The world of medicinal plants is vast, the existing major herbal medicine systems in the world – Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine make mention of a small fraction of potential cancer healing properties of this vast database of plants available on this planet.
During the course of my research for my book – Natural Solutions for Cancer, I analyzed the scientific evidence of the major plants (44 in number) used in Ayurveda for treating cancer. Another 14 plants mentioned in the TCM systems were also analyzed.
This analysis shows that:
Most of the scientific evidence in support of the cancer healing properties of these plants is restricted to laboratory and animal trials.
Plants whose cancer healing properties have been found to be potentially useful have been converted into modern medical drugs.
Vinca (Catharanthus roseus or Vinca rosea, the Madagascar periwinkle) is one of the earliest sources of vinca alkaloids, vinblastine and vincristine. These molecules are used in chemotherapy. Semisynthetic derivatives of these alkaloids have since been developed.
Another class of anticancer drugs, the podophyllotoxins, was isolated from the resin of Podophyllum peltatum. Clinical use of this class of medicines has since been suspended. This molecule was observed to have severe side effects. Semisynthetic derivatives have also been developed.
Camptotheca acuminata, Ophiorrhiza pumila syn Mapia foetida are a source of colorectal cancer drugs. Semisynthetic analogs of this medicine have also been prepared. Taxanes derived from Yew trees (Taxus bacata) are used to manufacture taxanes (e.g., paclitaxel, docetaxel), which are used in chemotherapy.
The process of study and analysis of medicinal properties from plants is ongoing and scores of scientists are engaged in the quest of identifying new molecules that will help heal various types of cancer.
Ancient herbal medicine systems, however, have a different approach to healing which is fundamentally at variance to that applied in modern medicine. These systems believe in the synergistic action of multiple herbal combinations.
Unfortunately, these combinations have rarely been tested in human clinical trials and most of the evidence in support of their medicinal properties is often anecdotal.
Let me provide some supporting references
Hartwell, J.L. (1969) Plants used against cancer. A survey. Lloydia, 32, 78–107; 153–205; 247–96.
Hartwell, J.L. (1970) Plants used against cancer. A survey. Lloydia, 33, 97–194; 288–392.
Hartwell, J.L. (1971) Plants used against cancer. A survey. Lloydia, 34, 103–150; 204–255; 310–361; 386–425.
Cassileth, B.R. & Deng, G. (2004). Complementary and alternative therapies for cancer. Oncologist 9(1), 80–89.