Phytochemistry is defined as the study of chemical composition of medicinal plants or phyto-drugs. Phytochemistry is a significant subject of the pharmacognosy curriculum. Today, one is witnessing an explosive growth of the herbal drug industry. Standardized herbal extracts and phytochemicals are in high demand for applied research as well as commercial use. The phytochemistry course taught in pharmacy schools deals with the process of isolation, purification and pre-clinical studies of herbal extracts and phytochemicals.
Before the availability of synthetic drugs, phytodrugs or herbal drugs were the mainstay of treatment. Several factors including the lack of emergency medicines, surgery, research and standardization, led to the decline of phytomedicine. With the discovery of opium alkaloid, morphine, chemists started targeting herbal drugs for bioactive compounds (referred to as phytochemicals). Phytochemicals may affect health, but are not essential nutrients. Most of the phytochemicals used in the modern pharmaceutical industry are secondary metabolites. Emerging factors like drug-resistance, cost-effectiveness and side-effects of synthetic drugs have led to the resurgence of phytomedicine.
World Health Organization (WHO) has identified the growing popularity of phytomedicine. Several articles and documents have been published highlighting the future of phytomedicine. Preclinical or non-pharmacological studies published in index journals have demonstrated the utility of standardized herbal extracts and phytochemicals. Clinical-studies done on phytodrugs like garlic, St. John's wort, purple cone-flower, ginseng, black-cohosh and Ginkgo have proved ancient theories to be accurate. More so, these phytodrugs have been documented in reputed medical text-books.
The herbal drug industry is in the transition stage. The time is ripe for initiating more research activities in this unexplored field. Non-standardized herbal preparations like infusions, decoctions, tinctures and powders have been largely replaced by standardized herbal preparations like extracts. Extracts are standardized to marker-compounds or active-constituents. Marker-compounds are used in identification of plant material. It is of more industrial importance. Active-constituents are responsible for pharmacological or medicinal activity of the extract.
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