medicinal plants

medicinal plants, plants used as natural medicines. This practice has existed since prehistoric times. There are three ways in which plants have been found useful in medicine. First, they may be used directly as teas or in other extracted forms for their natural chemical constituents. Second, they may be used as agents in the synthesis of drugs. Finally, the organic molecules found in plants may be used as models for synthetic drugs. Historically, the medicinal value of plants was tested by trial and error, as in the Doctrine of Signatures. Modern approaches to determining the medicinal properties of plants involve collaborative efforts that can include ethnobotanists, anthropologists, pharmaceutical chemists, and physicians. Many modern medicines had their origin in medicinal plants. Examples include aspirin from willow bark ( Salix spp. ), digitalis from foxglove ( Digitalis purpurea ), and vinblastine from Madagascar periwinkle ( Vinca rosea ) for the treatment of childhood leukemia. See also herbal medicine.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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