Main components and biological activity of essential oils from wild growing plants from Western Balkans—Lamiaceae family.
Documentation of traditionally used aromatic and medical plants has been carried out in many European countries over the last several years. Over the last decade, the Western Balkans has become the area of a huge number of ethnobiological field studies. Many of those focused on Balkans ethnobotany are linked to the long and ongoing history of gathering and trading local wild aromatic and medicinal plants from this territory into Western European markets. But only less than a half percent of these have been studied for their chemical composition and medicinal value. The most investigated aromatic species in this area belongs to the few biggest families: Asteraceae, Apiaceae, Lamiaceae and Rosaceae. Medicinal value of plants lies in some chemical substances that produce physiological action on the human body, which leads to positive effect on health. Essential oils are secondary metabolites which are the most examined, as well as various plant extracts. Isolation and identification of the compounds in combination with its biological screening can considerably contribute to plant studies. Also, application of new activities and novel techniques for susceptibility testing provide better knowledge of wild growing medicinal plants as potential sources of biological agents and justified their traditional uses.
- Western Balkans
- ethnobiological studies
- wild growing plants
- essential oil
World is endowed with wealth of medicinal and aromatic plants. Plants have always been the principal form of traditional medicine in many undeveloped countries, and presently, they are becoming popular throughout the developed world, where people strive to stay healthy because of influence of chronic stress and pollution. One definition says that aromatic plants are the local heritage of global importance . In many countries of Balkans, people practiced traditional medicine which is based on the use of plants. The way of use is determined with culture, philosophy and personal attitude. This practice is usually different than conventional medicine. Long period of using traditional medicine has demonstrated that it is safe and effective . Medicinal plants also play an important role in the lives of rural people, particularly in remote parts of developing countries with a few health facilities. It is estimated that around 70,000 plant species have been used at one time or another for medicinal purposes. At the present time, when there is a tendency to respect nature and natural processes more and more, the value of local knowledge on the stability of ecosystem dynamics
2. Plant diversity of Western Balkans countries
It is estimated that at least 265,000 species of seed plants  exist on earth. Only less than a half percent of these have been studied exhaustively for their chemical composition and medicinal value . With about 6340 different vascular plant species reported, the Balkans, compared to 10,500 species accepted in the Flora Europaea, is one of the most important biodiversity centres of Europe . Region of Serbia is rich in medicinal herbs; about 700 species exist on its territory which is 10.7% of total flora with 3662 taxa. Abundance of medicinal herbs placed Serbia in 158 centres of biodiversity in the world . Despite the inconspicuous extension of the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Western Balkan Peninsula; Southeast Europe), the country holds about 3600 species of vascular plants . In Flora Croatica, around 5000 species and subspecies are registered. Among them, 1144 species and subspecies (21% of total flora) are used for different purpose. The greatest number (25%) of these plants is used in traditional as well in official medicine . Croatia is also one of the centres of endemism in south-eastern Europe. No less than 5.65% of the total numbers of known plant species are endemic. Flora of Montenegro consists about 2632 species of vascular plants, as well as of numerous lower infraspecies taxa as varieties and forms . New data suggest 104 taxa more in second supplement to Rohlena`s Conspectus . The flora of the Republic of Macedonia is among the richest floras not only in respect to the Balkan Peninsula, but also in the context of the whole European continent. According to recent data, 210 families, 920 genera and 3700 species comprise the flora of higher plants, angiosperms being the richest group with about 3200 species. Endemic taxons represent a special characteristic and value of the Macedonian flora. Among them, 114 flowering plant species are Macedonian endemics .
3. Ethnobotanical studies
The knowledge of plants, which are used by local people in different geographical areas, is documented in ethnobotanical studies. People in rural areas with traditional knowledge about plants, which are used as a food, spices, flavouring and for medicinal purposes, transmitted that information from one generation to the next. This knowledge is associated to plant identification, conservation and uses. An extensive ethnobotanical work yielded interesting results that confirmed many assumptions and estimates about plant uses .
