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Nasturtium and its potential use in fighting multi-resistant pathogens

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The nasturtium was named Medicinal Plant of the Year in 2013. A committee of experts at the University of Würzburg (Germany) awards this title every year. The scientists, pharmacists and doctors pay attention to certain criteria when choosing the right plant. Plants that have an interesting historical background and are little known to the public are selected.

The Europeans discovered the medicinal potential of the nasturtium among the indigenous people of South America. The Incas used the plant hundreds of years ago for pain and wound healing. It is still used today in traditional medicine in South America for the treatment of various diseases. For example, since the nasturtium is rich in vitamin C, it is used to prevent scurvy.

Applications in modern medicine

In Europe today, medicines for respiratory diseases and cystitis are made from nasturtiums. The plant contains so-called glucosinolates, which are converted into mustard oils by enzymes in the body. 

These mustard oils not only inhibit the spread of various bacteria, viruses and fungi, they also have a blood circulation-enhancing effect. Its use in bronchitis and bladder infections is particularly interesting, as it eliminates the need for antibiotics.

Nasturtiums for multi-resistant pathogens

Various causes, such as the misuse of antibiotics, are increasingly leading to antibiotic resistance and thus to multi-resistant pathogens. Multi-resistant germs are a serious threat. Up to 2.8 million patients are infected annually in hospitals and up to 35,000 people in the US die from it. During the pandemic, the risk of infection even increased despite all the precautionary measures. More information can be found here.

The fight against multi-resistant germs is therefore an important research area. The flora offers great potential for this problem. Plants with certain antimicrobial agents in particular could be used for multi-resistant germs in the future. Since a study in 2010 confirmed the possible use of nasturtiums against a flu virus, it is likely that the plant can also be used for other viruses or germs.

Research in this area has been going on at universities for a long time. For large pharmaceutical companies however, the use of herbal active ingredients is still largely uninteresting. In contrast to synthetic medicinal products, it is not known exactly which active ingredient has the decisive effect with herbal medicinal products. This makes it difficult to apply for a patent.

It is to be hoped that, in future, governments will make the development and marketing of herbal medicines more profitable and thus strengthen research in this area. Many discoveries are not pursued further because of economic considerations. An interesting interview on this topic, with Prof. Dr. Michael Wink, former director at the Institute for Pharmacy and Molecular Biotechnology at the University of Heidelberg, can be found here.

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