Medicinal plants

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By medicinal plants, we intend here plants which contain biologically active substances, usually beneficial to health. Such substances are mostly secondary metabolites.

It is uneasy to distinguish medicinal plants from food plants, because the latter also have some action on health. In many societies, such as Europe in the Middle-Age or China up to now, food constituents have been seen from the angle of their medicinal or dietetical properties.

It can be said that a food is consumed in big quantities for its nutrients, whereas a medicinal plant is used in small quantities through various preparations, internally or externally. We can also distinguish both categories by the regulations they have to follow or their distribution channels (food trade or pharmacy).

Stimulants and some tea plants are currently classified as food (and regulated as such).

The uses mentioned below list the various potential targets. A given plant is often used for many uses.

Diversified uses

  • healing uses;
  • preventive uses;
  • uses to keep in good health;
  • stimulants;
  • aphrodisiacs;
  • psychotropes and hallucinogens;
  • veterinary uses.

Connected uses

Toxic plants are usually included, because the constituents which are toxic at a high dose often have a medicinal interest at a low dose.

  • arrow poisons;
  • fish poisons (narcotics);
  • homicide poisons;
  • ordeal poisons;
  • pesticides and repulsives

This category aims to kill pests and diseases of crops or other objects (stored seeds, wood...): rodenticides, avicides, insecticides, molluscicides, neématicides, fungicides, bactericides, alguicides, virucides, herbicides).

Other plants of medicinal interest

Medicines usually contain substances which facilitate their use and action. Such substances are of interest for pharmacists, but belong to other use groups.

  • excipients;
  • adjuvants;
  • aromatic substances;
  • colorants.

Les modes d'utilisation

  • direct use
    • entire plant or a particular organ
    • extract of a plant or an organ, simple or in complex preparations
    • extraction and purification of a particular chemical substance
  • indirect use
    • extraction followed by hemisynthesis
    • biological model

In this last case, the plant allowed to identify the active substance, but this substance is then produced by chemical synthesis. The activity of many variants of the same chemical family can also be inventoried.

Main references

  • Dragendorff Georg, 1967. Die Heilpflanzen der verschiedenen Völker und Zeiten. Stuttgart. Reprint Werner Fritsch, München. 885 p.
  • Evans Schultes Richard, Hofmann Albert & Rätsch Christian, 2001. Plants of the Gods: their sacred, healing and hallucinogenic powers. Revised and expanded edition. Healing Arts Press, 208 p.
  • Evans Schultes Richard & Hofmann Albert, 1981. Les plantes des dieux : les plantes hallucinogènes, botanique, et ethnologie. Paris, Berger-Levrault, 192 p.
  • Fournier Paul Victor, 1947-48. Le livre des plantes médicinales et vénéneuses de France. Paris, Lechevalier. 3 vol., fig. t. 1 : Abricot à Coloquinte. 1947. LXXVIII-448 p; t. 2 : Consoude à Melon. 1948. 504 p; t. 3 : Menthe à Zacinthe. 1948. 636 p. (Encyclopédie biologique, 25, 31, 32).
  • Garnier Gabriel, Bézanger-Beauquesne Lucienne & Debraux Germaine, 1961. Ressources médicinales de la flore française. Paris, Vigot Frères. 1511 p., 37 planches.
  • Grenand Pierre, Moretti Christian, Jacquemin Henri & Prévost Marie-Françoise, 2004. Pharmacopées traditionnelles en Guyane. Créoles, Wayãpi, Palikur. 2e édition revue et complétée. Paris, IRD. 816 p. (1ère éd.: 1987)
  • Morton Julia, 1981. Atlas of Medicinal Plants of Middle America: Bahamas to Yucatan. Charles C Thomas. 1420 p.
  • Neuwinger, Hans Dieter, 1998. Afrikanische Arzneipflanzen und Jagdgifte. Chemie, Pharamkologie, Toxikologie. 2. völlig neu bearbeitete und erweiterte Auflage. Stuttgart, Wissenschaftliche Verlagsgesellschaft mbH. 960 p.
  • PROSEA 12 (1), 1999. Plant resources of South-East Asia. vol. 12 (1). Medicinal and poisonous plants. ed. by L.S. de Padua, N. