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Medicinal uses of the potato

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Potato (Callie Jones)If you are interested in growing potatoes you may be aware that National Potato Day falls on 26 January. If you are a member of a gardening club or rent an allotment, you may be involved in a local potato event, most of which seem to be designed to celebrate the variety of potatoes available in Britain as well as encouraging people to grow their own vegetables.

The potato (Solanum tuberosum) originated in Peru and was cultivated for over 2,000 years by the Inca people before becoming a popular staple food in Europe in the 18th century.  A nutritious vegetable, particularly when cooked in its skin with little or no fat, the potato contain fibre, vitamin C, B vitamins, potassium, iron, zinc and calcium.

Best known as a staple food, the potato is claimed to have medicinal qualities. Russian folklore has suggested that those over 40 should grate and eat a medium-sized raw potato daily, before breakfast, to keep the arteries clear and increase blood flow to the heart.

Modern research has shown that potatoes could indeed have a role in blood pressure control. In 2005, researchers at the Institute for Food Research in Norwich identified previously unknown compounds in the potato, kukoamines, which had until then been known only in a Chinese plant whose bark is used to prepare a blood pressure-lowering infusion in Chinese herbal medicine.

Kukoamines are still not well researched — for example, it is unclear how stable they are on cooking — and if planning to extract them from potatoes, dose-response studies would be needed to test their effects.

Eaten with little or no salt, potatoes have a beneficial ratio of potassium to sodium with one medium potato providing 400mg of potassium and just 10mg of sodium, ie, three times more potassium than an orange and slightly more than a banana.

Although there is no evidence that potatoes can be substituted for antihypertensive medicines, pharmacists can certainly recommend them as part of a healthy balanced diet for everyone.

A 2013 article in the Journal of Medicinal Plants Studies outlines a large number of traditional medicinal uses for the potato, including taking potato juice for peptic ulcers to reduce gastric acid and applying the heated juice topically for rheumatic complaints, joint swelling, skin complaints and haemorrhoids. According to the authors, peeled but uncooked potatoes have been pounded in a mortar and then applied cold as a soothing plaster to burns and scalds.

Rubbing a raw potato on your shoes before polishing them apparently helps to make your shoes shiny. I might try this if the potato was not so nutritious that I do not want to waste it!

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From: Beyond pharmacy blog

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