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Acanthospermum - Achillea

(Daisy or Sunflower family)


Also known as the Asteraceae, this family of 13000 species in 900 genera forms one of the largest of flowering plant families. The majority are herbaceous plants; they are distributed over most of the world and examples may be found living in almost every situation.

Very many members of this family are commonly grown for their attractive flowers. Particularly well known are the following genera:

Aster L.
Bellis L.
Calendula L.
Centaurea L.
Chrysanthemum L.
Cineraria L.
Cosmos Cav.
Dahlia Cav.
Dendranthema Des Moul.
Doronicum L.
Gaillardia Foug.
Gazania Gaertn.
Helenium L.
Helianthus L.
Leontopodium R.Br.
Liatris Gaertn.
Rudbeckia L.
Senecio L.
Solidago L.
Tagetes L.
Zinnia L. 

The genera Ammobium R.Br., Anaphalis DC., Antennaria Gaertn., Catananche L., Helichrysum Mill., Lonas Adans., Rhodanthe Lindl., and Xeranthemum L. provide "everlasting flowers" commonly grown and used by flower-arrangers. A number of species also occur as weeds in the garden, for example certain thistles (Cirsium Mill. spp., Carduus L. spp.), hawkweeds (Hieracium L. spp.), groundsel (Senecio vulgaris L.), daisies (Bellis perennis L.), dandelions (Taraxacum officinale F.H.Wigg.), scentless mayweed (Tripleurospermum maritimum Koch subsp. inodorum Appleq.), and many more.

Several species are grown for food. Perhaps the most popularly grown is the lettuce (Lactuca sativa L.), but also grown are chicory (Cichorium intybus L.), endive (Cichorium endivia L.), cardoon (Cynara cardunculus L.), globe artichoke (Cynara scolymus L.), scorzonera (Scorzonera hispanica L.), salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius L.), scolymus or Spanish oyster plant (Scolymus hispanicus L.), chopsuey green or shungiku (Chrysanthemum coronarium L.), Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus L.), and a few others.

Relatively few species are likely to be encountered as houseplants. Worthy of note, however, are certain species of Senecio L., including the Cape ivy or waxvine (S. macroglossus DC.), the German, water, or parlor ivy (S. mikanioides Otto), and the hotdog plant or candle plant (S. articulatus Sch.Bip., syn. Kleinia articulata Haw.).

A large number of species have been, and still are, used in popular or herbal medicine around the world. Where appropriate, some details are included under the individual monographs below. Similarly, a few members of the Compositae provide fragrance raw materials. These are also considered individually under the appropriate monographs below.

Sesquiterpene lactones found in members of this family have often been found to have cytotoxic, anti-tumour, and/or mutagenic properties which appear to be associated with the presence of an α-methylene-γ-lactone ring (see, for example, Kupchan 1970, Tyson et al. 1971, Rodriguez et al. 1976a, MacGregor 1977, Gonzalez et al. 1978, Bevelle et al. 1981, Herz et al. 1981a, Mew et al. 1982). However, stramonin B, a pseudoguaianolide with an 11,13-epoxy group in place of the usual methylene group also shows cytotoxic activity (Grieco et al. 1978).

Many members of the Compositae are capable of causing pollinosis, this property not being restricted to anemophilous species (Kahn 1924, Wodehouse 1971). The most important of the anemophilous species are the sagebrushes, mugworts, and wormwoods of the genus Artemisia L. (tribe Anthemideae). Also important are the ragweeds and false ragweeds belonging to the genus Ambrosia L. (incl. Franseria Cav.) in the tribe Heliantheae. The cockleburs (Xanthium L. species) in the same tribe are minor causes of pollinosis, as are the marshelders (Iva L. species). Pollens from members of many of the other tribes, on the other hand, are almost unknown as causes of pollinosis. These include the Arctotideae, Calenduleae, Heliantheae, Inuleae, and Mutiseae (Wodehouse 1971).

• Medicinal / Folk-medicinal aspects: •
• Adverse effects: Very many members of this family are capable of producing dermatitis. The most common dermatosis is a sesquiterpene lactone induced allergic contact dermatitis. The variety and distribution of these chemicals within the family makes cross-sensitivity between species inevitable, but the pattern of cross-reactivity is not necessarily predictable. Because of the presence of sesquiterpene lactones, cross-sensitivity between the families Compositae, Magnoliaceae, and Lauraceae, and also certain families of liverworts (Jubulaceae, Lophocoleaceae, Scapaniaceae) may also be observed. In the family Compositae, the tribes Anthemideae, Astereae, and Heliantheae provide the largest number of plants reported to cause dermatitis. In addition, the family is a source of a number of other types of dermatologically active compounds, but these compounds are very much more restricted in their distribution. The photoirritant thiophene from Tagetes L. species, the contact allergenic quinone from Phagnalon saxatile Cass. and other Phagnalon Cass. species, guayulin A (a sesquiterpene alcohol / cinnamic acid ester) from Parthenium argentatum A.Gray, and sesamin, which is present in several species, may be given as examples of such compounds. Mechanical injury may also be inflicted by the spiny leaves of thistles, the spiny burs of Xanthium L. and other species, and the spiny stems of some Othonna L. species, for example. •
• Veterinary aspects: Toxic syndromes in which affected animals manifest skin lesions may develop following the ingestion of certain members of this family by livestock. These include photosensitivity syndromes produced by, for example, species of Tetradymia DC. that result in a condition known as "big head", and selenosis caused by, for example, Aster venustus M.E.Jones, the woody aster, which accumulates selenium from soils rich in this element. Mechanical injury may also produce skin and other lesions in livestock, for example that caused by the burs of Xanthium occidentale Bertol. or by the awned achenes of Verbesina encelioides Benth. & Hook.f. •

Acanthospermum hispidum DC.
Star Burr, Bristly Starbur

Stepping on a bur from this plant, if it punctures the skin, may cause a lesion that takes as long as six weeks to heal (Flecker 1945).

