The herb fresh cut (scientific name Justicia pectoralis) belongs to the family Acanthaceae. This is basically a water-willow that is popularly known as tilo in Cuba and Latin America. Dutch scientist Nikolaus Joseph von Jacquin first described this species in 1760. In 1763, he provided more data regarding fresh cut. Later, in 1958, American botanist Emery Clarence Leonard described a well-marked variety of Justicia pectoralis called var. stenophylla.
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Justicia pectoralis plants grow straight or may be climbing or decumbent (lying on the ground with the terminals curving upwards). Usually they grow up to a height of anything between 30 cm and 40 cm. The stems are frail - either upright or ascending. The lower nodes of the stem usually roots. The stems are grooved, sub-quadrangular and may vary from glabrous to puberulous, while the hairs are retrorse (turned or pointing backwards). The leaves of this plant are more or less lanceolate, while the petioles are small measuring about 5 mm in length and are strigose above. The flowers of Jisticia pectoralis plants appear at the terminals. The inflorescences are laidback having spicate panicles that are 25 cm in length and 15 cm wide. The internodes in the lower part of the stem have spicate branches that measure about 2 cm in length. The rachises as well as the peduncles are glandular and puberulous. The bracts as well as the bracteoles are subulate measuring 2 mm in length and 1 mm wide at the base. They are puberulous and have some glandular hairs.
The flowers comprise of 5-merous calyx. They have narrow segments that measure 2 mm in length and 0.5 mm wide. At the base they are glandular and puberulous. The color of the corolla may vary - white or purple. The corollas measure anything between 8 mm and 12 mm in length and are puberulous externally. The throat of the flowers is plicate across and usually has deep purple spots. The tube is narrow resembling a funnel and 1.25 mm wide at the base, while it measures 2.5 mm near the mouth. The upper lip of the flower is erect and triangular measuring 3.5 mm in length and 3 mm wide. They are apically acute, while the lower lip is spreading and measures 5 mm in length. The flowers are three-lobed - each lobe measuring 1 mm in length. While the middle lobe measures 2 mm in width, the lateral lobes measure 1.5 mm in width. All the three lobes are apically obtuse. The stamens extend nearly to the tip of the higher lip of the flower and the anther cells are somewhat superposed. At the base the lobes are apiculate and the filaments are glabrous. The capsules of fresh cut are slender and measure about 8 mm in length and 2 mm wide. They are puberulent. The seeds of this plant are flattened and orbicular measuring 1.5 mm across.
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The leaves as well as the stems of fresh cut enclose an anticoagulant chemical called coumarin. People in South America use this plant for therapeutic purposes. Moreover, this plant is mixed with viola snuffs for its coumarin content which imparts a vanilla-like smell to the snuffs, making their odour pleasant. The plant popularly known as tilo and it is basically a trailing or climbing herb having very thin stems that takes roots at the internodes. The leaves appear opposite to each other on the stem and are lanceolate-shaped, while the petioles are slightly wavy. The plant’s flowers appear at the terminals in one-sided panicles. The flowers are tubular and have two lips, whose external surface is downy. The throat of the flowers may be white, pink or lilac and often have deep purple spots.
The flattened seeds of fresh cut have a velvety exterior and are enclosed in a seed capsule. Cubans in South Florida grow a variety of fresh cut named var. stenophylla. The natives of eastern Colombia and inhabitants of the Amazon basin used this plant for a number of purposes, mostly therapeutic. Various groups of the Waika tribe dry the leaves of fresh cut and pound them. Subsequently, it is added to powdered "resin" of Virola thetodora (a species of tree belonging to the family Myristicaceae) to make a snuff that is said to have hallucinogenic effects. People in Peruvian Amazonia cultivated this plant and collected the extracts of the herb. These extracts contained several phytochemicals, including coumarin, betaine and unbclliferone. However, when the extracts were used in animal studies, they did not produce any hallucinogenic or synergistic effect. In comparison, tryptamines induced greater hallucinogenic and synergistic effects.
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One can find people selling bundles of this herb in Panama and Cuba. In fact, the Cubans use tilo as a substitute for the imported Tllia europa. They generally use this herb as a sedative and pectoral tea. Fresh cut grows excellently in Florida, where the herb is found growing readily on the ground as well as in living wreaths and hanging baskets. Fresh cut also forms a lush green ground cover that helps to check soil erosion.
Fresh cut is used in folk medicine as a general tonic and relaxant.
