From his field trip to the mountain area Pamir, where Afghanistan meets Pakistan and China, Jens Soelberg – who recently graduated with a MsC in Biology from the University of Copenhagen – has been investigating the use of natural drugs among the local nomadic population and mountain farmers. During his five month long trip, Jens Soelberg collected plants for his master’s thesis and one of the plants especially attracted his attention because of its effect on a tiny but dangerous animal.
“Most people from the local population always carry a piece of the root from the plant Rubia Tibetica in case they get bitten by the mite könah, which is a tick found in the region. The Könah is potentially lethal because it can cause anaphylactic shock, but the population living in the area explains how chewing the root from the plant Rubia Tibetica can help you against the allergic reaction,” says Jens Soelberg.
Natural antihistamine and antibacterial
In the lab in Denmark, Anne Jeppesen, student at the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, has been testing the collected plants from Pamir, and her work shows exactly why the plant root can prevent the tick bite from having deadly consequences.
“The root of the plant Rubia Tibetica clearly has an antihistamine effect. I have tested the root’s chemical connections in the tissue of guinea pigs. Guinea pigs have four different histamine receptors connected with the small intestines and the respiratory passages – and the plant extract has a positive effect even in a solution of 0.3 milligram per millimeter,” says Anne Jeppesen.
Anne Jeppesen has in total been looking at around 40 plants collected by Jens Soelberg in the Pamir region, and the Rubia Tibetica root is far from the only interesting result. Due to harsh weather conditions, the local people wakhi and kirgise use several kinds of moss to protect their skin, and the master student’s lab results reveal that one of the plants which is used to heal wounds has a clear antibacterial effect. Although the result probably will not be used directly in the development for medicine against insect bites and sting in Denmark, Anne Jeppesen does not doubt the importance of the global health knowledge which this research gains.
“When looking for new active substances with medicinal effect, the traditional healers and shamans are an important place to begin the search. We can learn from the local populations’ use of the natural drugs built upon centuries of traditions and testing outside the labs,” says Anne Jeppesen.
Anne Jeppesen is currently writing her master’s thesis, and Jens Soelberg is curator at the Natural Medicine Museum at the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Copenhagen, and is finishing a school book about the plants of Pamir for the local children in the region.
Jens Soelberg, mobile +45 22 55 13 30
Anne Jeppesen, mobile +45 60 75 48 38