Acanthospermal B, a potentially allergenic sesquiterpene lactone, has been reported from this species.

Achillea L.

Two hundred species are found in northern temperate regions. The genus is classified in the tribe Anthemideae. Interspecific hybridisation is common and may cause difficulties in identification.

Achillea millefolium L.
[syns Achillea millefolium L. subsp. lanulosa Piper, Achillea lanulosa Nutt.]
Yarrow, Milfoil, Nosebleed, Thousand-Leaf, Woundwort, Carpenter's Weed

An infusion of the dried, flowering tops has been used from early times for medicinal purposes. It is stated to have haemostatic properties (Wade 1977, Wren 1988), a property of the achilleine (= betonicine) it contains (Miller & Chow 1954). Indians of the north-west coast of North America make this plant into a poultice for use on skin rashes (Turner & Bell 1971). Flück & Jaspersen-Schib (1976) records that yarrow is anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic.

[Betonicine (= Achilleine)]

This species has been recognised as a sternutatory for centuries (Gerarde 1636, Uphof 1959). Dermatitis from the plant was reported in 1899 by Lewin; the powdered and dried leaves are irritating to the nasal mucous membrane (Pammel 1911) and have been used as a sternutatory. Low (1924) mentions a case of a farmer who developed severe dermatitis after handling sheaves of oats, which seemed to be caused by the presence of milfoil in the sheaves - when rubbed on the skin, milfoil gave a marked reaction. Applied "as is" by patch test, the plant is probably irritant (Gans 1929, Rook 1962), but tests with extracts at non-irritant concentrations suggested that the plant is also a sensitiser (Shelmire 1939a, Mackoff & Dahl 1951). Hausen (1979) reported that the plant has a moderate sensitising capacity in guinea pigs. Drinking of yarrow tea by a sensitised individual produced a generalised eruption (Gans 1929).

Mackoff & Dahl (1951), referring to Achillea lanulosa, reported that they had observed positive patch test reactions to the plant in 4 from 21 patients with weed dermatitis. Krook (1977), investigating four patients with occupational contact dermatitis to lettuce (Lactuca sativa L.), found that all four reacted positively to patch tests with Achillea millefolium. Fernandez de Corres & Corrales Torres (1978) observed positive patch test reactions to fresh Achillea millefolium and to an ether extract in two patients who were also sensitive to liverworts of the genus Frullania Raddi (fam. Jubulaceae), Magnolia grandiflora L. (fam. Magnoliaceae), Dahlia variabilis Desf., Matricaria parthenium L. (see Tanacetum parthenium Sch.Bip.), and alantolactone (0.1% in petrolatum). One of the patients was also sensitive to Anthemis arvensis L. and Leucanthemum vulgare Lam. (syn. Chrysanthemum leucanthemum L.). Thune & Solberg (1980) observed positive patch test reactions to the oleoresin from yarrow in two photosensitive and lichen allergic patients. Hausen (1979) and Hausen & Osmundsen (1983) reported that an extract of yarrow (1% in petrolatum), applied to the skin of patients who were sensitised to Tanacetum parthenium or Chrysanthemum indicum L. elicited 2+ and 3+ reactions.

A study over a period of about 6 years to assess the frequency of allergic skin reactions to Compositae species in a total of 3,851 individuals involved patch testing with a mixture of extracts from Compositae species (including Achillea millefolium) and with extracts from single species. One or more positive reactions were observed in 118 (3%) of these individuals. Of these, 53% of those tested reacted to a "short ether extract" of yarrow. When the patients were segregated according to occupation, those most at risk of developing Compositae sensitivity appeared to be florists, horticulturalists, and hobby gardeners. However, several individuals seemed to have acquired their Compositae-sensitivity following the use of herbal remedies, herbal massage oils, herbal shampoo, "natural ointment", or "natural cosmetics" (Hausen et al. 1996).

The plant has been suspected of being a photosensitiser in Oppenheim's meadow dermatitis (Philadelphy 1928, Gans 1929, Créhange & Rosenthal 1933) but, under experimental conditions, extracts of the plant were found to show no phototoxic activity either on the skin (Van Dijk & Berrens 1964) or against three test micro-organisms (Wat et al. 1980b). Frain-Bell & Johnson (1979) observed positive patch test reactions to the oleoresin of this species in 6 from 45 patients with the photosensitivity dermatitis and actinic reticuloid syndrome.

Several sesquiterpene lactones have been isolated from the plant (see Fischer et al. 1979) but none have the exocyclic methylene group on the lactone ring that is normally associated (Mitchell & Dupuis 1971) with contact allergenicity in this group of compounds. One of these sesquiterpene lactones, namely desacetylmatricarin, has however been shown to have eliciting potential in lactone sensitised patients (Mitchell JC 1973 — unpublished observation).

Achillea vermicularis Trin.

Desacetylmatricarin, which has eliciting potential in sesquiterpene lactone sensitive patients (Mitchell JC 1973 — unpublished observation), has been isolated from this species.

Richard J. Schmidt

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