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As far as other applications of this plant are concerned, fresh cut is known for its pleasantly aromatic leaves and because it is an important source of coumarin. This plant produces this phytochemical in profuse amounts. Many of the plant's properties are attributed to the presence of coumarin and umbelliferone. Often coumarin is added to epená (Virola) snuff to make its odour pleasant. In certain preparations, var. stenophylla may prove to be hallucinogenic. The wajacas or shamans of Brazil's Krahô tribe were aware of the properties of this herb and they called it mashihiri. This tribe considered Jisticia pectoralis to be a potent entheogen, which was strictly prohibited for the uninitiated. In fact, people of this tribe called the leaves of Justicia pectoralis var. stenophylla as bolek-bena, which when translated into English means "Leaves of the Angel of Death". Probably they named the plant's leaves such because they killed three curanderos (shamans or traditional native healer in Latin America).
Fresh cut possesses antiemetic (a drug that treats vomiting and nausea) properties. A decoction prepared with this herb is used for treating stomach upsets. Moreover, a tea prepared with this plant is said to be effective in treating fever, influenza, fits and whooping coughs. Similarly, an infusion made from fresh cut is employed for treating headaches due to external blows to the head. There are a number of other therapeutic applications of fresh cut. This plant is used for treating haemorrhages and a decoction of this plant is used in the form of an external bath for reducing fever.
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The leaves of fresh cut are macerated and applied externally to treat haematoma. The leaves of this plant are added in toffees or used to make tea and consumed to cure common colds and coughs. In addition, an infusion prepared with the herb's leaves is used to rinse hair for treating hair loss.
Fresh cut is one of the exceptional herbs that effectively treat bruises, cuts and wounds. This herb probably derived its name from its aforementioned uses and applications. Mainly the leaves of the plant are used for therapeutic purposes. The crushed leaves of fresh cut are mixed with white rum and applied as a plaster to cure fresh cuts. An herbal tea prepared with the leaves is said to be an effective cure for cold, flu as well as baby's colic. This tea is also a very useful eye wash. People in Panama made a decoction with the leaves of fresh cut and consume it to get relief from stomach problems and leg pain. On the other hand, people in Puerto Rica and Barbados prepare a sweet decoction with the plant and use it like an expectorant. In Martinique and Guadeloupe, people prepare a decoction with the leaves of the herb and drink it as a digestive. Moreover, fresh cut leaves are blended with cooking oil and rubbed on the chest to alleviate chest complaints. Occasionally, people use the dampened leaves of the plant in bandages on wounds. People in Trinidad prepare a decoction with fresh cut leaves and used it to cure fever, flu, chest cold, cough and even vomiting. In Jamaica, this is an old remedy for baby colic and tuberculosis. The leaves of fresh cut and Cuscuta amtricana are blended with sugar and orange to treat tuberculosis.
Very often, the leaves of fresh cut are use alone for preparing tea to treat colds. The tea is also combined with djapanna (Eupatorium triplinerve), chak chak (Crotalaria retusa) and elder (Sambucus simpsonii) flowers to treat chest colds in children. You can blend the tea with djapanna alone or mix it with djapanna, mint (Mentha nemorosa) and cinnamon to cure adults' colds. Usually, honey is added to this mixture to sweeten it and drunk thrice daily for treating colds.
Fresh cut (Justicia pectoralis) grows well in warm climatic conditions. This herb can be propagated easily. It will grow easily as any node of the plant will grow roots. The leaves of this plant have a yellowish hue if they are grown in a bright sunny place and they change to rich, deep green when grown in shady locations. This plant can survive through warm summers easily, barring a few issues and pests. On the other hand, fresh cut plants are unable to survive in places where the temperatures are at or below freezing point.
Fresh cut (Justicia pectoralis) offers us several health benefits, but it should be taken with caution as this herb may interact with certain medications. It is advisable that you check with your physician before using this herb. It may enhance the risks of bleeding if taken with medications that dilute the blood and often causes bleeding. In fact, fresh cut should never be taken with drugs like aspirin, anti-platelet drugs like clopidogrel, anticoagulants or "blood thinners" like warfarin or heparin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications like naproxen or ibuprofen.
Moreover, fresh cut may also interact with medications that are used to treat lung problems, drugs taken for curing mental ailments, medicines used to treat nervous system disorders, antibiotics, anti-anxiety medications, anti-inflammatory agents, anti-cancer drugs, birth control pills, fertility drugs, central nervous system depressants, muscle relaxants, hormonal drugs, and even pain relievers.
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