Posted by: Glow-worm PJ5 SEP 2012
Common heather, Calluna vulgaris, is a familiar evergreen, low-growing shrub. Found throughout Europe and Asia Minor, it grows on acidic soils. Its familiar purple flowers form a dramatic cover for upland heath and moorland from mid-August.
Over the years, use has been made of most parts of the plant. The branches have been used in thatching, as bedding, in rope making, and for use as besoms. When macerated, the stems yield a yellow dye, which was used to colour wool, and the tannin-rich bark found use in leather tanning.
In folk medicine extracts were used as a urinary antiseptic and diuretic. The flowering shoots were employed as an antiseptic, an astringent, an expectorant and a mild sedative, while the macerated plant was made into a liniment to treat rheumatism and arthritis. A heated heather poultice was a traditional treatment for chilblains.
A recent study examined two natural antioxidant triterpinoids isolated from extracts of the plant, ursolic acid and oleanic acid, and their effectiveness in preventing UVB skin damage in hairless mice. Results showed that treating the mice with the extract before irradiation reduced subsequent UVB-induced oxidative stress levels, cellular markers for photo-carcinogenesis and cell toxicity.
Carcinoma of the skin accounts for about 30 per cent of newly diagnosed cancers in humans, and solar UVB radiation is the major cause of non-melanoma skin cancer. A further study published last year in the Journal of Environmental Pathology, Toxicology and Oncology investigated the effect of a heather extract on human keratinocytes. It was found that cells showed significantly increased viability and decreased DNA damage following UVB exposure. The results recommended the use of Calluna vulgaris extract, in combination with sunscreen, as an effective protection against keratinocyte damage caused by UVB radiation from the sun.