Montana Public Radio

Plant Detective, The

Each week Flora Delaterre a.k.a. The Plant Detective investigates a new medicinal plant somewhere around the globe--and it could be in your backyard. Beth Judy writes and voices this minute-and-a-half program in consult with Bastyr University, Tai Sophia Institute, and the Vermont School of Integrative Herbalism. Produced by MTPR.

The Plant Detective podcast


Aug 9, 2014

Ever since people in tropical regions around the world began to grow Madagascar periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus) for its cheerful pink flowers, the plant has been known as a home remedy for diabetes. In the 1950s, when researchers began testing periwinkle for its anti-diabetic properties, they discovered several highly toxic alkaloids in the plant's tissues. Two of them led to key drugs for cancers of the blood: vinblastine and vincristine.

(Podcast: The Plant Detective, 8/9/14)

Nettle II

Aug 2, 2014

In the National Museum of Denmark, there's a 2,800 year old piece of Bronze Age cloth made from nettle fiber. Nettle fabric has been used a lot more recently: in the early 20th century, when Britain controlled India's supply of cotton, Germany and Austria got busy developing nettle as their own source of fabric. During World War I, German uniforms were made of it. Nettle can produce fabric dye, too. In the 1990s, German botanists re-discovered earlier research into high-fiber nettles, and today, various European clothing manufacturers specialize in nettle fabric clothing.

Nettle I

Jul 26, 2014

It's not called "stinging nettle" for nothing: if you're going to spend time in a nettle patch, cover up. The hairs on nettle's leaves and stems are miniature hypodermics, waiting to pucture your skin, which - ouch! - stings, then burns, then aches. But on arthritic joints, that sting stimulates, then exhausts, the production of pain messengers to the brain. Nettle leaf soup (cooking neutralizes the sting) has been found to reduce pain and immobility in people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.


Jul 19, 2014

When taken as herbal medicine, echinacea stimulates our immune systems, raising white blood cell counts and strengthening cell walls. Although it originated in North America, where native Americans used echinacea as something of a cure-all, in the 20th century, Germany is where its popularity first surged. People use echinacea to shorten the duration of the common cold and reduce the symptoms, and to boost immunity and fight off upper respiratory infections.

Asian Ginseng

Jul 12, 2014

7/12/14: This week on The Plant Detective: Asian ginseng, Panax ginseng, helps people with Type 2 diabetes maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Both Asian and American ginseng contain ginsenosides, just in different proportions. Asian ginseng stimulates while American ginseng calms, and in the terms of Chinese traditional medicine, Panax ginseng promotes yang energy and cleans excess yin. American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) does the opposite.

Tea II

Jul 5, 2014

7/5/14: This week on The Plant Detective: They may have different flavors but black, green, white and oolong teas all come from the same plant: Camellia sinensis. They're just processed differently; black tea is fermented, green tea isn't. Unfermented green tea is especially high in catechins, those antioxidants that scavenge the blood for free radicals and are associated with lower rates of atherosclerosis.

Tea I

Jun 28, 2014

6/28/14: This week on "The Plant Detective:" According to archaeologists, human use of tea,  Camellia sinensis, goes back 500,000 years.  The flavonoids in tea are more effective antioxidants than Vitamins C or E - they seem to boost immunity and protect against cavities and ultraviolet rays. More research is needed to find out if tea's flavonoids protect against cardiovascular disease and certain kinds of cancer.

American Ginseng

Jun 21, 2014

6/21/14: This week on "The Plant Detective:"  Even today, many elderly Chinese still prefer a good ginseng root to health insurance. American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) is used to aid digestion, treat diabetes, boost immunity, and balance qi, or life energy.


Jun 14, 2014

6/14/14: This week on "The Plant Detective:"  Aloe was one of the most frequently prescribed medicines throughout most of the 18th and 19th centuries. It remains one of the most commonly used herbs in the United States today, protecting against ultraviolet rays, relieving the pain of minor burns - and sunburn -  and helping skin regenerate. One study found that aloe vera gel displayed anti-inflammatory effects superior to 1% hydrocortisone cream or a placebo gel.


Gotu Kola

Jun 7, 2014

6/7/14: This week on "The Plant Detective:" For thousands of years, people in India, China, and Indonesia have used gotu kola to heal wounds, improve mental clarity, and treat skin conditions such as leprosy and psoriasis. Today, in the U.S. and Europe, gotu kola in ointment helps heal minor wounds and taken in other forms, it treats varicose veins and chronic venous insufficiency. The Chinese use it to reduce stress.

Don't confuse gotu kola with cola or cola nut. They're completely different plants.