Modern Usage of Herbal Medicine
In the early 19th century, when chemical analysis first became available, scientists began to extract and modify the active ingredients from plants. Later, chemists began making their own version of plant compounds, and over time, the use of herbal medicines declined in favour of pharmaceutical drugs.
Today, Traditional use of medicines is recognized as a way to learn about potential future medicines. In 2001, researchers identified 122 compounds used in mainstream medicine which were derived from “ethnomedical” plant sources; 80% of these compounds were used in the same or related manner as the traditional ethnomedical use.
Indeed, many herbal remedies used traditionally have become modern medicines through drug development. Some notable examples are as follows:
Digoxin from Digitalis lanata – foxglove
Quinine from Cinchona spp. – Peruvian bark or cinchona tree
Morphine from Papaver somniferum – poppy
Colchicines from Colchicum autumnale – autumn crocus or meadow saffron
Pharmaceutical laboratories continue to screen plants from all over the world. Success stories continue such as reports for the use of Wild Yam for its steroid effects and periwinkle for leukaemia treatment. There have been major improvements in analysis and quality control of herbal medicines. Pharmaceutical drugs, however, reduce the plant’s compounds until they find the active ingredient. They then synthesise that active ingredient to make a drug. This reductionist approach causes imbalance. This is the complete opposite of how herbalists approach plants. Herbalists use the plants as they naturally are. By doing so, it keeps all the active ingredients together so that they work synergistical effectively. This means that the plants maintain their nature which is why they have much fewer side effects than pharmaceutical drugs.