Rutgers–Camden Researcher Finds Opportunity for Ancient Mongolian Herb to Treat Depression

A. mongholicus herb

By Jeanne Leong

An herb used by Mongolian ruler Genghis Khan to promote bravery and stamina in his soldiers in the 12th century may be beneficial in treating depression in the 21st century, according to a Rutgers University–Camden researcher.

In a study published in the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medical Sciences, Rutgers–Camden biology professor Joe Martin and his colleagues offer evidence that the herb, Astragalus membranaceous var. mongholicus or A. mongholicus, native to China and Mongolia, contains compounds that have antidepressant effects.

Rutgers–Camden students in Mongolia in 2005 to collect A. Mongholicus herb

“The A. mongholicus has antidepressant influences in a way that had unique combinations of effects,” says Martin. “It isn’t just one neurotransmitter being affected like the original antidepressants, but  several different ones.”

In a Rutgers–Camden lab, researchers extracted the A. mongholicus by boiling the freshly collected roots or immersing the root and the leaves in ethanol for five days. When the process is ready for human testing, the herbal extract would be taken as a drink, like tea.

“Antidepressants can have different mechanisms of action,” says Martin. “If you have one antidepressant that doesn’t work very well for one person, and if you have a choice of antidepressants with different mechanisms of action, then you can find the one that is appropriate for the particular individual.”

Some tests showed that the herb could cause short-term aggression, but the researchers say they were able to show that the long-term effects of the herb are antiaggressive. “The fact that chronic treatment was antiaggressive was encouraging,” says Martin.

Joe Martin

The Rutgers–Camden researchers also found that quercetin, a flavonoid found in fruit and vegetables, was a component of the A. mongholicus extract. Quercetin is believed to have health benefits, including helping to reduce inflammation caused by stress.

Martin and his team’s research began with a study-abroad trip to Asia in 2005, when Martin led a group of eight Rutgers–Camden biology undergraduate students on an expedition to collect the A. mongholicus herb. They were led by Aldarmaa Jalsrai, a scientist from the Institute of Traditional Medicine in Mongolia, who had been studying the herb’s medicinal uses. The group ventured out to the Bogd Khan Mountain near Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, where they collected about two pounds of the herb. Martin’s research team froze the sample to preserve it and later continued studying and testing the herb in labs on the Rutgers‒Camden campus.

Jalsrai conducted the testing for the herb’s antidepressive effects and for aggressive activity in Mongolia.

Martin will continue examining the effects of the herb on different organisms before it is eventually tested in humans.

Dr. Aldarmaa Jalsrai

Martin says the unique combination of effects of A. mongholicus can potentially provide new, individualized treatments that may be more effective for some people than the standard treatments. “The current thinking is that the treatment of psychiatric disorders will benefit from tailoring the treatments to the needs of the particular patient,” says Martin. “The types of depression are not all the same, so they should be treated differently. The addition of a new weapon in the arsenal of neuropsychiatric drugs would only strengthen the overall attack.”

Martin’s co-authors of the study, “Neuropsychopharmacological profile of Astragalus membranaceous var. mongholicus,” are Jalsrai; Avijit Biswas, a former Rutgers‒Camden graduate student in biology; and Nicolai Suslov of the Research Institute of Pharmacology and Regenerative Medicine in Russia.

Posted in: Research Highlights

Comments are closed.