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“My introduction to medicinal plants transformed my health and my life, and enhanced and expanded my spiritual practice by connecting me deeply with the Earth, changing my life in the best, most enjoyable ways possible. I am forever grateful.”

Author: Robin Rose Bennett

No matter where you live, you will always be able to find plants that can be cultivated for their medicinal values. Many wonderful cures are as common as what’s found in your herb garden.

Herbs Garden Introduction-to Medicinal Plants
Today, we live in a time when manufactured medicines and prescriptions prevail, but do they have to be the only approach to healing?

Treatment with medicinal plants is considered very safe as there is no or minimal side effects. These remedies are in sync with nature, which is the biggest advantage. The golden fact is that, use of herbal treatments is independent of any age groups and the sexes.

 

As per data available over three-quarters of the world population relies mainly on plants and plant extracts for their health care needs. More than 30% of the entire plant species, at one time or other were used for medicinal purposes. It has been estimated, that in developed countries such as United States, plant drugs constitute as much as 25% of the total drugs, while in fast developing countries such as India and China, the contribution is as much as 80%. Recently, WHO (World Health Organization) estimated that 80 percent of people worldwide rely on herbal medicines for some aspect of their primary health care needs. According to WHO, around 21,000 plant species have the potential for being used as medicinal plants.

Thus, the economic importance of medicinal plants is much more to countries such as India than to rest of the world. These countries provide two third of the plants used in modern system of medicine and the health care system of rural population depend on indigenous systems of medicine.

Dioscorides's 1st century De materia medica, seen here in a c. 1334 copy in Arabic, describes some 1000 drug recipes based on over 600 plants

Since before the Common Era, great herbalists, such as Dioscorides, Hippocrates, Theophrastus and Galenius acted as scientists and therapists leaving us with prominent books, such as De Materia Medica of Dioscorides. This priceless document provided the world with vast knowledge regarding hundreds of medicinal plants which are found in the region of the Middle-East. Most of these plants are still used at the present time for therapy and some of them are rich sources of natural compounds with medicinal properties.

It was only by the mid-fifteenth century that the influence of Dioscorides, and that of the classic herbalists, began to fade within European botany and medicine. During this period, and until our times, the European herbalists began researching plants for pure research purposes, which resulted in great scientific discoveries.

Although there is no doubting the predominance of chemical research in modern medicine, there is a notably increasing interest, within both medical circles and the general public alike, in plant-oriented folk medicine. Further research into the biochemical mechanisms of herbal medicines will enable a synthesis of traditional and modern methods of health care, to the benefit of all.

Plants  are  used  for  variety of  purposes. The history  of  natural  product  is relatively old  and dates back  to  the  time  when  the  early  man  became conscious of his  environment. Cultured and civilized man  is  said  to  have  been  on  earth  for  some  two  or three  million  years and  he has  struggled  for  his life during  the  greater  portion  of  the  era.  Thousands  of years’ effort, by examination much has thought him to differentiate between useful and harmful plants. Since then  herbs  have  been  used  in  all  cultures  as  an important source of medicine.

The history of human culture and civilization of  Egypt,  Assyrian,  China,  and Indies valley,  knows that  the  elders  and  wise  man  of  those  times  used medicinal  plants  to treat  many diseases.  Information about  these  medicinal  plants  is  present  in  the  old literature,  mythological  stories,  folklore and  thousand  years’  old manuscripts, copper plates and palm leaves and other information  on  these  cultures  which  are  preserved even  today.  The  unearth  of  Shanidar  cave  in  Iraq  in 1963  opened  the  grave  of  Neanderthal  man  buried sixty thousand year ago along with so many flowers of his  time. The  plants  present  in the  grave were  later known to have many medicinal properties.

The  earliest  records of the  use  of  medicinal plants are that of Chaulmoogra oil from Hydnocarpus gaertn,  which  was  identified  to  be  effective  in  the treatment  of  leprosy.  Such  a use  of  medicinal  plants for  the  treatment  of  leprosy  was  written  in  the pharmacopoeia  of  the  Emperor  of  China  between 2730 and 3000 B.C. In the same way, the castor seeds and seeds of opium were found from ancient Egyptian tombs, which confirm their use in  that part of Africa as for back as 1500 B.C. The written records existing in  “Ebers  papyrus”  also  show  the  use  of  medicinal plants  at  that  time  in  Egypt.  According  to  the history  of  medicinal  plants,  the  Materia  Medica  of Hippocrates, who is currently known  as  the father of medicine,  composed  of  herbal  formulations,  nearly 400  simple  formulations  having  been  compiled  and explain  by  him.  Plin  was  a  Theophrastus  of  Ethan’s (370-287B.C)  a  well-known  botanist  who  wrote  a number of manuscripts including the famous Historia planetarium. Just about 500 plants, mostly cultivated, were marked out in this manuscript. However, the significant  pharmacological  collection  of  the  Greeks was  the  authoritative  text  of  Dioscoridies.  Later than him  Pliny the  elder  (23-79  AD)  wrote  “Natural History”  in  37  volumes.  Galen  compiled  some  30 books  on  pharmacology  beside  “Galanicals”  his medical formulae.

Chinese  medicine,  with  its  use  of pharmaceutical  preparation  Known  as  fangs,  also utilized a  variety  of  plants. The  written  document  of Chinese  traditional  medicine  can  be  marked  out  to Shen  Nong  Ben  Cao  Jin  (22-250  AD).  Later  Li Shizhens, a great physician and naturalist, wrote “Ben Cao  Gang  Mu”  published  in  1596  that  has  been regarded as complete pharmacopoeia having a total of 1894 entries.

Many western  personalities described herbal medicines including Discoridies and Galen in the first and second centuries to Culpeper in  the 17th  century. The  first  chemical  isolated  from  plant  was  benzoic acid,  discovered  in  1560.  Some  simple  compounds like  glycerol, oxalic  acid,  lactic  acid, citric acid  and tartaric  acid  were  extracted  from  various  organic sources, both plants and animals by a German chemist Karl Wilhelm Scheele (1742-1786).

 

Rig Vedas and Ayuvedas are the main source of Indian medicines. They are mainly based on the use of  drugs  of  plant  origin.  The  Ayurvedic  system  of medicine  is  mainly  credited  to  Charaka and Sushruta,  who  described  about  700  medicinal plants.

The Muslim rulers introduced their traditional system of medicine in India and included in the native Ayurvedic medicine.

In the last  five decades the development and introduction  of  immuno-stimulants,  antibiotics  and antitumer  agents  isolated  from  plants  have  led  a dramatic success in  control of many diseases. And  the  use  of  traditional  medicines  has expended  globally  and  has  gained  attractiveness. These  are  used  not  only  for  primary  health  care  of poor people in the  developing  countries, but are also used in the countries where conventional medicine is predominant in the National Health Care  System

More  than  50%  of  all  the  medicines  in clinical use have  a  natural product  origin.  Of  the worlds  25  best  selling  pharmaceutical  agent,  12  are natural products derived. More than 600 botanical items have  been  recognized in  various  edition  of  the United State Pharmacopoeia.

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