In the past five years, Anneke Penn has seen a shift in the profile of her customer base, once composed primarily of retirees looking for solutions to chronic health issues. / Tim Shortt/FLORIDA TODAY
(Florida Today) -- Anneke Penn expects plenty of new business at her Mrs. Mango's &
Co. herbal shop after the Affordable Care Act takes effect next year.
The use of medicinal plants could well spike because of the new law and
its interest on prevention, wellness and patient involvement.
"I'm very excited about the opportunity, because medicinal plants are so important in preventive care," Penn said.
the past five years, Penn has seen a shift in the profile of her
customer base, once composed primarily of retirees looking for solutions
to chronic health issues.
"We now get a lot of new parents and high school kids, even football players from Rockledge High," Penn said.
sixth-generation herbalist Penn, medicinal plants can take care of
pretty much whatever can ail customers who seek her help at the
Rockledge herbal shop her grandmother, Netherlands émigré Anneke
Langendonk, started 28 years ago.
majority of our customers have problems that they want to treat the
natural way," Penn said. "They may want to avoid drugs or have already
tried medications that aren't working or have side effects."
blood pressure or cholesterol, arthritis, bowel issues, insomnia,
depression and anxiety are typical medical issues Penn and her customers
battle with the aid of medicinal plants, some of them grown in Florida.
an ear infection? Tea tree oil could help. Hot flashes bothering you?
Black cohosh works for 90 percent of women, Penn said. Can't sleep? Penn
would recommend valerian root, one of her top three favorite medicinal
from long ago realized the powerful healing capacity of plants.
Thousands of years before the Europeans first set foot on the continent,
America's first residents were relying on the medicinal value of close
to 3,000 plants.
leading tours through the Pioneer and Native History gardens of Sams
House at Pine Island Conservation Area on Merritt Island, naturalist
Martha Pessaro often discusses the medical aspects of plant specimens
such as Serenoa Repens, aka saw palmetto.
"The berries support a reported $50 million annual industry in the treatment of prostate cancer," Pessaro said.
Beautyberry, also in the Sams House gardens, has a long history of healing.
"Medicinal uses include treatment of stomach disorders, colic, dropsy and skin disorders," Pessaro said.
crushed into the skin repel insects and may be more effective than
DEET. The USDA is studying the chemicals in the leaves for use
often used in wine and champagne, is also a good antiseptic to treat
wounds and insect stings and can be made into syrup for upper
respiratory ailments and to induce vomiting.
Plant Conservation Alliance, a consortium of 10 United States federal
agencies, notes that more than 175 species of North American native
plants, many of them collected in the wild, are available for sale as
pills, tinctures and powders through the nonprescription medicinal
market in the United States, a $3 billion annual industry.
Monitor its use
while plants can have impressive curative powers, they can also be too
much of a good thing and their use must be carefully monitored.
Belladonna, or deadly nightshade, for example, has been used for
centuries as a muscle relaxant, pain reliever and for relief of ulcers,
among other problems. It also forms the core for the drug atropine,
considered part of the "essential drugs list" by the World Health
Organization and used to treat a diversity of disorders that range from
colitis to Parkinson's. Belladonna is on the list of the world's most
certainly wouldn't tell people to go out and dig up nightshade for
medicinal purposes," said Dr. Jay Barnhart, a general practitioner for
17 years and a former forensic pathologist with the Dade County Medical
"I would consider using medicinal plants, but make sure to first do no harm."
and Penn agreed. Plants can play an important part in health care, as
long as they are prescribed and well-monitored by someone thoroughly
familiar with their pluses and minuses.
"All our discussions of historic plant use is responsibly prefaced by
noting that individuals should seek referral from a physician or
herbalist to use any native plant in treatment and should not attempt to
self-treat," Pessaro said.
should exercise care when venturing into the world of medicinal plants.
Do-it-yourselfers, quacks and lack of government regulation continue to
plague this segment of health care.
more doctors are recommending herbal medicines and a smattering of
insurance companies are offering coverage, the bulk of medicinal plant
recommendations are left to herbalists such as Penn, a member of the
American Herbalist Guild and the Association for Drugless Practitioners.
"Be sure the person you're dealing with knows what they're talking about."
clinical trials exist to prove the medicinal effects of plants, and
most medicinal plants have not been approved by regulatory agencies.
issue may not be the plants, but rather the driving force behind the
development of most prescription medication, the income that could be
extracted from them.
"Drug companies aren't going to promote a plant that grows in the back yard," Barnhart said.