J Altern Complement Med. 1995 Summer; 1(2): 131-43.
The role of plants in traditional medicine and current therapy.
Department of Pharmacy, King's College London, United Kingdom.
Recent years have witnessed a renewed interest in plants as pharmaceuticals in the Western world. This interest is channeled into the discovery of new biologically-active molecules by the pharmaceutical industry and into the adoption of crude extracts of plants for self-medication by the general public. In both of these areas some attention is being paid to the investigation and use of ethnopharmacology, the traditional use of plants for medicinal purposes by particular cultural groups. Ethnopharmacologic leads have resulted in the introduction of new single molecule drugs but have a greater role to play if crude extracts are accepted for clinical use in the West. The problems confronting such usage are discussed. Considerable benefits for developing countries are possible when the local medicinal plants are subjected to scientific methods of validation of traditional use and quality control. This approach has met with success in some parts of the world but is not always appreciated by national governments and international agencies. Related areas of concern such as conservation of ecology and culture must be integrated with any such program. Plants used in traditional medicine therefore have an important role to play in the maintenance of health in all parts of the world and in the introduction of new treatments.