Many spices are recognized for their medicinal value besides their culinary attributes. Similarly advent of technologies like distillation, solvent extraction, fractionation and encapsulation has made it possible for the active principles responsible for the medicinal value of these spices, to be delivered to the consumers with least discomfort. Capsaicin from red chilli is one of the most widely used components from spices by the pharma industry and popular ointments like Tiger Balm, Vicks Vaporub, Amritanjan and other pain controlling balms are based on Capsaicin. Recent FDA approval for use of 8% capsaicin patch for controlling pain due to neuralgia has given further boost to studies on application of spice extractives and isolated pure chemicals from them for improving the quality of life of mankind suffering from many ailments and maintaining normal health through regular consumption. The reported findings that Carvacrol isolated from the aromatic herb, Thyme can control inflammation at the cellular levels is fraught with implications for the future deployment of spice crops in fighting diseases.
Aromatic oils from eucalyptus, rose, clove, fennel, bergamot etc have carved out a place for themselves in treating many minor day to day health related problems, being regularly used from time immemorial. Essential oils distilled out using steam has been known for centuries and practically the entire quantity of volatile oils can be recovered using simple equipment. The raw materials from which such oils can be obtained include berries, seeds, rhizomes, roots, wood, leaves, resin, flowers and peel. These oils were being used for centuries for many applications by humans through ingestion and as external aids through ointments and massaging materials on the affected areas. Many of them are known to be powerful antiseptic, antibacterial against many pathogenic microorganisms, antioxidants, as palliative for mouth inflammation and throat infection and useful to treat topical fungal infections. Some of them are helpful in alleviating chronic gastritis, overcoming lack of appetite, aiding digestion, treating irritable bowel syndrome and colic discomforts, easing convulsions, treating epilepsy, controlling diarrhea etc.
Why Allopathic medicinal system has not taken seriously the potential for these essential oils for treatment of human ailments is a mystery. Plausible reasons could be inadequate scientific data on their use, optimum concentration levels that will not cause side effects on patients, lack of availability of pure materials with pharmacopoeia specifications and lack of pharmacological data. According to some reports the LD 50 value of many essential oils comes within the range of 0.5 to 10 mg per kg body weight. Presently only essential oil from Cloves is the most easily available in the market estimated at about 2000 tons an year, dominating the world supply of essential oils estimated at around 15000 tons. About $10 billion worth of essential oils are produced by about a dozen countries that include India, China, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Egypt and Morocco. While 60% of the production goes to fragrance industry, 20% each is consumed by the Flavor and Pharmaceutical industries.
The pharmaceutical industry is looking out continuously for alternate medicines to synthetic drugs in response to consumer demands and increase safety aspects. Essential oils are likely to provide them with a vast range of options for treating different ailments. New research insights regarding the efficacy, safety, treatment regime and process requirements for use of essential oils for disease treatment are likely to emerge in future raising the demand for these oils from pharma sector. The proven efficacy of Thyme oil and its active ingredients like thymol and carvacrol in treating inflammation is an example of the trend that is evident leading to more attention being paid to the essential oils for pharma application. Many of theses oils have properties to inhibit Cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) enzyme that is involved in inflammation at the cellular level to the extent of 25% but thyme oil and its active principle carvacrol can decrease COX-2 expression by more than 75% thus providing a natural alternative to the synthetic chemical ibuprofen the current leader in pain control technology. Other oils like those from cloves, rose, eucalyptus, fennel and bergamot also possess similar properties but to a lesser extent.
With highly developed technologies for extraction and fractionation of plant materials such as spices, herbs and many botanicals, there is no reason why essential oils cannot emerge as the preferred choice of pharmaceutical industry and the medical community for treatment of a number of diseases in the coming years. Super Critical CO2 Fluid extraction becoming commercially viable it is technically feasible to obtain any chemical constituent from plant sources in almost 100% purity. Indian Ayurvedic system of medicine has shown empirically how effective essential oils can be against many human ailments. Allopathic system of medicine must provide scientific teeth to these traditional medicinal preparations through modern investigative tools.