Medicinal Plants Make a Comeback

Medicinal plants make a comeback.

Attisso MA.

PIP: Phytotherapy--using vegetable based drug preparations--was the primary method of disease treatment until the middle of the 19th century. Gradually, chemicals and drugs were produced only from and based on the active ingredients of these plants.

The International Centre of Commerce reports that medicinal plants are still vitally important in the preparation of pharmaceutical products.

The proportion of medicinal plants used in the preparation of pharmaceutical products is about 1/3 that of synthetic chemicals.

Raw materials for import by pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries have increased form $52.9 million in 1967 to $71.2 million in 1971, with increases averaging 7% annually.

Annual quantities of some plants used in preparations are: 3,000 tons of aloes; 10,000 tons of artichoke leaves; 5,000 tons of quinquina bark; 5,000 tons of senna pods; 1,000 tons of digitalis leaves; 1,000 tons of belladonna, henbane and datura leaves.

An important distinction exists between medicinal plants and vegetable drugs. Medicinal plants contain one or more endogenous substances which can be used directly for medicinal purposes or in semisynthesis of preparations.

Vegetable drug refers only to the part of the plant used directly in the preparation of medicines. The pure molecules in medicinal plants can be used in the synthesis of pharmaceutical products, notably steroids which are used to produce progestational substances and oral contraceptives.

Medicina plants can also aid research for development of artificial mutations of the molecules to produce new drugs, an example of which is cocaine, from which synthetic local pain killers are derived.

Some medicinal plants can be used as vegetable drugs for phytotherapy either on their own or to supplement chemotherapy. Vegetable drugs are especially useful for psychosomatic complaints, various cardiovascular diseases, digestive troubles, liver and gallbladder disorders, and antiseptics, both internal and external.

Continued research and devleopment on the use of medicinal plants in developing countries will enrich the present range of medicines or provide a basis for further chemical and pharmacological research.

UNESCO Cour. 1979 Jul;(7):7-8.

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