Medical botany is an area of plant biology which deals explicitly with the application of plant species for medicinal purposes. Plant species are commonly incorporated into herbal medicines and pharmaceutical products used for relieving acute and chronic medical concerns.
The use of plant species as drugs is one of the most important applications of plants. For thousands of years the benefits of using plants for curing illnesses have been observed and documented and through time, the sophistication of these remedies has improved. In primitive societies, the use of drugs in which the main ingredients were extracted from plants, was incorporated with the practice of religion, which demonstrates how medical botany is an ancient science.
However, earlier civilizations did not have the knowledge available now in terms of the full effects that certain chemical substances from plants can have on the human body. Therefore, substancs which were used centuries ago for certain purposes, have a completely different function today. For example, centuries ago in the Amazon, Natives used curare, an arrow poison in which the main ingredient is from a plant of the Strychnos genus, to kill their enemies since this poison causes muscle paralysis. Today, curare is no longer used as an arrow poison, but rather derivatives of this drug are utilized in surgeries as muscle relaxants.
A multitude of other drugs are derived from plants such as:
- Digoxin which is found in digitalis plants and is used to treat heart failure.
- Quinine is found naturally in the bark of cinchona trees and is used to treat some cases of severe malaria and arthritis.
- Reserpine an extract from Rauwolfia plants used to be a drug for treating mental illness such as anxiety. Now it is used in some cases for high blood pressure.
Medical botany illustrates how complex plant species truly are and how the early discoveries based from plant species has allowed for the medical and pharmaceutical knowledge which is available today. Evidently, plants are a majorly significant resource which is vital for the health and functioning of human civilization.