Herbs for Health: Capsules

| October/November 1995

Celery and Cholesterol

In traditional Chinese medicine, celery has been prescribed to cleanse the blood, treat hypertension, and relieve dizziness and headaches. A compound found in celery seeds, 3-n-butylphthalide, has been reported to significantly reduce blood pressure and lower cholesterol. This finding impelled a research group at the National University of Singapore to study the effects of a water extract of celery stems on lipid levels in rats. The extract produced a significant reduction in serum cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and triglyceride concentrations in the blood. However, triglyceride concentrations in the liver increased significantly. Researchers hypothesized that the celery extract was channeling the lipids to fat and liver tissues. When an analysis of the extract revealed none of the 3-n-butylphthalide found in celery seeds, they concluded that another compound may be responsible for celery stems’ cholesterol-lowering effect and that further research is needed on the possible health benefits of eating celery stems.(1)

Dried Ginger and Surgery

The rhizomes of ginger (Zingiber officinale) have a long history of use in traditional medicine for allaying nausea, and ginger has been studied clinically as an agent in preventing motion sickness. Consequently, it has been suggested that ginger rhizomes be used to prevent or control nausea associated with surgical anesthesia.

Because of reports that ginger may thin the blood and slow clotting following surgery, a research group at the Department of Anaesthetics, Harefield Hospital, in Middlesex, England, studied the clotting time of the blood of eight healthy male volunteers before ingestion and 3 and 24 hours after ingestion of 2 grams of dried ginger or a placebo. Researchers observed no difference in test results between men who received ginger and those who received the placebo. They concluded that 2 grams of dried ginger is unlikely to cause adverse effects in the blood when it is taken before surgery, but they noted that the effect of dried ginger on blood platelets may depend upon the dose or that platelet dysfunction may occur only with the ingestion of fresh ginger.(2)

A Fungicide For The Futuer?

The Natural Pesticide Laboratory at the University of Gorakhpur in India tested leaf extracts of forty species of flowering plants for antifungal activity against a fungus that infects lentil crops in India, as well as nineteen other fungi. Leaves were sterilized with 70 percent ethanol, then repeatedly washed in water to remove alcohol traces. Leaf material was then extracted in cold water. Of the leaf extracts tested, only that of spearmint leaf (Mentha spicata) had strong fungicidal activity, killing the mycelium in eleven of the twenty fungi tested. Further research could result in the discovery of plant diseases for which a water extract of spearmint could serve as an effective fungicide.(3)

The Whole Versus The Parts

Ginkgo leaves contain chemical compounds known as terpene lactones, among which are ginkgolides and bilobalide, as well as numerous bioflavonoid compounds (for more information about the active constituents of ginkgo, see “Ginkgo: Circulatory Therapy'', April/May 1995). To determine which compounds are responsible for the free radical–scavenging (antioxidant) activity attributed to ginkgo leaf extracts, a research group in France tested isolated flavonoids as well as ginkgolides and bilobalide in different systems to determine the level of antioxidant activity. Flavonoid compounds with very specific chemical characteristics and not the terpene lactones were found to be responsible for the antifree-radical effect. This study is important to the broader topic of the effectiveness of whole-plant extracts versus single, isolated chemical components and their use in drug development.(4)


(1) Tsi, D., et al. Planta Med. 1995, 61:18–21.
(2) Lumb, A. B. Thrombosis and Haemostasis 1994, 71:110–111.
(3) Singh, J., et al. Int. J. Pharmacog. 1994, 4:314–319.
(4) Joyeux, M., et al. Planta Med. 1995, 61:126–129.

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