Planet Medicine

Over thousands of years, traditional ways of using plants have developed globally. Even after the emergence of modern medicine, plants remain the most important source of medicinal help. In fact, plants have been mankind’s original medicines. Phyto-therapy, or plant medicine, is a way of treating illness using specific doses of special plants.

However, not many realise that even today, several plants are used to treat ailments, with compounds derived from them being used in modern medicine. Plants are screened regularly for their medicinal values by pharmaceutical companies and government programmes. As many as 50 per cent of prescription drugs sold today as modern medicines are based on molecules or active principles which are found naturally in plants.

According to some estimates, half of these drugs are derived directly from plants or synthesized to replicate plant molecules.

Clearly, this is a testament to indigenous plants providing invaluable healing and medicinal properties. The study of plants is fast becoming a valuable field of medical science as new ways of using plants therapeutically are being discovered and validated by research.

For example, in mid 1960s, the anti-cancer property of a bark extract from a tree called the ‘Pacific Yew’ was detected by chance. An active substance called Taxol was later isolated. Subsequently, French scientists isolated a compound that was chemically similar and in fact, more effective than Taxol.

It is currently being used to treat breast and ovarian cancer. Another case in point is anti-malarial drug research. The traditional treatment of malaria has been Quinine, from the bark of the Cinchona tree.

Several plant preparations are being researched for lowering blood sugar levels, anti-cancer medicine and for HIV treatment.

The wealth in plants is clearly immense and plays an important role in the pharmaceutical industry. The substances and the active principles are complex, with diverse chemical structures, and they are the basis of many modern medicines.