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Phytoncidal properties of plants as an invisible weapon
Phytoncidal properties of plants as an invisible weapon

The victim was brought to the surgical clinic of the Kiev Medical Institute unconscious. In the case history it was briefly written: “Patient K., 24 years old, 3rd degree burn from the explosion of a gasoline tank. The burn size is more than 60 percent of the body surface. Delivered to the clinic two hours after the burn in an extremely serious condition, temperature 40 °; delirious."

The case was almost hopeless. It is generally accepted - this is confirmed by many years of medical experience in various countries of the world - that burns, which even occupy 33 percent of the body surface, often lead to death. Nevertheless, doctors began to fight for the patient's life, not for a minute losing faith in success. It was a real battle - a long, difficult one that required an enormous constant exertion of all forces. In this battle, the doctors were not unarmed. They had a new remedy in their hands.

Everyone watched with tension the outcome of the duel between life and death. The turning point soon came. And on the 25th day the patient was discharged in good condition. There were not even disfiguring scars at the site of the burns, which usually remain with other methods of treatment. The patient was cured with a solution of imanin and an ointment containing the same substance.

What is imanin?

Several years ago, a group of researchers from the Institute of Microbiology of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR under the leadership of Academician Viktor Grigorievich Drobotko isolated the so-called phytoncidal drug from ordinary St. John's wort, which was named imanin. In appearance, it is a dark brown powder. It is not a chemically pure preparation, but is a complex of substances, among which there are antibiotics. Imanin is still one of the few antibiotic drugs obtained from higher plants.

In addition to treating burns, it is successfully used in the treatment of inflammatory wounds, abscesses, various skin diseases and even a "harmless" rhinitis.

But the most interesting thing is that its healing effect is based on the properties of St. John's wort itself, which, like other plants, as it is now established, has a powerful, but invisible weapon. This is the weapon that will be discussed.

What is the power of the bow?

One ancient chronicle tells how the inhabitants of a large city, fleeing from the plague, smeared themselves with Chesnokovaya oil. And they seemed not to be touched by a terrible disease. It is also known that even more than four thousand years ago, the ancient Egyptians treated many diseases with onions and garlic. The Egyptians even swore by garlic.

The most surprising thing was that to prevent diseases, it was often enough just to wear a garlic bulb around the neck. This custom was especially widespread in the Caucasus. In Ukraine, for the same purpose, mattresses are now stuffed with thyme and sprinkled on the floor, believing that this herb protects against decrepitude and disease.

What explains the healing properties of onions and garlic? How do these plants fight disease-causing germs?

Doctors did not know this and for a long time treated the old information about the medicinal effect of plants with suspicion.

The outstanding Soviet scientist, Professor Boris Petrovich Tokin, answered these questions. It turned out that onions and garlic, as well as horseradish, oak, birch, pine and many other plants emit volatile substances that have the ability to kill various bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. These substances are called phytoncides (fiton - in ancient Greek "plant", cid - "kill"), - If ten years ago it was still possible to doubt the widespread prevalence of phytoncides, - says B.P. Tokin, - now, thanks to the works of many Soviet researchers, we can confidently say that absolutely all plants, both on earth and in water, be it mold or pine, peony or eucalyptus, they are able to release phytoncides into the external environment - into the air, soil, water.

It is interesting that it is onions and garlic - these ordinary plants used in food for thousands of years - that have the most powerful phytoncidal effect.

But medicine needs more than just substances that kill bacteria. Sulfuric acid also kills bacteria, but no one would think of treating wounds with it. Our great scientists I.I.Mechnikov and I.P. Pavlov taught that the best medicines against infectious diseases are not those that only kill microbes, but those that, by killing them, simultaneously increase the defenses of the human body. Many phytoncides meet these requirements.

It turned out that onion and garlic phytoncides easily kill such dangerous pathogenic microbes as tuberculosis or diphtheria bacillus, staphylococcus, streptococcus and hundreds of others. At the same time, the same phytoncides, as proved by a young researcher from Siberia N.N. Mironova, improve the growth and development of human tissues, contribute to their restoration. In certain quantities, garlic phytoncides have a beneficial effect on the nervous system, increase the secretion of gastric juice.

At first, the power with which phytoncides act seemed incredible. The tubercle bacillus is known to be extremely resistant. Carbolic acid or mercuric chloride kill it only after 24 hours. For penicillin, she is generally invulnerable. Protected like armor by a waxy shell, it is beyond the reach of most other medications. And garlic phytoncides kill her within five minutes!

We do not yet have phytoncidal drugs that would cure tuberculosis. But the data obtained in the laboratories instill confidence that such substances will eventually be made.


