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In The News: Wild Tomatillo Plant May Hold Cancer Fighting Compounds

| 5/9/2012 4:10:26 PM

J.PattonResearchers at the University of Kansas have discovered a plant that may have cancer-fighting capabilities. And, if you live anywhere in the Great Plains, it’s a weed you can probably see outside your window: the wild tomatillo.

The wild tomatillo (Physalis longifolia) is a member of the nightshade family, which also includes tomatoes, potatoes, tomatillos and eggplant. The plant produces fruits similar to the domesticated tomatillos that you can find in your local grocery store. In the past, numerous Native American tribes depended on the wild tomatillo for food and medicine. The Zuni tribe dried and ground the berries to produce a meal for making bread, and the Laguna tribe ate the plant's berries for nourishment. In addition, records indicate that the Omaha, Ponca and Winnebago tribe used wild tomatillo to treat headache and stomachache, and as a dressing for injuries. The Iroquois tribe treated veneral disease sores with the plant, and the Lakota tribe used the wild tomatillo to enhance appetite.

Venture into any Great Plains' field and you may run into this cancer-fighting plant.
Photo by Scarygami/Courtesy

Today, this common North American weed may be the key to groundbreaking cancer-fighting treatments. Researchers have discovered that wild tomatillo contains 14 unique compounds that have shown promising anticancer properties in preclinical testing. So far, these compounds, known as withanolides, have been shown to have a significant effect against melanomas, thyroid cancer, breast cancer, head and neck squamous, glioblastoma brain tumors and even certain leukemias. In the lab, these compounds have drastically shrunk—or even completely dissolved—aggressive cancers in mice. Only time will tell if these effects carry over to humans.

This KU team is the first to examine the longifolia species as a source of possible medicinal uses. For more information on their research, check out the news release on the University of Kansas’ website. And for more information on the wild tomatillo, click here.

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