THE BOTANICAL, MEDICAL, PHARMACOLOGICAL, ETHNOLOGICAL INFORMATION ABOUT HERBS

Maral Root

 
Maral root is a herbaceous perennial of the family Compositae (Aster). At various times, different taxonomists assigned maral root to different genera of this family.
 

Maral Root

By S.A. Kurganskaya
The N.V. Tsitsin Main Botanical Garden
Russian Academy of Sciences

In the scientific literature maral root may be called Leuzea carthamoides or Rhaponticum carthamoides. In the 1995 compendium The Vascular Plants of Russia and of the Neighboring Countries (St. Petersburg, Russia), the Russian botanist S.K. Cherepanov assigned maral root to the genus Stemmacantha (S. carthamoides). The plant grows 1.0m to 1.5m tall. Its creeping rootstock is dark-brown, thick, and ligneous with multiple, long, and rigid roots. The rootstocks and roots have a specific resinous smell. The plant's stalks are straight, hollow, and barbellate. The leaves are deeply pinnatisected. Its lower leaves are petiolar, while its upper leaves are sessile and often solid. The stalks and leaves are naked or slightly tomentose. Its single anthodia, up to 3 cm in diameter, are located at the top of the stalk. All its florets are tubiform and androgynous; the corolla is pink, violet-lilac or, very rarely, white. Fruits are brownish or brown; achenes are 5 to 7mm long and 3 to 4mm wide with a coma of pinnate setae. Maral root grows in southern Siberia: in the Altai and in the western Sayans (where the plant grows abundantly), in the eastern Sayans, in the Kuznetsk Ala Tau, in the Khamar-Daban and Tarbagatai mountain ranges and in the Dzungar Ala Tau.

Outside Russia, maral root is found only in Mongolia. It grows in sufficiently moistened alpine-meadow, podsolized soils; it is abundantly represented in such habitats as tall-grass subalpine meadows, while in the mountain forest areas it is found in forest meadows and open fir-pine forests. Rarely, maral root is found in alpine meadows. For the first time, in the scientific literature the plant was mentioned in a paper of G.N. Potanin, Russian explorer of Siberia and ethnographer. On commission of the Imperial Russian Geographic Society, G.N. Potanin went on an expedition to northwestern Mongolia, where in 1879 he noted down a tale, narrated by a Mongolian passer-by, about a grass, the roots of which are dug out and eaten by marals (Asiatic red deer). That is why Russian trailblazers in the Altai named it maral root. In Mongolia, the plant is called bukhu ("vigor" in Mongolian). From time immemorial, the plant's roots and herbs have been used in the folk medicines of Siberians and Mongolians as a stimulant.
Maral root decoctions and infusions are prescribed as restoratives and tonics in case of fatigue and weakness, especially for recovering patients and the elderly.

In Tibet medicine, maral root is included in mixtures prescribed for pulmonary and kidney diseases, jaundice, fever, and angina. The pharmacological and clinical studies of maral root was begun in the 1940s at the Tomsk Medical University. Since 1961, maral rootstock alcoholic extracts and tinctures have been authorized for functional derangements of the nervous system, for excessive mental and physical fatigues, and as a stimulant for enhancing mental and physical efficiency. Their tonic effect is conditioned by the availability of ecdysteronum, a biologically active substance recently found in the plant. Ecdysteronum has a psychostimulating effect. Besides, the plant's roots and rootstocks contain alkaloids, coumarins, anthraquinones, flavonic and tanning agents, anthocyans, insulin, fatty oils, resins, vitamin C, carotene, and organic acid salts. Maral root is prescribed in the form of liquid extract 20 to 30 drops 2 or 3 times a day. It is not advisable to take it without prescription. Prolonged intake may cause steady build-up of blood pressure. The root's liquid extract has been used in the production of nonalcoholic beverages Baikal and Sayans.

At present, the resources of maral root in the areas of its natural habitat have been considerably depleted due to overharvsting; the plant is known for slow reparative regeneration. The plant had been listed in the USSR Red Data Book: Critically Endangered Wild Plants (Leningrad, 1975) and in the regional Red Data Book: Rare and Endangered Plants of Siberia (1980). At the same time, maral root is commercially grown for medicinal and forage purposes in Moscow, Leningrad, and Novosibirsk regions and on Sakhalin. It is also cultivated in Bulgaria and Poland. Maral root has become well-known as a forage plant. Since the 1950s, it has been studied and grown at different research farms in this country and experimental crops yielded from 200 to 600 centners of greens per hectare. Further, the greens may used as stock for making silage, haylage, and grass meal: as to the content of protein, the greens compare well with such legume plants as clover and alfalfa and is superior to corn by two times. Maral root-based forage is eagerly eaten by animals, bringing about a stimulating effect in them.

Maral root is a good nectariferous plant: bees gather nectar and pollen from its flowers. In spite of the fact that its blooming period is rather short, still from a hectare of solid plantings may be gathered from 30 to 50 kg of honey, while in bumper crop years the yield may be from 100 to 120 kg. Maral root is cultivated in vegetable gardens. It can also be cultivated as an ornamental plant: its tall stalks, laciniate leaves, and large, single anthodia are pleasing to the eye. It is advisable, however, to plant it in flower beds serving as a background because toward the close of summer its leaves turn yellow. To plant maral root one has to choose open and well-drained plots. Excessively acid soils and low, moist places, especially where water is retained in spring, are ill-suited because the plant may rot there. It is of paramount importance to deeply turn the soil. Maral root seeds may sprout without stratification. Freshly collected and sown, they sprout rather quickly, but are covered with snow in an immature condition and, as a result, may die during the winter. This can happen both in nature and under cultivation. The seeds may be sown in open land even in October; then fresh shoots will appear in late April or early May. If sown in spring, the shoots will appear in three weeks or so.

When cultivating maral root commercially on specialized farms, it is advisable to sow it in early spring, using stratified seeds. Though stratification, as mentioned above, is optional, it facilitates germination, improves the development of the plant, and increases its productivity. During the first season, the plant forms a leaf rosette and blossoms in the next. Under cultivation maral root blossoms in June, one month earlier then in the wild. The seeds mature in July. Both under cultivation and in the wild maral root is attacked by certain species of insects, the larvae of which eat germinating seeds. As a result, each rosette contains only a small proportion of undamaged seeds.

Maral root also propagates vegetatively by rootstock splitting in April or August. The rootstocks and roots are harvested in September. For commercial stock purposes it is advisable to dig out two-year-old plants or older. The dug-out rootstocks must be shaken off of earth and washed. Washing shall be done as soon as possible because during long washing stock's active substances are washed away. Well-cleaned and washed rootstocks shall be dried in the sun for 4 to 6 days on special, pole-made racks located 1 meter off the ground. On cloudy days, drying should be effected on racks in heated, well ventilated rooms. It is also possible to dry the rootstocks together with their roots in dryers at 50 to 60C. Drying shall be discontinued when the rootstocks, if bent, are no longer flexible, but break. Stock's shelf life is two years.

2002
Andy One
KeyHerbs.com
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