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  • Print publication year: 1991
  • Online publication date: September 2010

3 - Global Importance of Medicinal Plants



Ancient Man is known to have utilized plants as drugs for millennia. Based on current knowledge, at least in the West, we know that extracts of some of these plants are useful in a crude form, i.e. Atropa belladonna Tincture as an antispasmodic, Rauvolfia serpentina roots for hypertension and as a tranquilizer, Papaver somniferum extract or tincture as an analgesic, etc. Further, we know that at least 121 chemical substances of known structure are still extracted from plants that are useful as drugs throughout the world (Anon, 1982a). A large number of plants are used in traditional medical practices, and have been for more than 3000 years, such as in Chinese Traditional Medicine, Ayurvedic Medicine, Unani Medicine, etc., most of which probably exert therapeutic effects and would be proven as such if they were properly evaluated by Western standards. Still further, plants have been employed for centuries by primitive cultures; most of these are less likely to pass the test of modern experimental verification of efficacy. Finally, there are a large number of so-called herbal remedies, mainly sold in health food stores in developed countries, many of which remain to be verified for their real therapeutic effects.

Several years ago the World Health Organization made an attempt to identify all medicinal plants that exist in the world. It was admitted that the compilation of names of medicinal plants undoubtedly contained many replicates since botanical verification was not attempted. Further, the list only provided Latin binomials and the countries where the plants were used, but excluded data indicating what the plants were used for. More than 20,000 species were included on this list.

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