A group of scientists investigated the local traditions of using wild food plants around Lake Vrana (northern Dalmatia, Zadar region) . This research includes studies and interviews of 43 inhabitants of six traditional villages north of Lake Vrana. On average, 12 species were listed, which in total produced an inventory of 55 food plants. The most common medicinal species were
Ethnobotanical study on medicinal use of wild and cultivated plants in middle, south and west Bosnia and Herzegovina was presented with 228 wild and cultivated species (belonged to 50 families and 124 genera) and 730 different preparations for the use in human therapy. Species of the genus
Usually used plants from the region of Suva Planina Mountain are from families of Lamiaceae—20, Asteraceae—17, Rosaceae—16, Brassicaceae—5, Alliaceae—4 and Apiaceae—4. On this region were identified 128 plants and 2 fungi. Most of them are used in ethnomedicine but some of them in ethnoveterinary medicine. Some plants have ‘other’ purposes. While the most common conditions treated with medicinal plants are respiratory (79), urogenital (53), gastrointestinal (51), skin (43) and those relating to the circulatory system (35) . On Kopaonik Mountain (the central part of Serbia), 83 wild plant species reported by informants to have medicinal properties have been recorded. The most often used plants belong to six families: Asteraceae—15.8%, Lamiaceae—15.8%, Rosaceae—7.3%, Malvaceae—3.7%, Apiaceae—3.7% and Plantaginaceae—3.7%, within 69 genera and 41 families. In all other families, authors detected the uses of only two or one species (2.4 and 1.2%). Based on investigations, they concluded that tested plants had the highest influence on gastrointestinal ailments—50%, skin injures and problems—25.6%, respiratory—20.5%, urinary-genital—20.5%, cardiovascular problems—19.2%, antiseptic—15.4% and anti-infective effect—14.1% . Botanical remedies in the South-western Serbia (Zlatibor district) comprise 69 species belonging to 36 families. The predominant botanical families were Rosaceae (16%), Lamiaceae (13%) and Asteraceae (12%). From 69 mentioned species, 23 species are included in European Pharmacopoeia 7.0 . Those plants are used for treatment of gastrointestinal—33.1%, respiratory diseases—29.6%, dermatologic diseases—14.8%, urinary tract ailments—6.1%, circulatory system—5.1%, nervous system and psyche—5.1%, nutritional endocrine glands and metabolism—4.3%, skeletal, muscle and connective tissues problems—1.0%, gynecological complications—0.5%, disease of the sensorial system—0.3% .
On Prokletije Mountains (Montenegro), the most often used are Rosaceae—11 species which makes 11.7%, Asteraceae—10 species or 10.6% and Lamiaceae—7 species which make 7.4%. Ninety-four species are reported, 35 species in Ph. Eur. 6.0, which makes 37.2%, 12 species in national pharmacopoeias or 12.8%. In most cases, aerial parts were used—43.6%. People usually used those plants for treating gastrointestinal—57.4% and respiratory diseases—41.5% .
In one of the most remote and poorest areas of Europe, the village of Theth, which is located in the upper Shala Valley in the Northern Albanian Alps, 79 botanical taxa known and used by the local population. This area is characterised by total absence of medical assistance, but villagers of Theth used a small number of medicinal herbs for minor ailments. They usually used aerial parts of
A medico-ethnobotanical study was conducted among Albanians, Macedonians and Gorani in 41 villages located in the Sharr Mountains in Western Macedonia. Seventy-six mainly wild taxa (belonging to 34 families) were found to represent the remaining folk medical heritage of the area. The most frequently cited families were Lamiaceae (15.7%), Asteraceae (14.4%), Rosaceae (5.2%), Malvaceae (5.2%) and Fabaceae (5.2%). The large majority of the recorded plants are used in form of teas, and mainly for minor dysfunctions of the respiratory system (46%). According to results of investigations, leaves of
Comparison with traditional therapy in neighbouring countries showed that there exists considerable similarity with respect to plants used and the way of usage [25, 18, 26]. Results obtained in the area of Suva Planina Mountain comparing with results from other investigated areas of the Western Balkans showed similarities with Zlatibor region—37.2% and Kopaonik Mountain—32.3%. Compare the wider regions showed similarities with Bosnia and Herzegovina—40.9% and Bulgaria—40.6% . It has also been observed that the inhabitants of mountain regions have longer traditional therapeutic tradition (more than six generations) compared to the rest of the population .
An important point in research is paying attention on analysis of endemic and rare species, because they are potential source of new active compounds. However, strict rule and regulations for protection of its localities are necessary because of threat of its extermination. If phytochemical analyses show that those plants represent valuable sources of new compounds, it could be necessary to find adequate way to its cultivations and preservation. The new activities and novel techniques for susceptibility testing provide field for research of well-known medicinal plants as well as unknown plants.
4. Composition and biological activity of essential oils and extracts of wild growing Lamiaceae species
The knowledge of plants which in ethnobotanical studies of Western Balkans countries
|Plant||Origin||Essential oil/main compounds||Activity||References|
|Sicevo gorge (Serbia)||1.8-cineole (36.43%), β-pinene (19.55%), isopinocamphone (15.32%) pinocamphone (6.39%)||Antifungal, antioxidant|||
|Mt. Lovcen (Montenegro)||piperitenone (41.46%), pulegone (19.02%), piperitenone oxide (14.49%), D-limonene (6.23%) and p-menthone (5.06%)||Antimicrobial|||
|Mt Biokovo (Croatia)||Carvacrol (63.4%), thymol (19.4%)||Antioxidant|||
|Thymol (24.7%), carvacrol (15.2%), linalool (15.4%).|
Carvacrol (24.5%), linalool (17.9%), cis-sabinene hydrate (14.61%), terpinen-4-ol (10.6%).
