The radium weed is an annual herb that grows up to a height of between 5 cm and 30 cm. It has been found that nearly all plants that are cultivated as weeds have a tendency to be inclined towards their smaller end. The stem of radium weed is hairless and smooth. The leaves of this herb are of oval-acute shape, measuring about 1 cm to 3 cm in length and have smooth margins. This species produces green hued flowers having three-rayed umbels. The glands of this herb are characteristic of the Euphorbiaceae and kidney-shaped having elongated slender horns.
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This species is a small annually growing garden weed. Radium weed has branched stems that bear alternative oval shaped leaves. When the stems are broken or crushed, they yield a milky sap that is highly corrosive in nature. Usually, you will find it difficult to notice the flowers of this plant at a casual glance. They are almost similar to new leaves emerging at the terminal of the stems. Despite being noxious, the sap is the most useful part of the herb. It is often used to burn off or treat sunspots.
The radium weed is generally collected from the wild for therapeutic use by the locals. Radium weed is among the many species in the botanical family Euphorbiaceae. Currently, scientists have taken a lot of interest in this species for its potential to treat several forms of cancers.
The radium weed plant (E. peplus) has its origin in several regions, including most regions of Europe, western Asia and the northern areas of Africa. Currently, this plant is found in nearly all countries having temperate as well as sub-tropical climatic conditions. You can now find the plant in North America, Australia and New Zealand. In the United States, radium weed is considered to be an invasive toxic weed. Typically, you will find radium weed growing naturally in gardens, cultivated lands, and also in other lands, especially those that are normally disturbed.
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Traditionally, radium weed has been employed for treating skin cancers, corns, and warts. Moreover, the sap of this herb contains a compound that works effectively to weaken such skin lesions.
The sap exuded by the plant is toxic in nature. It can especially replicate human tissues very rapidly. Since long, people have traditionally used the sap of radium weed in the form of a remedy for various types of skin lesions, including skin cancers like intraepidermal carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. In addition, this sap has also been used for treating keratosis, particularly actinic keratosis. Other uses of the radium weed sap include treating corns, warts, sunspots and various other skin discolorations.
Pharmaceutical firms have recognized as well as synthesized a number of active constituents of radium weed. Findings of initial studies undertaken to ascertain the efficacy of ingenol mebutate for treating actinic keratosis have shown great potential.
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You can apply the milky sap of radium weed to sunspots for two to four days. To treat sunspots, you do not require plenty of this sap, as only one drop of it on the affected area is sufficient to treat the blemish. Initially, the sunspot will fester and become somewhat ugly looking. Subsequently, you will develop a scab and this will be followed by appearance of fresh pinkish skin. You can apply fresh aloe vera gel on the new skin with a view to facilitate the healing process.
However, it is advisable that you adopt extra caution while dealing with radium weed. Ensure that the plant or its sap does not come in contact with the internal membranes and the eyes. As the sap is highly corrosive, it will burn the soft tissues.
The promising results of the several pharmacological researches as well as clinical trials have hinted that many active compounds present in radium weed are excellent for being developed into potent anti-cancer drugs. So far the active compounds of radium weed have not been produced chemically, because they are basically complex molecules. As of now, these compounds can only be directly obtained from the plants. As a result, further studies are needed to enable large-scale commercial production as well as mechanized cultivation of radium weed and extraction of its latex or sap.
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Aside from treating various skin lesions, including cancer, radium weed has been traditionally used for its anti-inflammatory, anti-pyretic, anthelmintic and expectorant properties. A decoction prepared from the leaves of this herb is taken internally for curing dysentery and diarrhea. Similarly, an infusion prepared from the aerial parts of the plant is also taken internally for treating asthma and catarrh. In addition, this infusion is also used in the form of a purgative as well as to lower high blood pressure.
In the 1990s, people in the Ukraine widely used the radium weed plant (although it is not specified, possibly it is the latex or sap) for treating various forms of cancer, including that of the liver, stomach and uterus.
Radium weed (Euphorbiaceae peplus) thrives best when grown in full sunlight. It also grows well in partial shade. When grown in a shady area, the plant will be relatively taller and have a deeper green hue along with softer branch tissues. On the other hand, plants grown in full sun are sturdier, have a relatively lighter green color and are relatively shorter. However, their sap content is higher compared to the plants grown in shady locations.
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Radium weed plants grow almost all through the year in most places having temperate climatic conditions. However, they grow best during the full summer provided the plants are watered regularly. Usually, the plant becomes completely mature in just three months. Hence, it is not a good idea to buy potted plants, because they have already past their best growing period.
This species is propagated by its seeds and ideally the seeds should be grown in soils that are loosely raked. After sowing the seeds, cover them lightly with soil and allow them time to germinate on their own.
While cultivating radium weed, ensure that you always let some plants not to be touched as this would help them to self seed. Although the root system of this plant is dense and fine, it is not very deep. Therefore, you need to water the plants often, but never heavily. Plants of this species are happy when you do not pay too much attention towards them.
When grown in places having temperate climatic conditions, radium weed plants will grow delightfully throughout the year. However, when the plants are grown in places having cold winters and where snowing is common you can grow the plants indoors, under lights.
When growing indoors or for that matter even when they are cultivated outdoors, the plants will necessarily require eight to ten hours of light every day. If they are not provided with sufficient light, the plants will generally become slender and "leggy", thereby giving rise to very few branches. Such plants will not be of much use.
Water the plants frequently and in a proper way, so that the excess water is drained out of the pot. Remember, radium weed is not a "bog plant". On the other hand, plants of this species grow excellently in light to highly alkaline soils. Soils that are sandier are more suitable for the plants. Although radium weed plant does not require fertilizer for healthy growth, you can provide them with seaweed emulsions from time to time. This will keep the plants happier.
Radium weed plants should never be provided with mulching, as doing so will make the stems weak and they will struggle for growth. On the other hand, harvesting the leaves constantly will ensure a continuous supply. At the same time, it will stimulate the plants to spread further.
Chemical analysis of the latex yielded by radium weed has revealed that it mainly contains diterpenes belonging to the ingenane, pepluane and jatrophane varieties. In fact, pepluane and jatrophane diterpenes do not cause any inflammation, while the ingenane diterpenes are accountable for the irritant as well as other properties of the latex.
Among all the pepluane esters, experiments undertaken in vivo have shown that pepluanone possesses considerable anti-inflammatory properties.
The most active chemical compound present in radium weed is actually a hydrophobic ester called ingenol 3-angelate (PEP005), which is basically an irritant compound possessing anti-tumour action, especially against cancer cell lines in humans. This compound has been found to be 90 percent effective in treating various skin cancers when applied in Phase II clinical trials. In fact, PEP005 has turned out to be a potential latest topical treatment for skin cancer. In addition, it has been found that PEP005 also possesses anti-leukaemic actions and can strongly inhibit an assortment of tumours that have been tested so far, counting the cells of breast cancer.
In addition, many diterpenes contained by the latex yielded by radium weed have shown moderate to potent anti-herpes virus attributes.
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