Sunday, November 2, 2014

Scientists 'Discover' Honeysuckle's Anti-viral properties (kind of like how Columbus 'discovered' America)


Sci-News is reporting the discovery of Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) as a the first virological penicillin. Scientists have narrowed in on a microRNA from the herb, MIR2911, which directly targets Influenza virus to inhibit its replication. The full article has been published in NatureMice in this study who received honeysuckle had reduced mortality due from infection with some viral strains. Unlike other microRNAs which are deactivated by boiling, this particular microRNA remains active after boiling, which is the traditional preparation method for this herb. The researchers stated that Traditional Chinese Herbal preparations are generally boiled for several hours, however thirty minutes is a more accurate average. The specific length of time required to boil a Chinese herbal preparation depends on whether the herb is classified as a tonic, whether it is strongly aromatic, a mineral 'herb', etc. Thirty minutes is in fact the amount of time that the researchers boiled the honeysuckle to make a decoction for this study. 

The reason I say that the scientists 'discovered' honeysuckle the way that Columbus discovered America, is for two reasons. First, in the America that Columbus 'found', there were already people. In this case people called "herbalists" were already using Honeysuckle for its anti-viral properties. Second, it is unclear that the researchers have correctly identified what they have found; is it India, or is it North America? In the materials and methods section of the paper the researchers stated simply that the the "Honeysuckle" was purchased from a Chinese Herbal Medicine shop. They did not elaborate as to which of the two Pharmaceutically distinct Honeysuckle herbal medicines sold by Traditional Chinese Herbal shops they used; those are either the stem with the leaves or the flower buds. The pharmaceutical name of the dried stem and leaf is "Caulis Lonicerae" or commonly "Ren Dong Teng." The pharmaceutical name for the dried flower buds is "Flos Lonicerae japonicae" or commonly "Jin Yin Hua." Most often the species used is Lonicera japonica, but in some parts of China other Lonicera species are used. The plant name was stated as Lonicera japonica in the introduction, though only the common English name of "Honeysuckle" was confirmed in the materials and methods. I found it strange that these details were left out, especially considering that it was published in Nature, the most prestigious scientific journal. There are multiple Chinese Pharmaceutical herbs with not just different species that are used interchangeably, but also different genera (for example Pogostemon and Agastache). I think the research performed in this study is good.  My critique is really against the misleading Sci News headline and the editorial laxity at Nature in allowing obvious details to be left out. I would be happy to see more scientific articles in big journals, but I would hope they pay more attention to these kind of details in the future. 

Even though the Honeysuckle flowers are harder to collect, they are used more often than the stems and leaves in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Interestingly, Jin Yin Hua is not any old flower from the Honeysuckle plant. The honeysuckle flowers start out white as they bud and when they first open. In a day or two they turn yellow, which is why the flowers are call Jin Yin Hua, translated "gold silver flower." The medicinal flowers are the unopened dried flower buds, which are considered to be the strongest. When the buds are picked they are white, and as they dry they turn yellow. Good quality Jin Yin Hua is a golden yellow and whole, unopened bud. It should not be brown, which would indicate that it is old or was not dried properly. This herb currently sells for around $29 per pound or more. It is used Traditionally for all types of infections where these is fever or influenza, and it is safe for children. The herb is also used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for bacterial dysentery, boils, and mastitis.  I have used it most often with other herbs in formulas for respiratory tract infections and pneumonia. This vine grows wild in some parts of the United States, and is also considered invasive here in Florida.  I continue to grow and harvest it, because of its medicinal value. When preparing it for an adult, I boil 9-15 grams of dried flower buds (dose range for adult) in a pot of water for around 30 minutes. The water is strained and drunk over 1-2 days, a cup 2-3 times per day.  A child's dose is 1/2 the adult dose. A baby's dose is 1/3 the adult dose.

Honey Honeysuckle Tea Recipe for Reducing Acne 
Jin Yin Hua 30 grams
Gan Cao (licorice root, Glycrrhiz glabra) 5 grams
Boil with 8.5 cups of water, and simmer for 15 minutes.  Drink daily

Lonicera japonica vine is propagated easily from cuttings. You can grow it in a large container on your porch to prevent it from taking over a natural habitat.
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