Linalool (32.6%), cis-sabinene hydrate (23.0%), terpinen-4-ol (11%), nerolidol (9.4%)
|Antimicrobial, antioxidant, anticholinesterase activity|||
|Mt Orijen (Montenegro)||p-cymene (33.1%), thymol (26.1%) and thymol methyl ether (15.1%)||Antimicrobial|||
|Mt Biokovo (Croatia)||Carvacrol (17.7%), spathulenol(13.2%), caryophyllene oxide (9.5%), α-cadinol (7.1%), amorpha-4,9-dien-2-ol (6.7%)||Antioxidant|||
|Mt Pasjača (Serbia)||trans-nerolidol (24.2%), germacrene-D (16.0%), thymol (9.6%)||Antimicrobial, antioxidant||[38, 40]|
|Jasenice (Croatia)||Thymol (46.3%), γ-terpinene (16.2%), thymyl methyl ether (11.4%) and p-cymene (9.4%)||Antimicrobial|||
Nine species of genus
Since ancient times, plants from the genus
5. Composition and biological activity of essential oils and extracts of wild growing Apiaceae species
Many plants from “spices” family, Apiaceae, are phytochemicaly characterised, and they are used in official medicine, but for much of them data are still missing or scant.
|Plant||Origin||Essential oil/Main compounds||Activity||References|
|Mt Rujan (Serbia)||Aerial parts: phytol (13.1%), germacrene D (12.9%), β-caryophyllene|
(9.7%), β-bourbonene (8.5%)
Fruit: suberosin (19.7%), germacrene D (12.3%), germacrene B (10.0%)
|Antimicrobial, antioxidant||[46, 50]|
|Stip (Macedonia)||Aerial parts: methyl eugenol (60.4%), p-cymene (11.2%), α-phellandrene (10.2%).|
α-Phellandrene epoxide (6.9%)
|Negotino city (Macedonia)||Inflorescence: α-pinene (43.1%) and sabinene (26.7%), limonene (6.5%)|
Aerial part: α-pinene (22.8%), sabinene (15.5%), terpinen-4-ol (9.6%), cis-chrysanthenyl acetate (9.5%) and p-cymene (9.1%)
|Mt Pelister (Macedonia)||n-octanol (39.6), octylhexanoate (17.6%), n-octyl acetate (14.1%).||Antimicrobial, antioxidant, antiquorum sensing|||
|Mt Kopaonik (Serbia)||ar-curcumene (13.4%), β-sesquiphellandrene (11.9%), caryophyllene oxide (9.2%)||Antimicrobial, antioxidant|||
|Mt Staraplanina (Serbia)||Sabinene (47.8%), α-pinene (24.9%), β-pinene (7.1%), terpinen-4-ol (5.4%)||Antimicrobial, antioxidant|||
6. Composition and biological activity of essential oils and extracts of wild growing Asteraceae species
Considering chemical composition of
|Pant||Origin||Essential oil/Main compounds||Activity||References|
|Near the city of Niš (Srbia)||Sabinene (24.5 %), sabinyl acetate (13.6 %), α-phellandrene (10.3%)||Antimicrobial, antioxidant, insect repellent|||
|Mt Staraplanina (Serbia)||Camphor (51.4%), camphene (7.3%)||Antimicrobial, antioxidant|||
|Jerma Gorge (Serbia)||Camphor (45.4%), 1,8-cineole (16.4%), α-thujone (15.1%), borneol (8.1%)||Antimicrobial, antioxidant|||
|Mt Staraplanina (Serbia)||Artemisia ketone (31.7%), camphor (25.4%), 1,8-cineole (14.8%)||Antimicrobial, antioxidant|||
|Bar (Montenegro)||γ-curcumene (22.5%), α-pinene (15.9%) and neryl acetate (7.8%), β-selinene (6.9%)||Antifungal|||
The chemical analysis of essential oils of
7. Composition and biological activity of essential oils and extracts of wild growing Rosaceae species
Investigation was carried out on air-dried flowers, leaves, stem-bark and wood of
According to numerous references, many aromatic plants from Western Balkans represented valuable sources of potential new bioactive compounds. Considerable efforts were made for investigation of essential oils and extracts and discovering new, natural antimicrobials, antioxidants or cytotoxic agents. The results encourage the application of the plants for further evaluations of other possible bioactivities and detection of active pure compounds as constituents of the essential oils and extracts. Studies to date have identified a number of plant compounds and explained its mechanism of action in organisms. All presented data additionally validate the use of well-known aromatic plants in new treatments, as well as endemic or rare plants which could be only scientifically investigated. High protection of their natural localities is necessary, and new potential active compounds from those plants could be used only with their possible cultivation. The beneficial effect of the aromatic plants from Western Balkans that are recognised in traditional knowledge could be useful for conventional medicine or other aspects for improving life quality.
The authors are grateful to the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development of the Republic of Serbia for financial support (Grant No. 173029).
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