Plants: The Past, Present, and Future of Medicine

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Did you know that natural medicine was once, and still is, the default medical system on this planet?

In fact, the use of chemically-based patent medicines (pharmaceuticals) is a relatively recent development (circa 1870), and should really be called “alternative medicine” vis-a-vis time-tested, far safer approaches that rely on food, spices, and carefully prepared and administered plant extracts.  

A powerful new report released by the Kew Gardens in the United Kingdom reveals that there are currently 28,187 plant species recorded as being of medicinal use throughout the world. In addition, the report revealed that fewer than 16% (4,478) of the species used in plant-based medicines are cited in a medicinal regulatory publication.   

While the lesser developed countries are the primary users of plant medicines, they are used in great abundance throughout the world. Even in countries like Germany where conventional, drug-based medicine is the default approach, about 90% of their population also uses herbal medicines. In the United States, 17 billion dollars was spent on traditional herbal medicines in 2000 alone, and the number has grown steadily since then.

It should be noted that mixing plant-based medicines with pharmaceuticals can be dangerous, and as the report points out, many of these plants contain compounds that can be very harmful if taken incorrectly. There is also a problem with misnaming or multiple names for the same plant-based medicines::

“143 DATABASES AND PUBLICATIONS CITE 415,180 UNIQUE NAMES FOR PLANT-BASED MEDICINES– AN AVERAGE OF 15 ALTERNATIVE NAMES FOR EACH SPECIES.”

The report also pointed out that plants still provide the majority of lead compounds for drug development, and still a good percentage are derived directly from medicinal plants:

“Since 1981, 1,130 new therapeutic agents have been approved for use as pharmaceutical drugs, of which 593 are based on compounds from natural sources. Thirty-eight are derived from medicinal plants [40,41] . Fifteen of the 56 natural drugs registered for the treatment of cancer since 1980 are derived from medicinal plants with a long history of traditional use. For example drugs based on Paclitaxel have been isolated from the yew tree (Taxus spp.), Camptothecin from the happy tree, (Camptotheca acuminata) and Podophyllotoxin from the May apple (Podophyllum hexandrum and P. peltatum).”

In some sense, then, one can consider pharmaceutical medicine “plant-based,” with the difference that their patent-based model almost  invariably profoundly amplifies the toxic side effects to the patient.

The report also points out that presently, of the 5 drugs developmental specifically to treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, two are derived from plants:

"Galantamine, from Galanthus (snowdrops), Leucojum (snowflakes) and Narcissus (daffodils), was the first natural product drug to treat dementia symptoms. The second was Rivastigmine, which is chemically derived from physostigmine, an alkaloid from Physostigma venenosum (calabar bean)."

Another study mentioned in the report found that there are a staggering 656 flowering plant species used traditionally for diabetes, representing 437 genera and 111 families[49]. For instance, Metformin, probably the most well known drug for diabetes, was modeled after the anti-diabetic properties of Galega officinalis (goat’s rue).

Plant Medicine As the Future of Medicine

As many of our readers already know, GreenMedInfo was founded to create a central repository for research on the medicinal benefits of natural substances, including the thousands of plants presently used in culinary and herbal medicine applications.  Our Research dashboard contains over 30,000 abstracts accessible through 10,000 separate databases that one can search to obtain easy access to this research.  Like the Kew Gardens report, our mission is to help the public understand the profound value that plant medicine has in preventing and treating disease:

“One of the greatest if not the greatest triumph of biomedical science today is its role in validating ancient healing modalities that long before the advent of science, and even recorded history itself, were passed down "orally" from generation to generation in the vast body of folkloric medical knowledge that still forms the basis for the majority of the world's primary health care system.

These so-called "natural" or "alternative" modalities, which our species owes its present day survivorship to after eons of dependency on them, are increasingly gaining the attention of men and women in white lab coats intent on unlocking the mysteries of how they work, and in many cases, why they work better than patented, synthetic, chemical-based medications.” [Read full article]

Our goal at GreenMedInfo.com is to index 100,000 abstracts demonstrating the value of natural substances in the prevention and treatment of disease. We are an ad-free, user-supported platform. Please consider supporting our project through donation or becoming a member today.

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of GreenMedInfo or its staff.
Sayer Ji
Founder of GreenMedInfo.com

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