Of Host Plants And Traditional Medicine

Mistletoe’s medicinal quality depends on the environment of its host plant, discover researchers from China and the UK.

Asian Scientist Magazine (Jun. 29, 2022) — Imagine a dull joint soreness when you wake up in the morning or a feeling that your knees ache right before it rains. For many, this is what arthralgia (joint pain) feels like. Globally, more than 6 billion people turn to traditional medicine for common ailments like arthralgia. Recognising the importance of traditional medicine, the World Health Organisation (WHO) established a global centre for traditional medicine this year in India.

Taking the traditional medicine research forward in Asia, a team of scientists studied a plant Viscum coloratum or mistletoe, which is popular in Traditional Chinese Medicine. The team led by researcher Dr. Yun-Li Zhao discovered that Viscum coloratum’s medicinal properties are affected by the environment and its host plant. The study published in the Journal of Pharmaceutical Analysis  is also the first-of-its-kind to use a comprehensive analysis involving both biological and chemical approaches to determine a plant’s medicinal profiles.

Mistletoe is partly a parasitic plant which thrives off its host plant in addition to photosynthesizing on its own.

Previous studies have extensively examined the relationship between environmental factors and medicinal properties of Viscum coloratum. However, the relationship between host and the parasitic plant has not been fully understood. Since Viscum coloratum has garnered increasing attention for its potential anticancer activity, there is an interest in filling the current knowledge gap.

Dr. Zhao and her team ventured to understand the relationship using metabolomics. It is a technique that looks at small molecules present in biological organisms at different timepoints. This allows researchers to better assess the medicinal quality of the plant.

“Our research aims to clarify which factor—origin or host—has a greater influence on the quality of mistletoe,” said Dr. Zhao from the Department of Pharmaceutical Analysis at the Shenyang Pharmaceutical University.

For starters, the team selected three Viscum coloratum samples grown on different hosts to examine the effect of the host plant. Along the same vein, they picked two vastly different habitats, one from a rich climate with plenty of water and nutrients while the other was sparse, with less rain.

Several techniques were performed to analyze the small metabolite molecules present in the samples. One of the techniques separate small molecules according to their concentration levels. The various data obtained were then studied to understand the relationship between the environment of the host plant and medicinal quality of mistletoe. This ensured that the final interpretation was a holistic understanding of the complicated interplay between these factors on mistletoe’s medicinal properties.

Eventually, the team concluded that the medicinal quality was most influenced by the environment the hemiparasite was present in. Results show that mistletoe samples taken from the Changbai Mountain (where there is an abundance of vegetation and water resources) have a better medicinal quality.

The team is optimistic that this study will serve as an inspiration for future studies and analysis on the quality of other hemiparasitic medicinal plants.

Source: Shenyang Pharmaceutical University; Photo: Shutterstock

The article can be found at Zhang et al. (2022), Metabolomics-based comparative analysis of host and environment on Viscum coloratum metabolites and antioxidative activities.

Asian Scientist Magazine is an award-winning science and technology magazine that highlights R&D news stories from Asia to a global audience. The magazine is published by Singapore-headquartered Wildtype Media Group.

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