Plant for Radiation Treatment
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Jo
Posted on: May 6, 2002

I have a question regarding a plant I was recently shown by a tour guide while on a tour in Hawaii. He said the plant was useful in treating radiation burns and rashes from radiation treatments (by rubbing the juice from the stem on the skin), as well as other skin problems. It was supposed to work within twenty minutes of application. I thought he called it "spida wart", but have been unable to find that name when I tried to research it. Do you have any idea what it could have been? The guide also said it was available in the continental U.S.A. as well as Hawaii.

I am not aware of any plant name "spida wart". There is of course the well known "spiderwort" (Tradescantia virginiana and other species) that is sometimes known as "radiation flower" because its blue flowers turn to pink in the presence of ionizing radiation. In fact, spiderwort is such a sensitive and reliable indicator of radiation it has been used by antinuclear groups in Japan to monitor radiation levels around nuclear power plants.

There is a theory that spiderwort may be useful for radiation treatment. The anti-nuclear group, Global Deactivation of Radiation, claims to be conducting research on this possibility (http://www.gdr.org/spiderwortdefon.htm); but as far as I know, there is no evidence so far that spiderwort has any such medicinal effect. I think the GDR group has mistakenly assumed that spiderwort traps radiation in a way that somehow prevents the radiation from doing damage to humans – based solely on the fact that the flowers change colour in the presence of radiation. But saying that spiderwort is an indicator of radiation (which it is) is not the same thing as saying it is a neutralizer of radiation. That’s because a radiation indicator only needs to intercept a small percentage of incident radiation, allowing most of the radiation to pass unimpeded. The GDR group gives no reason for thinking that spiderwort may have a special "scavenging" or protective effect.

One well known herbal treatment for radiation burns of all kinds is Aloe vera. The gel and juice of the thick, succulent leaves are very soothing and cooling for burns, including sunburns and radiation burns. From your description of the plant I am tempted to think that the plant you saw in Hawaii was this one.

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