The botanical research arm of EthnoHerbalist has settled into a new laboratory space in downtown San Diego.

In an attempt to foster new relationships with other local scientists and engineers, we have moved our research program into the FabLab (Fabrication laboratory) over in the East Village of San Diego. This is predominantly a non-profit, community minded laboratory space for entrepreneurs. Fortunately, our local FabLab also has a space built out to facilitate biological research programs.

The focus of our research is the search for new plant compounds that impart a health benefit to humans. We are currently interested in the plants of the Sonoran and Mojave deserts.

Small quantities of various candidate plants are collected from private lands in the desert regions surrounding San Diego. We then extract compounds from the plants using various solvents. The plant extract material is applied experimentally to various biological assays. In this manner, we are screening for novel bio-active compounds.

We are using known bioactive plants as positive controls. Our positive controls let us know that our bio-assay is functional. Many of these established ‘bioactive plants’ were first used by Native Americans in the region.

One local plant, common name creosote, has been previously explored for its benefit to human health. Our local Kumeyaay use the plant for various health issues. No doubt intrigued by this anecdotal information, chemists have isolated NGDA, as the bioactive creosote compound. However, research on the use of this compound was stopped when toxicity issues surfaced. Clearly, a long road of research is necessary to transition from anecdotal and historical information all the way to ‘safe and effective‘ drug.

We are currently using one of our positive controls –  Datura stramonium, or Jimson weed to fine-tune our bio-assay. Jimson weed is a member of the Solanaceae family, and is known to house tropane alkaloids. These compounds are anticholinergic, in the sense that they block the action of acetylcholine. You certainly would not want to ingest this plant at all.

In fact, the plant is also referred to as loco weed, because cows go crazy if they chew on this plant.

Bio-assay set up

A few plants collected from private lands in the Mojave desert

Hiding out from the midday sun under a creosote bush. My collecting partner is clearly exhausted…