Not only volatile substances, but also onion and garlic juice and even dried plants have a detrimental effect on bacteria. But phytoncides cannot be found in boiled onions. It was also found that different onion varieties differ from each other in their antibacterial properties: southern varieties emit less phytoncides than northern ones.

Phytoncides of onions, garlic and other plants are already used in the treatment of contaminated wounds, burns, and skin diseases. In 1941, doctors Filatova and Toroptsev decided to use onion phytoncides to treat long-term non-healing wounds. A gruel was prepared from the onion, collected in a glass vessel and brought to the wound for 8-10 minutes. After one such session, the number of microbes in the wound sharply decreased, and often they disappeared completely. It is no coincidence that microbiologists began to say: phytoncides cause the death of bacteria so quickly that their effect can only be compared with the effect of high temperature.

From cabbage to bird cherry

In practice, apparently, phytoncides of those plants that have long been used for food, and whose harmlessness to humans, is beyond doubt, will be grafted first of all. In addition to onions and garlic, mention should be made of cabbage, whose phytoncides inhibit the growth of tubercle bacilli and prolong the life of animals infected with tuberculosis.

Leningrad researchers N.M.Sokolova and P.I.Bedrosova, not without reason, believe that cabbage should find a wider and more varied application in public catering, as a preventive measure in the fight against tuberculosis.

It was found that common bird cherry also has powerful phytoncidal properties.

A simple experiment was carried out.

A glass of water was placed next to a freshly plucked branch of bird cherry, in which many ciliates were floating. Both the glass and the bird cherry were covered with one glass cap.Less than 20 minutes later, all the protozoa in the water died.

But bird cherry phytoncides, it turns out, are destructive not only for the smallest organisms. They easily kill flies, midges, horseflies and other insects. Four pounded bird cherry buds kill the most tenacious insects in 15 minutes. And after 20 minutes the rat is killed.

It's a wonderful spring time. The forests, dressed in a fresh green outfit, beckon to them. Who among us has not enjoyed the clean cool air of an oak grove, birch forest, pine forest? But few people know that the beneficial effect of the forest on our body consists, in particular, in the constant release of volatile phytoncides by trees.

Professor B. P. Tokin together with microbiologist T. D. Yanovich and biologist A. V. Kovalenok carried out a scientific "exploration" to find out what this influence is. Here is what Boris Petrovich tells about the results of this intelligence:

- In summer, on clear days at noon, we studied how many different bacteria and molds were in a cubic meter of air in a pine forest, in a young pine growth, in a cedar forest, in a birch grove, in a thicket of bird cherry trees, in a mixed forest, above a forest meadow and over the swamp. There were ten times more of them in the air of a birch forest than in a pine forest. There were no microbes in the air of the young pine forest at all.

It is very important for medicine to find out the exact "composition" of microorganisms in different types of forests, steppes, meadows, resort areas. It is even more important to learn how pathogenic microbes dangerous to humans behave in the atmosphere of different forests. Work in this interesting direction has just begun.

The amount of volatile phytoncides found in forests appears to be overwhelming. It has been proven that one juniper bush can release 30 grams of volatile substances per day, and one hectare of juniper forest, according to scientists, can release them already 30 kilograms!

The Soviet researcher M. A. Komarova conducted a surprisingly simple but very interesting experiment. She brought fir needles or wild rosemary branches into the nursery room. The number of streptococci in the room decreased by an average of ten times. At the same time, these plants did not have any adverse effect on the organism of children. With the help of phytoncides of fir and wild rosemary, Komarova was able to quickly neutralize the air contaminated with whooping cough.

Leningrad biochemist professor P.O. Yakimov with good reason insists on the need to use balsams and plant resins to clean the air of school buildings.

Further in-depth research in this still little-known field of science will allow scientists to give us all a lot of practical advice. They will be able to suggest which ornamental plants are more useful to have at home, in kindergarten, at school; what trees should be used to plant trees in the streets of cities and towns; finally, in what forests to build sanatoriums and rest homes.

Moreover, it is very possible that, having studied the phytoncidal properties of plants, we will be able to force plants to purify from harmful bacteria, at least partially, not only the air of living quarters, but also water in rivers and lakes, and even soil. Of course, it is difficult to imagine that the soil was disinfected by "sprinkling" it with phytoncides. This is an unrealistic task. However, you can clear the soil of pathogenic microbes by planting certain plants. The phytoncides secreted by these plants act destructively on harmful microbes.

It has been established, for example, that clover, vetch, winter wheat, rye, garlic, as well as onions, in the process of germination, cleanse the soil from anthrax spores. The Leningrad scientist Professor Poltev claims that soil disinfection with the help of phytoncidal plants opens up broad and, most importantly, real possibilities for improving the soil of large territories and to great depths.

