“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.
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.
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.