four species under threat
The relics of an ancient flora that covered large swathes of Europe before the ice ages, most Arbutus forests are now confined to far South West Ireland and the Southern Mediterranean.
The brightly coloured fruit, which turn slowly from yellow to bright red during their 24-month period of ripening have been traditionally used to make a variety of jams, conserves and liquers, and are considered a delicacy in Corsica. The fruit are often known to alcoholise while still on the tree, attracting a range of animals who appear to seek it out for just this purpose. Perhaps inspired by this, the flag of Madrid portrays a bear reaching up into an Arbutus tree to eat from its fruit.
Although little used in herbalism, it does deserve modern investigation. All parts of the plant contain ethyl gallate, a substance that possesses strong antibiotic activity against the mycobacterium bacteria. The leaves, bark and root are astringent and diuretic. They are also believed to be a renal antiseptic and so are of use in the treatment of affections of the urinary system such as cystitis and urethritis.
However a third of these species are now increasingly under threat, reflecting the ecological issues facing plants across the Mediterranean. BGCI are working with its network of botanic gardens to help conserve such species and rehabilitate degraded habitats.
Botanic Gardens called upon to save Mediterranean plants
Seed Banking to save efforts Mediterranean plants
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Great Botanic Gardens of the World
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Botanic Gardens: Using Biodiversity to Improve Human Well-being
BGCI believes that biodiversity conservation and poverty reduction must be linked if we are to succeed in either aim. This report highlights how botanic gardens across the world are involved in a variety of projects that use biodiversity to improve human well-being.
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