Plant versus plant

Until now, we have only talked about the effect of plants on microorganisms.And what is the significance of phytoncides in the mutual life of higher plants? Does a plant care about the community in which it grows? In other words: do plants influence each other and how does this influence affect?

Let's do a simple experiment. We put a bouquet of blooming lily of the valley and several freshly picked branches of lilac in different jars of water. In another jar, put the lilies of the valley and lilacs together. It is easy to see that the lilac, which is in the same jar with the lilies of the valley, will wither much sooner than the one that stands alone. Lily of the valley has a distinctly adverse effect on lilac twigs.

There is evidence that oak and walnut in natural conditions inhibit the development of each other. Agronomist A.G. Vysotsky, working in the Altai Territory, noticed that phytoncides from the rhizome of milkweed inhibit sugar beet, corn, millet, wheat and potatoes. It has been proven that wheat and oat phytoncides accelerate the germination of alfalfa pollen grains, and timothy phytoncides, on the contrary, slow it down.

It goes without saying how important it is to study the relationship of phytoncides of various plants. This will allow a more reasonable, more meaningful selection of various plants when planting gardens, squares, flower beds, and more correctly regulate crop rotations.

Several years ago, another valuable property of phytoncides was discovered for the first time. It was found that some of them are enemies of viruses, against which no reliable means of struggle has yet been found. Agave juice, for example, destroys the rabies virus, and phytoncides of the buds of poplar, Antonov apples and especially eucalyptus have a detrimental effect on the influenza virus.

In Tambov, Honored Veterinarian of the RSFSR M.P.Spiridonov has already used poplar phytoncides in the fight against a viral disease - foot and mouth disease. And in 1950 N.I. Antonov and Yu.V. Vavilychev reported that they managed to cure twelve dogs suffering from plague with the help of garlic phytoncides. (The garlic solution was administered intravenously to the animals.)

Who knows, maybe it is among the phytoncides of higher plants that it will be possible to find the first highly effective means against the most severe viral diseases.

Burning bush

In the biblical legend, the burning bush is a burning, but not burning bush of thorns.

In the Caucasus, in southern Siberia and in some other places, a plant grows, which is called "white ash". This plant has another name - "burning bush". What is the origin of this unusual name and is it connected with a legend?

Here is what the famous Soviet botanist N.M. Verzilin tells about this.

- On a warm, windless day, this plant is, as it were, shrouded in an invisible phytoncidal cloud. It is worth bringing a lighted match to the bush, and a fleeting flame flares up around the plant. The constituent parts of the volatile substances emitted by it are flammable. It is they who give out flashes of fire. Thus, the bush burns, as it were, but does not burn. Hence the name "burning bush".


Bush phytoncides are poisonous to humans. Anyone who decides to pick a bouquet of this very beautiful plant with an intoxicating smell runs the risk of getting hard to heal and painful wounds. From the stories of residents of the city of Alma-Ata, in the vicinity of which there are many bush, it is known that sometimes a burn appeared even among those who approached the plant no closer than one and a half to two meters. Therefore, the indigenous people avoid even approaching the ash tree.

As you can see, the volatile weapons of plants sometimes turn against humans.

Another, no less poisonous plant is a beautiful sumac shrub, which is often planted in parks and gardens. For people exposed to the action of its phytoncides, it is enough to hold the leaves or branches of this plant in their hands so that bubbles appear on their skin and the temperature rises. The disease is very difficult and as a result of it, the skin often comes off.

The leaves of this shrub contain a very caustic milky sap, saturated with toxic substances. The strength of this substance can be judged by the fact that one millionth of a gram is enough to cause skin burns.

In reality, there are apparently much more such cases of harmful and sometimes simply poisonous effects of plants on humans at a distance than we know. Therefore, along with the study of bactericidal phytoncides beneficial to humans, one should not lose sight of those plants that may turn out to be dangerous for us.

We still know very little about phytoncides. After all, they themselves were discovered quite recently.

It is assumed that the ability to secrete special volatile antibacterial substances, with the help of which the plant seems to disinfect itself, cleanse itself of harmful microorganisms, was developed in the course of long development, as one of the adaptations to existence. The release of phytoncides increases when plants are injured. And such injuries can be caused by wind, rain, insects, birds, animals and even parasitic fungi and bacteria that multiply in plant tissues.

It is also known that the phytoncidal properties of plants vary greatly depending on the season, on the stage of plant development.

Currently, phytoncides have not yet received sufficient distribution in medical practice. This is mainly due to the low stability of most of them, the difficulty of obtaining phytoncidal preparations with a definite and constant chemical composition. There is a lot of work for chemists in this field.

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