Plants in Modern Medicine

Foxglove
Foxglove

Many years ago, herbs were the only source of medicine. Today modern Medicine has a myriad of chemicals to be prescribed by your medical doctor. But did you know that at least 120 of these medicines that they have available to prescribe are plant based. In other words Herbology!

If you should go to your doctor and ask for herbal remedies instead of the chemical pharmacy company products, and he says NO…..remind him/her of these contributors from the plant kingdom. Many more of the prescriptions written are for medicines that are simple synthetic modifications or copies of the naturally obtained substances. For example, many years ago a plant chemical was discovered in a tropical plant, Cephaelis ipecacuanha, and the chemical was named emetine. A drug was developed from this plant chemical called Ipecac which was used for many years to induce vomiting mostly if someone accidentally swallowed a poisonous or harmful substance. Ipecac can still be found in pharmacies in many third world countries but has been mostly replaced by other drugs in the United States.

Many European countries, including Germany, regulate herbal products as drugs and pharmaceutical companies prepare plant based drugs simply by extracting out the active chemicals from the plants. A good example is the plant substance/drug, cynarin. Cynarin is a plant chemical found in the common artichoke (Cynara scolymus). In Germany, a cynarin drug is sold for liver problems and hypertension which is simply this one chemical extracted from the artichoke plant or a plant extract which has been standardized to contain a specific milligram amount of this one chemical. These products are manufactured by pharmaceutical companies, sold in pharmacies in Germany and a doctor’s prescription is required to purchase them. In the United States artichoke extracts are available as natural products and sold in health food stores.

Some examples of plant derived medicines follow:

Digoxin – Digitalis purpurea

Atropine – Atropa belladonna

Caffeine – Camellia sinensis

Camphor – Cinnamomum camphora

Cocaine – Erythroxylum coca

Codeine – Papaver somniferum

Emetine – Cephaelis ipecacuanha

Ephedrine – Ephedra sinica

Morphine – Papaver

Papavarine – Papaver somniferum

Pilocarpine – Pilocarpis jaborandi

Pseudoephredrine – Ephedra sinica

Quinine –  Cinchona ledgeriana

Salicin – Salix alba

Scopolamine – Datura species

Strychnine – Strychnos nux-vomica

Many of our newest drugs are coming from plants of the Rainforest. And yet the rainforests are being burned, slashed and destroyed daily. The future cure for AIDS or cancer may already be extinct due to these practices!

Thus far seven plant-derived anticancer drugs have received Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for commercial production. Some of them are listed below:

Taxol from the Pacific Yew

Vinblastine from the Madagascar Periwinkle

Topotecan from the Chinese tree Campototheca acuminate

Teniposide from the Mayapple plant family

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