Friday, November 13, 2015
I can confirm from personal experimentation on many occasions that the New Zealand native plant Schefflera digitata (Patate, Pate, Seven Finger) is extremely effective against athlete's foot.
I just put some leaves in a blender with water, then immediately applied the water to the infected skin with an artist's paint brush. The itching stopped almost immediately. In my opinion it is more effective, especially quicker, than treatment obtained from a chemist. I then kept the juice in the fridge, it remained effective for many months, perhaps more than six months. The long term solution to the problem, however, was to stop wearing a particular pair of old shoes which I used for going into the bush, now I go barefoot, much better.
It also worked against an ear infection, though again, the permanent, simpler solution was avoiding the cause, in this case keeping my ears above water when washing hair.
It was reported in 1979 that the leaves contain falcarindiol, known to be effective against "common dermatophyte fungi" (1) including athlete's foot and ringworm. It is not clear to me that the plant was used as a herbal remedy for athletes foot before this, there is a report from 1991 recommending the water steeped in the leaves for "athletes foot and ringworm" (2), but this use may be derived from the scientific finding mentioned.
There is a report from 1848 (1,2) stating Maori used the sap for "scrofulous sores and ringworm" which could include athlete's foot. Perhaps this disease was not even present in Pre-European Maori society or early Maori footwear may not have provided a conducive environment, so it was not an issue.
This plant has the ability to grow under the full shade of larger canopy trees, worth considering as a rare full shade crop. I've nibbled and swallowed very small quantities of the soft young leaves form time to time, even though I've found no reports they are edible (or toxic). They have a mild, pleasant, slightly peppery flavor, not at all bitter like the reportedly edible young leaves of the related Five Finger (Pseudopanax arboreus or Whauwhaupaku) (3) which I enjoy regularly.
An interesting thing I happened to notice about Five Finger is a transparent jelly which can sometimes be found in reasonable quantities on the stem. I don't know what it is, exactly when or why it's there, similar exudations occur on other plants after injury from insect attack, perhaps that's it. The jelly tastes exactly the same as the leaves, bitter but interesting. I've ingesting very small amounts from time to time, finally quite a bit on one occasion, it appears harmless. Seems to me it might have a future as an interesting & unusual food if safety could be determined for sure and a way of inducing/controlling jelly production could be found.
1. New Zealand Medicinal Plants. Brooker, Cambie, Cooper 1981 pg 95
2. Maori Healing and Herbal. Riley 1994 pg 330
3. A Field Guide to the Native Edible Plants of New Zealand. Crowe. 1981 pg 153