Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Orchids as Herbal Remedies

Orchidaceae, the Orchid family, is the largest family of the flowering plants (Angiospermae). Its name is derived from the genus Orchis.

The Royal Botanical Gardens of Kew list 880 genera and nearly 22,000 accepted species, but the exact number is unknown (perhaps as many as 25,000) because of taxonomic disputes. The number of orchid species equals about four times the number of mammal species, or more than twice the number of bird species. It also encompasses about 6–11% of all seed plants. About 800 new orchid species are described each year.

The largest genera are Bulbophyllum (2,000 species), Epidendrum (1,500 species), Dendrobium (1,400 species) and Pleurothallis (1,000 species). The family also includes the Vanilla (the genus of the vanilla plant), Orchis (type genus) and many commonly cultivated plants like some Phalaenopsis or Cattleya.
The complex mechanisms which orchids evolve to achieve cross-pollination were investigated by Charles Darwin and described in his 1862 book Fertilisation of Orchids.

Moyobamba is a city and capital of the San Martín Region in northern Peru. The city sits on a bluff overlooking the Mayo River, at 2,820 feet (860 m) above sea level, in the humid, tropical region known as the Ceja de selva. Some 3,500 species of orchid are native to the area, which has led to the city's nickname of The City of Orchids.

Orchids, like tulips, have become a major market throughout the world. Buyers now bid hundreds of dollars on new hybrids or improved ones. Because of their apparent ease in hybridization, they are now becoming one of the most popular cut-flowers on the market.


One orchid genus, Vanilla, is commercially important, used as a flavoring. Research shows it has antimicrobial properties against Eschericha coli, Lactobacillus planatarum and Listeria innocua. Its scent is sometimes used as a diagnostic for Alzheimer's disease.

The underground tubers of terrestrial orchids (mainly Orchis mascula (Early Purple Orchid)) are ground to a powder and used for cooking, such as in the hot beverage salep or in the Turkish ice-cream (Dondurma - salepli dondurma).

The dried leaves of Jumellea fragrans are used to flavor rum on Reunion Island.

Chinese traditional herbal medicine uses an orchid product called "Shihu" that is made from several Dendrobium species. It is recommended for indigestion, rehydration, as an anti-pyretic, to increase white cells in the blood and reduce ‘fidgets’. Moscatilin, derived from Dendrobium loddigesii, has anti-cancer activity for stomach and lung cancer cell lines. It is also an anti-platelet agent. Also for sale is "Shihu Yeguang Wan", which also contains Dendrobium products and is recommended for eye problems. Gastrodia elata is grown commercially and is used to treat allergies and relieve headache and fatigue. Many herbal formulas for treating hypertension, convulsions, migraine, wind and cramps include this preparation.

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