What Distinguishes Plants From Medicinal Plants

Modern Ayurveda

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A considerable number of definitions have been proposed for the term 'medicinal plant'. According to the World Health Organization, "a medicinal plant is any plant which, in one or more of its organs, contains substances that can be used for therapeutic purposes, or which are precursors for chemopharmaceutical semi synthesis".

This definition distinguishes between the already known medicinal plants whose therapeutic properties or characters are precursors of certain molecules which have been established scientifically, with that of other plants used in traditional medicine which are regarded as medicinal, but have not yet been subjected to a thorough scientific study.

Medicinal plants are a significant source of synthetic and herbal drugs. Patterns of herbal utilization are depicted in Fig. 1.1 Medicinal plants have been used for the treatment of diseases since antiquity. According to Alves and Rosa (2007), 20,000 plant species are used for medicinal purposes. India and China have been on the forefront when one refers to the history of herbal drugs. The traditional systems of medicines viz. Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani, Western Herbal Medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Homeopathy have roots in medicinal herbs. Herbal medicines have been produced by a number of renowned researchers and due to its accessibility to traditions it is still practiced even by lay practitioners.

Ayurveda, the ancient healing system flourished in India in the Vedic era. The classical texts of Ayurveda, Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita were written around 1000 B.C. The Ayurvedic Materia Medica includes 600 medicinal plants along with therapeutics. Herbs like turmeric, fenugreek, ginger, garlic and holy basil are integral parts of Ayurvedic formulations. The formulations incorporate a single herb or more than two herbs (polyherbal formulations).

The history of traditional Chinese medicine is renowned and the herbal system, is very well preserved. It originated about 3000 years ago

Fig. 1.1 Patterns of herbal utilization.

Source: Riewpaiboon (2003).

Fig. 1.1 Patterns of herbal utilization.

Source: Riewpaiboon (2003).

and is a popular science in western countries. Some of the medicinal herbs mentioned in Chinese medicine are common to Ayurveda. Traditional Chinese medicine favors the use of medicinal herbs in their natural form rather than by extraction. Herbal drugs have a different history in Europe and America and have produced healers like Culpeper. The use of tinctures in homeopathy is based on medicinal herbs.

Before the availability of synthetic drugs, man was completely dependent on medicinal herbs for prevention and treatment of diseases. The use of the medicinal herbs for curing diseases has been documented in the history of all civilizations. The drugs were used in crude forms like expressed juice, powder, decoction or infusion. Although the formulations mentioned in ancient texts are difficult to understand in terms of scientific parameters, some of them are reputed for their curative values. The Napralert database at the University of Illinois establishes ethno medicinal uses for about 9200 of the 33,000 species of monocotyledons, dicotyledons, gymnosperms, lichens, pteridophytes, and bryophytes.

Ancient healers, who developed formulations based on medicinal herbs, were probably not aware of the chemical composition of the herbs. However the advances they made despite the non-availability of scientific procedures is astonishing. The work on Terminalia chebula (chebulic myrobalan) mentioned in Charaka Samhita is quite authentic and modern studies have revealed that the purgative activity mentioned in Ayurveda is justified by the isolation of chebulic acid, the active constituent of chebulic myrobalan.

Initially, the term Materia Medica was coined for the study of natural products. Materia Medica is defined as the knowledge of natural history, physical characteristics, and chemical properties of drugs. It includes the study of herbs, minerals and drugs from the animal kingdom. The Ayurvedic equivalent for Materia Medica is Dravyaguna, which is the study of medicinal herbs in Ayurvedic terms. Now days the term 'Materia Medica' is known as pharmacognosy.

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  • Bellisima
    What distinguishes plants from medicinal plants?
    9 months ago

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