Medicinal plants

Medicinal plants, also called medicinal herbs, have been discovered and used in traditional medicine practices since prehistoric times. Plant synthesise hundreds of chemical compounds for functions including defence against insects, fungi, diseases, and herbivorousmammals. Numerous phytochemicals with potential or established biological activityhave been identified. However, since a single plant contains widely diverse phytochemicals, the effects of using a whole plant as medicine are uncertain. Further, the phytochemical content and pharmacologicalactions, if any, of many plants having medicinal potential remain unassessed by rigorous scientific research to define efficacy and safety.2 In the United States over the period 1999 to 2012, despite several hundred applications for new drug status, only two botanical drug candidates had sufficient evidence of medicinal value to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration.2
The earliest historical records of herbs are found from the Sumerian civilisation, where hundreds of medicinal plants including opium are listed on clay tablets. The Ebers Papyrus from ancient Egypt describes over 850 plant medicines, while Dioscorides documented over 1000 recipes for medicines using over 600 medicinal plants in De materia medica, forming the basis of pharmacopoeias for some 1500 years. Drug research makes use of ethnobotany to search for pharmacologically active substances in nature, and has in this way discovered hundreds of useful compounds. These include the common drugs aspirin, digoxin, quinine, and opium. The compounds found in plants are of many kinds, but most are in four major biochemical classes: alkaloids, glycosides, polyphenols, and terpenes.
Medicinal plants are widely used in non-industrialized societies, mainly because they are readily available and cheaper than modern medicines. The annual global export value of 50,000 to 70,000 plants with suspected medicinal properties was estimated to be US$2.2 billion in 2012,3 and in 2017, the potential global market for botanical extracts and medicines was estimated at several hundred billion dollars.2 In many countries, there is little regulation of traditional medicine, but the World Health Organization coordinates a network to encourage safe and rational usage. Medicinal plants face both general threats, such as climate change and habitat destruction, and the specific threat of over-collection to meet market demand.2
Herbs are staging a comeback and herbal ‘renaissance’ is happening all over the globe. The herbal products today symbolize safety in contrast to the synthetics that are regarded as unsafe to human and environment. Although herbs had been priced for their medicinal, flavouring and aromatic qualities for centuries, the synthetic products of the modern age surpassed their importance, for a while. However, the blind dependence on synthetics is over and people are returning to the naturals with hope of safety and security.1