Herbarium: Medicinal Plants as Information

Worthy Worts: Comprehensive Comparison of the Histories, Structures, and Therapeutic Uses of Plants in the ​​Scrophulariaceae and Asteraceae Families

Worts refer to a broad lineage of plants hailing from the medieval times. The term wort was derived from the English word, “wyrt,” which referred to any plant, root, or herb. Therefore, plants that were labeled with “wort” in the name were believed to have medicinal uses, with “-wort” serving as a suffix after the word for the body part or purpose the plant was expected to be useful for. Some of the most well-known species in the wort family include St. John’s Wort, a leafy herb that has been used to treat internal and external ailments since the Greek Empire, and the common mugwort, a historical staple of East Asian medicine that continues to be used to this day for homeopathic remedies.
        Within the wort family, there are various plant species that significantly differ in structure and prospective use. Our group was interested in investigating two families that fall under the “worts” category: the Scrophulariaceae and Asteraceae families. By examining the physical structures, medicinal functions, and histories of multiple plants within these two families, the aim is to better understand the similarities and differences of worts.
        First off is an analysis of the Scrophulariaceae family through the lens of three different plants: Scrophularia californica, Scrophularia scorodonia, and Galvezia juncea. To start off, Scrophularia californica, also known as “California figwort,” belongs to the broader Scrophulariaceae family of flowering plants commonly known as figworts. The sample of Scrophularia californica from CCH2 analyzed was collected by N.M. Gauss on May 6, 1961 in the Santa Monica Mountains in California along Potrero Road in Long Grade Canyon. Scrophularia californica has a variety of medicinal active agents and medical uses. The primary active agents in the plants are iridoids, which have anti-inflammatory properties and phenylpropanoids that provide antioxidant and antibacterial benefits. Similarly to many other species in the figwort family, Scrophularia californica is frequently used topically for inflammation such as stings, bites, rashes, and burns.
        Next is the Scrophularia scorodonia, which is a sister species of Scrophularia californica. The colored engraving that was analyzed was created by James Sowerby in London, England on November 1, 1810. The sketch is highly detailed, with the author including subtle elements such as the small fuzz-like extensions of the main stem and veins on the leaves. The image was created to show the intricacies of the plant and enable others to identify it if they were to encounter it in the wild. As for the uses of the Scrophularia scorodonia plant, researchers have found that chemicals, such as angoroside A/C/D, acteoside, isoacteoside, and scorodioside, all contribute to the plant’s antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties (Pasdaran and Hamedi).
        The last plant within the Scrophulariaceae family analyzed was the live specimen of Galvezia juncea located in the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden, commonly known as the Cedros Island Snapdragon. The organism was low to the ground, standing at about three feet tall, and originated from Baja California, suggesting that it prefers low-water, sunny, dry climates. The bright red color is easy to notice, which suggests that the plant heavily relies on pollination from animals/insects. The small opening of the flower suggests that the pollination agents have small beaks/small bodies in order to reach the flowers' pollen, which is supported by further research indicating the plant attracts hummingbirds. While there are no explicit medicinal uses for Galvezia juncea, other snapdragon species have been used in countries such as Russia for edible oils extracted from their seeds. Snapdragons also have anti-inflammatory, stimulant compounds present in their leaves and flowers, which are applied as poultices to treat inflammation such as skin tumors and ulcers. The flowers have also been consumed since they are a great source of vitamins and green dye can also be gathered from the leaves and stems.
        Second is an examination of the two plants within the Asteraceae family: Artemisia douglasiana and Artemisia campestris. Artemisia douglasiana represents the plant from the UCLA Herbarium and the Botanical Garden. The plant from the historical Materia Medica is called Artemisia campestris (mugwort) and belongs to the same genus as the UCLA Herbarium and Botanical Garden specimen: Artemisia douglasiana (California mugwort). Artemisia campestris particularly illustrates the flowering stem, leaves, roots and floral segments of the mugwort. The herbarium specimen displays Artemisia douglasiana as a mature plant in full flower while the botanical garden specimen does not display any seedlings or flowers. The botanical garden leaves from Artemisia douglasiana differ in branching from the leaves of Artemisia campestris as they appear to be noticeably thicker. With regards to the UCLA Herbarium, the plant was collected from Santa Ynez Canyon at Sunset Blvd at Santa Monica Mountains on September 16,1967 by T. A. Geissman. The specimen was treated under Lauryl pentachlorophenate, a chemical preservant. The historical plant, on the other hand, is called Artemisia campestris and was engraved by the engraver James Sowerby during the latter half of the 18th century, particularly on August 1, 1796 in London. The significance of this image can be attributed to the artist James Sowerby, who was a naturalist that attempted to be an heir to Carl Linnaeus’s taxonomic throne. The plants’ contextual uses can be further traced back to their medicinal properties. Historically, Artemisia campestris is considered a medicinal halophytic shrub and is commonly spotted in coastal sand dunes, especially throughout the sand dunes of the European Atlantic coast, as well as in the Santa heights area in the Americas. Before settlers arrived in the Americas, Artemisia douglasiana (California mugwort) was used by Native Americans, namely the Chumash and Cahuilla. The majority of the medicinal value of the plant tends to revolve around the leaves of the plant. Nervous and Spasmodic affections, such as rashes caused by poison oak and headaches, were treated through the use of water in which the leaves of Artemisia douglasiana have been simmering. Additionally, this tea was used by Native Americans to provide benefits in the treatment of female period pains, rheumatism and gout. The teas produced with the leaves and or the stems of Artemisia douglasiana and other similar plants have also been known to be used by the Europeans as an anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory and antipyretic (fever reducer).
        Overall, the research reveals multiple similarities across these two families. For example, Scrophularia californica (California figwort) and the Artemisia douglasiana (California mugwort) share similarities relevant to the location because they are both native to the state of California. Furthermore, the term figwort refers to an usage of plants in treating hemorrhoids, while the term mugwort refers to an Eurasian perennial herb with leaves useful in folk medicine. Thus, one can clearly see the relevance of medicinal and therapeutic usage in the origins of naming these plants.



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