The South African Geranium (Pelargonium sidoides) is a medicinal plant that is native to South Africa. It belongs to a family of plants known as the scented geranium. For over 100 years, many South African tribes have used the South African Geranium plant, commonly known as “umckaloabo”, for cough, colds, upper respiratory infections, and gastrointestinal complaints. Pelargonium was first used by an Englishman, Charles Stevens, for tuberculosis. A tribal leader in South Africa gave him a decoction of herbal plants that cured him. Fully recovered, he went back to England, where his remedy of “Stevens Consumption Care” became popular but died down due to the advent of western medicine. This herb – used by Charles Stevens – was prepared from the roots of pelargonium, and it has been rediscovered by the Europeans.
The clinical evidence showing the use of pelargonium for bronchitis is impressive. Bronchitis is a condition that causes inflammation of the airways that leads to an increase in mucus secretions, narrowing of the airways and causes cough. Acute bronchitis is one of the most common infections encountered by the primary care physicians, and viruses account for 70% of the cases. Although antibiotics should not be used, increased use of antibiotics by primary care professionals to treat bronchitis has led to an increasing bacterial resistance, has caused allergic reactions and gastrointestinal problems.
A recent study that involved 2000 adults, children, and babies with bronchitis, was performed at 440 sites in Germany. The research showed that the pelargonium root extracts reduced the severity of the symptoms from an average ‘Bronchitis Severity Score’ rating of 6.3 to 0.9. In a separate clinical trial with 205 patients with bronchitis, pelargonium decreased the symptoms associated with bronchitis, such as cough and wheezing. Additionally, more than 60% of the patients also reported improved symptoms within one week.
Pelargonium has also been shown to be effective against throat infections in children. Commonly called streptococcal pharyngitis or strep throat, this type of infection is commonly caused by the streptococcus pyogenes bacteria. In a double-blinded clinical trial in Ukraine, children ages 6-10 with acute strep infection were either treated with pelargonium root extract or placebo. The children that were treated with pelargonium showed a reduction in the severity of symptoms and duration of illness by two days on average when compared with placebo.
So, how does this plant that is used widely for its flowers in gardening work? The bioactive ingredients in Pelargonium sidoides are tri/tetra-oxygenated coumarins, gallic acid and gallic acid methyl ester (polyphenols), various flavonoids, calcium, and silica. According to the research studies, most of the coumarins contain a methoxy function and OH groups that are responsible for the antibacterial activity. Additionally, gallic acid and methyl ester, play a major immune-modulatory role. Studies have shown that gallic acid and its methyl -ester activated the tumor necrosis factor and nitric oxides that activate the body’s natural defense system of macrophages (immune cells)
The wonderful use of this herbal medicine does not stop with its use for an upper respiratory infection. It has also been found to have antibiotic-resistant against the Staphylococcus aureus (bacteria) that can cause food poisoning and it also eliminates Candida albicans (yeast) that have been associated with irritable bowel syndrome and thrush. Finally, this wonderful herbal medicine also reduces the ability of Helicobacter pylori (bacteria that causes intestinal ulcers) to adhere to the stomach wall.
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