Indian Borage (Plectranthus amboinicus)

For an herb so common and robust, Plectranthus amboinicus has been given a surprising number of international aliases: Mexican mint, Cuban oregano, Indian borage, and Spanish thyme, amongst others. Despite its global affiliations, the plant is native to Southern and Eastern Africa. The sheer variety of its names also belies its botanical ancestry- it belongs to the Lamiaceae family, which includes common herbs such as basil, mint, oregano, sage, rosemary, and thyme.

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P. amboinicus, as we shall so refer, is characterized by large, thick, opposite, heart-shaped leaves, with a scalloped edge, tapering to a point. When healthy, its leaves are a beautiful jade green, and covered with short, soft fuzz. Its fleshy, cuboidal stems are similarly bedecked, and can grow to a height of almost a metre. The almost defining characteristic of the plant is its distinct smell, a pleasant oregano-like fragrance. This has in turn given rise to its rather poetic name in Mandarin: ‘dao shou xiang’, or ‘fragrant when touched’. It flowers in the summer, sending forth lovely pale purple or white blooms. However, it has not been observed to flower in hot tropical countries such as Singapore.

As a garden herb, P. amboinicus holds much appeal: it is easy to grow from stem cuttings, and surprisingly tolerant of the negligent or novice gardener, either too miserly with the watering can, or prone to an effusive showering of love- although, of course, moderation is nonetheless preferred. It seems almost to speak to its Human- too little sun, and the leaves turn a dark green; too much sun, and they curl and turn yellow.

Besides being used to flavour meat and poultry, P. amboinicus boasts an impressive list of ailments it is thought to be effective against. Anecdotal evidence exists of its ability to cure chronic coughs, either by chewing the leaves, pounding them with some water, or steeping them and drinking the tea. Rubbing the leaves and inhaling the vapour is thought to help clear blocked noses, much like menthol-based nasal decongestants. Leaf pulp applied to the skin is thought to soothe burns, sores, bites, and inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema. The same anti-inflammatory property seems to hold true even when the tea is consumed- it is thought to help treat bronchitis, asthma, malaria, helminths (worms) and diseases caused by viruses. In fact, scientists in Taiwan have investigated the efficacy of P. amboinicus in treating rheumatoid arthritis, and found that it was able to reduce the levels of proteins that mediate and indicate inflammation, known as pro-inflammatory cytokines, in rats. In addition, the herb has been used against pain, insomnia, and diarrhoea, to increase lactation in new mothers, and is also thought to have some hepatoprotective (liver protective) effect.

Some may scoff at the idea of herbal folklore, but its wide and continued use in India, Africa and Southeast Asia suggests that there may be truth to the claims. After all, many Western medicines we use today contain compounds first isolated from plants, including Vinblastine from the rosy periwinkle, which is used in the clinic to successfully treat childhood leukaemia. Of course, one thing has to be noted- when consuming herbs from the garden, do so carefully. Whilst clinical drugs have been tested to determine suitable doses and potential side effects, no data exists regarding the number of leaves it might take to heal or kill. The good news is, for most edible plants, you’d probably have to eat a field’s worth to fall ill. But a leaf or two to spice up dinner and potentially kick that annoying cough you’ve had for weeks- who’s to say no to that?

左手香

左手香是一个常见的植物,并享有各种充满诗意的名堂:到手香、过手香、印度琉璃苣、排香草。它起源于东南非洲,是 Lamiaceae 植物家庭的成员。

左手香拥有可爱的外表:厚实的心形大叶子,对长着,扇形边缘,羞涩地低着叶尖。翠绿的叶子上长着柔软的短毛,强壮的茎也同样被短毛裹着,能达到将近一米高。它散发着一股浓烈的香气,这也是它名字的由来。在有一年四季的国家里,夏天是左手香绽放淡紫或白花的季节。但是,在像新加坡那样全年炎热的热带国家里,它似乎并没有开花的意念。

栽培左手香是一件简单的任务。把剪下来的茎种入泥土中,它就能生长。它耐旱,耐水,耐阳,但是最佳的生长环境是两者适中。不够阳光的左手香叶会变深绿色,太多阳光则会变黄,卷曲,似乎是在跟主人悄悄沟通。

撩人的香味使得左手香成为一个很受欢迎的料理佐料。但是除此之外,它更是一个重要的民间药材。它被称为治疗咳嗽的良方,吸入气味也能解除鼻塞。把叶子磨碎,涂在皮肤上,据说能缓解烧伤、疮口、虫咬、湿疹。用叶子泡的茶也被认为有抗炎的作用,易于治肺炎、哮喘、疟疾、虫子、病毒。台湾科学家发现,这有一定的科学原理:左手香确实能改善大鼠风湿病的病情,并减低促炎细胞因子量。同时,左手香也被用于治疗疼痛、失眠、写肚子,提高母乳产量,并被认为有一定的护肝作用。

并不是每个人都相信民间药材的药效。但是左手香在印度,非洲和东南亚的普遍用途,意味着这一切或许有一定的原理。毕竟,很多西药都是从植物提炼出来的,比如玫瑰荔枝螺中提炼出来的长春花碱,有效于治疗儿童白血病。当然,民间药材并没有像西药一样,经过各种药量及副作用测试之后才上市,所以吃多少有益,多少有害,都是未知数。然而,好消息是,一般能食用的植物需要大量饮食才会伤身。偶尔从花园里摘几片刺激味蕾,又或许能同时补补身,又何妨?

References

  1. Chang JM, Cheng CM, Hung LM, Chung YS, Wu RY. Potential use of Plectranthus amboinicus in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2010;7(1):115-20
  2. http://homeguides.sfgate.com/grow-plectranthus-amboinicus-84959.html
  3. http://www.finegardening.com/mexican-mint-plectranthus-amboinicus
  4. http://www.learn2grow.com/plants/plectranthus-amboinicus-variegatus/
  5. http://www.livingrainforest.org/about-rainforests/anti-cancer-rosy-periwinkle/
  6. http://www.melindamyers.com/Radio-Recently-Aired/creating-a-beautiful-garden-or-landscape/mexican-mint-or-cuban-oregano-plectranthus-amboinicus.html
  7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plectranthus_amboinicus
  8. https://healdove.com/alternative-medicine/Indian-Borage
  9. https://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E5%B7%A6%E6%89%8B%E9%A6%99
  10. greenculturesg.com/articles/oct07/oct07_Plect_amboinicus.pdf
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