Epilobium is not a new herb. It has been celebrated for its health successes throughout Europe for decades, and has just recently been “rediscovered” as a potent treatment for a variety of male and female maladies.
Epilobium is a plant used around the world for the treatment of prostate, bladder (incontinence) and hormone disorders. Research has shown it to inhibit the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT) by activity of 5-alpha-reductase and aromatase (the group of enzymes that catalyze the conversion of testosterone to estradiol) two enzymes which are involved in the development of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). The main polyphenols responsible for the inhibition of the these enzymes have been identified as oenothein A and oenothein B.
Epilobium is a genus in the family Onagraceae, containing about 160-200 species of flowering plants with a worldwide distribution. They are generally abundant in the subarctic, temperate and subantarctic regions, whereas in the subtropics and tropics they are restricted to the cool montane biomes, such as the New Guinea Highlands where they are plentiful.
One of the most frequently recognized members of the genus is the circumboreal Fireweed (E. angustifolium), known as Rosebay Willowherb in the United Kingdom. It rapidly colonizes burnt ground; during the bombing of London in World War II many of the derelict bomb sites were soon covered with these plants, bringing a splash of colour to what was otherwise a very grim scene. Epilobium angustifolium is the floral emblem of Yukon territory in Canada, Hedmark county in Norway (where the plant is called geitrams) and of the Southern Ostrobothnia region of Finland.
Fireweed is used as a sweetener in northwestern North America; it is put in candies, jellies ice cream, syrup and other treats, as well as in sxusem ("Indian ice-cream"). In the latter months of summer its flowers yield pollen and copious nectar, which gives a rich spicy honey. Its young leaves, roots and shoots are edible (if somewhat bitter) and rich in pro-vitamin A and vitamin C; the Dena’ina found them also useful as food supplement to keep their dogs healthy and credit the sap of the species' stem, applied to wounds, with anti-inflammatory properties. Small-flowered Willowherb (E. parviflorum) is held to improve urogenital functions in European folk medicine.
*Epilobium parviflorum Schreb., the small-flowered willow herb, a plant of the Onagraceae,1 was disclosed 15 years ago by the Austrian herbalist Maria Treben2 as useful in the treatment of all kinds of bladder, kidney, and particularly prostate disorders, including cancer.3 More recently, P. Bohinsky, a Slovak herbalist, briefly evoked the curative effects of Epilobium montanum and Epilobium roseum in the case of a benign tumor and hypertrophy of the prostate gland in men.4 Several authors have tried to relate this property to an anti-inflammatory activity and have analyzed extracts of the plant to this end, which resulted in the identification of several compounds of Epilobium, including flavonoids, 5-7 â-sitosterol derivatives,8 fatty acids,7 and gallic, chlorogenic, and ellagic acids.6 We hypothesized that the above biological effect of these herbs might be explained in terms of inhibition of 5-R-reductase, the enzyme reponsible for the biosynthesis of dihydrotestosterone from testosterone,9 and undertook the preparation and biological evaluation of several extracts of E. parviflorum.*
*See “Study Notes ‘95”