Introduction

The world's population will be more than 7.5 billion in the next 10 to 15 years. This increase in population will occur mostly in the southern hemisphere, where 80%

Laboratory of Biomolecular Technology, Department of Botany, M.L. Sukhadia University, Udaipur-313001, India, e-mail: [email protected]

K.G. Ramawat (ed.), Herbal Drugs: Ethnomedicine to Modern Medicine, DOI 10.1007/978-3-540-79116-4.2, © Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2009

of the population still relies on a traditional system of medicine based on herbal drugs [1]. As civilizations grew from 3000 BCE onwards in Egypt, the Middle East, India and China, the uses of herbs became more sophisticated and written records were prepared. The specific plants to be used and the methods of application for particular ailments were passed down through oral history. Later on, information regarding medicinal plants was recorded in herbals [2]. Historically, herbal drugs were used as tinctures, poultices, powders and teas followed by formulations, and lastly as pure compounds. Medicinal plants or their extracts have been used by humans since time immemorial for different ailments and have provided valuable drugs such as analgesics (morphine), antitussives (codeine), antihypertensives (reserpine), cardiotonics (digoxin), antineoplastics (vinblastine and taxol) and antimalarials (quinine and artemisinin). Some of the plants which continue to be used from Mesopotamian civilization to this day are Cedrus spp., Cupressus sempervirens, Glycirrhiza glabra, Commiphora wightii and Papaver somniferum [1, 3, 4]. About two dozen new drugs derived from natural sources were approved by the FDA and introduced to the market during the period 2000-2005 and include drugs for cancer, neurological, cardiovascular, metabolic and immunological diseases, and genetic disorders [5]. Seven plant-derived drugs currently used clinically for various types of cancers are taxol from Taxus species, vinblastine and vincristine from Catharanthus roseus, topotecan and irinotecan from Camptotheca accuminata, and etoposide and teniposide from Podophyllum peltatum [6]. It is estimated that the worldwide market potential for herbal drugs is around US$40 billion [6]. A similar situation also exists for plant-based food additives, fragrances and biopesticides. Mostly, herbal drugs are collected from the wild, and relatively few species are cultivated. Overexploitation of plants, particularly when roots, tubers and bark are used for commercial purposes, has endangered 4,000 to 10,000 species of medicinal plants [7]. To counter overexploitation of natural resources and the consequent threats to biodiversity, alternative biotechnological methods and sustainable practices have been recommended. Several world organizations and governments have established guidelines for the collection and utilization of medicinal plants [8, 9].

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