Culen is a flowering plant belonging to Otholobium genus, which is a member of the legume family, Fabaceae. Altogether there are 53 species in this genus. All these flowering plants have their origin in a vast region extending from south to east Africa and perhaps also in South America. Plants belonging to this genus may be shrubs, herbs or even trees.
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Culen is basically a shrubby bush that is deciduous in nature. This herb is found growing naturally in the warmer humid valleys located in the midst of Andes Mountains in Bolivia, Chile and Peru. This herb grows up to a height of anything between three meters to five meters and its trunk measures about 25 cm across. The leaves of culen are aromatic and they measure anything between 2 cm and 5 cm in length. This herb bears small flowers whose color varies from cream to yellow. Culen flowers appear on bracts.
Although culen is a member of the Otholobium genus, for several years this herb was classified under the Psoralea genus. In effect, nearly all literature that was published before the early 1990s states that culen's botanical name as Psoralea glandulosa. It is believed culen is native to Chile. However, this plant has been cultivated on the periphery of the Andes Mountains for many years. Today, this plant is found growing naturally down the roads in Peru's Junin District.
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Culen possesses a number of therapeutic properties and, hence, it is used for several medical purposes. In Bolivia, people use culen in the form of an emmenagogue (a medicine that promotes menstrual flow). They brew the leaves of this herb to prepare an herbal tea and drink it with a view to sustain the balance of menstrual cycles as well as to treat a variety of health problems experienced by women. People in Brazil prepare an infusion with the leaf of culen, which is believed to have anti-diabetic, anti-asthmatic, emollient, diaphoretic and vulnerary actions. In the herbal medicine of Chile, people use culen in the form of an appetitive, anthelmintic, carminative, anti-inflammatory, diaphoretic (promoting perspiration), bronchodilator, emollient, emetic (a medicine that induces vomiting), stomachic, purgative, febrifuge and vulnerary. Many people usually depend on culen for treating digestive problems, intestinal worms, enteritis, hemorrhoids, wounds, skin complaints and even syphilis.
In Peru, culen grows in wild and people in this Latin American country have been using this herb in their folk medicine for centuries. People in this country use culen for treating a variety of health conditions, including colds, flu, fever and problems related to the upper respiratory system like asthma, bronchitis and others. An herbal tea or infusion is also prepared from culen powder.
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In the late 19th century, this herb was introduced into the United States for the first time. Many early journals and pharmaceutical texts make mention of culen way back in the 1890s. These medical literatures reported that culen possessed emetic, anthelmintic, tonic as well as vulnerary effects and suggested that the plant could be used for treating conditions like anorexia, diarrhea, debility, dyspepsia, exhaustion, wounds and expelling intestinal worms.
Considering its documented antiviral effects against influenza and also its fever-reducing as well as bronchodilator properties, culen is an amazing remedy for cold and flu. In South America, people employ this herb in the form of a digestive tonic to cure various types of digestive problems. The leaves of culen are aromatic as well as flavourful and are used to prepare tea or beverage that is not only refreshing, but cooling too. Drinking this tea or beverage helps to cure stomach problems and alleviates indigestion and gas problems. Since long, people have been using culen for treating intestinal worms as well as parasites.
A lot of scientific studies undertaken on culen closely follow the reports about the supposed actions of the key constituents of this plant. Studies undertaken on animals have suggested that culen possesses anti-inflammatory properties and is also capable of reducing fever. This herb is also said to possess anti-tumour properties. In vitro or test tube studies have shown that culen has anti-bacterial as well as anti-viral effects.
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It is also worth noting that toxicity studies undertaken on animals suggest that the leaves of culen do not cause toxicity when taken orally. According to findings of one research team, mice that were administered as much as 12 grams of culen per kg of their body weight did not show any signs of toxicity.
Chemical analysis of the plant culen has revealed that it contains two familiar furanocoumarin chemicals known as angelicin and psoralen. Long back, scientists have documented that these two chemical compounds have photosynthesis activity induced by ultra-violet (UV) light rays. Moreover, angelicin and psoralen form an ingredient of a variety of drugs that are used for destroying tumour cells photo dynamically. In addition, they are also found in drugs meant for treating skin disorder such as psoriasis and vitiligo. Aside from these, it has been documented that angelicin possesses anti-inflammatory as well as fever-reducing properties. This chemical compound found in culen has also exhibited some potential of being used as a medicine for treating sickle-cell anemia.
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Apart from psoralen and angelicin, culen also contains another familiar chemical compound known as bakuchiol. In fact, the various therapeutic properties as well as actions of culen documented by scientists following extensive research and verification of this chemical compound make it possible to explain several traditional uses of this plant. Following studies undertaken on animals as well as in test tubes, it has been documented that bakuchiol possesses cholesterol-lowering, anti-inflammatory, anti-mutagenic, antioxidant, anti-cancer, liver-protecting and fever-reducing properties. Moreover, it has been reported that bakuchiol has a wide spectrum of anti-microbial effects against several different types of viruses, bacteria, fungus and mycobacteria.
Despite its numerous benefits, culen also causes several adverse effects and, hence, this herb needs to be used with caution. This herb encloses furanocoumarin chemicals that may be responsible for photosensitivity in a section of people.