The plants which are being used as or in place of conventional drugs or having properties like those drugs are called “Medicinal Plants”.
We don’t know when for the 1st time they were used to treat ailments in humans or animals. Some them were used as food and they had pain relieving effects. The earliest discovery was from the grave of Neanderthal who died almost 60000 years ago.
The grave was filled with kind of plant materials. When pollens were analyzed, they had properties of such plants. In ancient China, the Pun Tsao, a booklet who was containing thousands of herbal remedies. This was the work of king Shen Nung who lived over 4500 years ago.
There are also collections in Rig Vedas of Hindus, these books give us hints about the basis of health, its care which is called as Ayurvedic Medicine. One plant came from this setup is Rauwolfia serpentina, so we can say that in all parts of ancient world there were native people and they were known of local plants and herbs that how they can be used to treat the ailments, even in all continents of the world.
The Greek physician Hippocrates is known as the father of medicine, he used various herbal remedies while treating various health problems. As science progressed, there was enormous development in field of medicine. So, through this development the herbalism and scientific study of these plants were divided.
There are lots of herbs which have scientific basis. As the 19th century started the chemists started to extract the active compounds of medicinal plants. 1st synthetic drug was developed in the middle of 19th century. In last decades of 19th century and middle of 20th century the direct use of these herbals was much diminished.
So, the ingredients from plants were extracted and synthetically prepared. Still in this era lots of people in rural setups use herbs as remedies for both animals and plants. Basically, it’s really difficult for the herbal medicine practitioners to learns about plants their characteristics and their medicinal uses, even preparation of these remedies is really difficult.
Because it’s a diverse field and lots of complications are there. We have various categories like Unani medicine from Muslim origin and ayurvedic medicine from Hindu origin. People who still live in tribal areas, whom are still disconnected from this modern world, they have lot of knowledge about these herbs and their uses for treating ailments.
So, ethnobotanists spend their time with these tribes to learn about herbal plants. Especially the people in tropical forests. Now a days, there is serious threat to these wild species of extinction. The commercialization is leading to deforestation and the ultimate result will be extinction. The governments should pay attention to these serious issues.
- Digitalis purperea
Known as purple foxglove, an attractive plant due to purple bell-shaped flowers. People commonly plant this in their gardens as ornamental plant. Its leaves contain more than 30 cardiac glycosides like digitoxin which medically much significant. Its leaves are dried and the powdered later extracted. Its basic function is that, it slows the heart rate and increase the strength of heart beat.
- Willow Bark
In 19th century salicin was insolated for the first time and it took a decade to have a method for its refinement. Salicylates occur widely in species of Salix as well as other plants like meadowsweet (Spirea ulmaria). This was an inexpensive treatment for many conditions. Have some side effects especially of GIT.
Aspirin is a widely used synthetic drug, but its origin is botanical. Bark of willow trees is used for reducing fever and have function in relieving pain. As painkiller is tea form is consumed by the patient.
- Fever Bark Tree
This plant is native to the eastern slopes of Andes Mountains. Commonly known as quinaquina. These are small green trees belong to Rubiaceae, the coffee family. This tree has fever reducing power.
Jesuits used bark of tree to treat people whom were suffering from malaria. So, the miraculous recovery spread reputation of the bark. By the end of 17th century its powdered form was the standard treatment of malaria.
- Snakeroot (Rauwolfia serpentina)
Coiled roots of this plant resemble snake, that’s why known as snakeroot. Healers believed that the root can be used of treatment of snake bite and schizophrenia. The alkaloid reserpine was isolated from the roots of this plant. This alkaloid was a valuable tranquilizer. Now a days, its principal application is the treatment of hypertension.
- Burn Plant (Aloe Vera)
Burn plant is widely used from thousands of years for treatment of skin ailments. The leaves of this plant contain mucilaginous sap. When the sap is applied on burned skin it gives a soothing effect.
Various compounds like anthraquinone glycosides and chrysophanic acid are present which have a greater effect of healing of skin burns. Now a Days, cosmetic industry is using sap in creams for its moisturizing effect.
- Vinblastine and Vincristine
Treatments for leukemia and lymphoma, alkaloids from Madagascar periwrinkle (Catharanthus roseus), used for treatment of diabetes by traditional experts of medicine. Vincristine has been especially effective for treating acute childhood leukemia, often with 99% remission rates. Both alkaloids are used for treatment of other types of cancer.
This plant is a slow growing conifer. Taxol is obtained from bark of pacific yew (Taxus brevifolia). This plant has anti-tumor properties, this property of plant was discovered in late 20th century. This plant has shown miraculous results for treatment of ovarian and breast cancer.
The science is still on quest to find more about these plants, everyday we are discovering new properties of medicinal plants and, there are some species which we are still on way to find extraction techniques. This is time consuming work.
Need of time is to protect these species and deforestation should be banned. Because there are lots of plants which have gone extinct due to forest destruction. This is an interesting field and it only needs time interest of next generations.
Authors: Hammad Ur Rehman Bajwa1,*, Muhammad Kasib Khan1, Arsalan Zafar1, Muhammad Adnan Sabir Mughal1, Wasim Yousaf2, Tuheed ur Rehman3
- Department of Parasitology
- Department of Animal Breeding and Genetics
- Department of Animal Nutrition