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Old Medicine

The name native California tribes gave to the plant Eriodictyon californicum — "Yerba santa" — translates to "holy herb" in English, and the moniker is a testament to the tribes' respect for the plant, which they used to treat everything from headaches to sore muscles.

Now, in a heartening old-meets-new finding, scientists think they may have discovered yet another ailment Yerba santa has the potential to treat: Alzheimer's disease.

Brain Protector

In a study published in the journal Redox Biology on Wednesday, researchers from the Salk Institute detail their discovery that Yerba santa could be useful for treating Alzheimer's.

They started by screening 400 plant extracts known to have pharmacological properties for signs of anti-inflammatory or neuroprotective properties. This led them to the Yerba santa compound sterubin.

The researchers found through additional testing that "the compound was effective against multiple inducers of cell death in the nerve cells," according to a press release.

It had an anti-inflammatory impact on certain brain cells, and it was also effective at removing iron, which is known to add to the damage of nerve cells in people with neurodegenerative diseases.

Dramatic Drug

The researchers now plan to test sterubin in animal models of Alzheimer’s disease. After that, they'll set out to determine the compound's toxicity levels in animals and other characteristics.

Human testing could follow, but as researcher Pamela Maher pointed out in a press release, the team would likely created a synthetic derivative of sterubin rather than use sterubin drawn from a plant.

Ultimately, this wouldn't be the first medicine with its roots in nature — aspirin and morphine are two well-known examples — but given the ever-growing number of people suffering and dying from Alzheimer's, the "holy herb" has the potential to be one that has an immediate and dramatic impact.

READ MORE: Native California Medicinal Plant May Hold Promise for Treating Alzheimer's [Salk Institute]

More on Alzheimer's: Americans Are Living Longer. That Will Mean More People With Alzheimer’s.

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