Herbs to Know: The Sleepy Walnut Tree and Chicory

Become healthier with these plants

| March/April 1999

The Sleep Walnut Tree
Walnuts are produced by the American black walnut tree (Juglans nigra) and the English walnut tree (Juglans regia). Herbalists use the leaves and the fleshy hulls that enclose the walnut shells rather than the nuts themselves. In traditional herbal practice, the leaves and hulls have been used as a tonic, an ­antifungal preparation, and an astringent in treating diarrhea. Recent scientific studies have reported that the leaf extracts have strong antiviral activity against a canker-sore-­inducing virus, a protective effect on the vascular system, and an inhibitory effect on certain tumors.

Now researchers at the Laboratory of Pharmacognosy and Phytotherapy in the Faculty of Pharmacy, Clermont-Ferrand, France, have studied the sedative effects of an English walnut leaf extract. Juglone, a compound present in all parts of the tree but concentrated in the leaves, is known by many gardeners; it retards the growth of certain plants. Ever try to grow a garden under a walnut tree? The juglone makes it difficult.

Compared with diazepam (Valium), chloroform extracts of juglone produced similar sedation in mice. Activity decreased markedly in 68 percent of subjects after receiving the juglone extract. Researchers also found that the extract produced a significant increase in sleep duration. Juglone’s newly discovered sedative activity will be the subject of future research.(1)

Chicory's Liver-Protective Activity Confirmed
One person’s weed is another person’s herb. More often ­maligned than appreciated in America, common chicory (Cichorium intybus) is a perennial with a deep spiraling taproot that resembles the root of dandelions. Like those of dandelions, chicory’s young leaves and roots are sometimes eaten as vegetables. The roasted root is a well-known coffee adulterant or flavor enhancer.

Chicory root has traditionally been used to aid digestion, for its diuretic and slight laxative effects, and for liver disorders. A tea of the root is believed to stimulate bile secretion and ease upset stomach. In Pakistan, the root has been used as a folk medicine for liver disease. Researchers isolated a phenolic compound, esculetin, from the roots and in tests with mice confirmed its ability to protect the liver. A water extract of the root inhibits oxidative degradation of DNA in liver tissue.

Researchers in India have recently confirmed chicory root’s liver-protecting ability. Using rats and a standard liver-toxicity test, they found that an extract from tissue-cultured root tips protected the liver better than extracts from the dried root.(2)

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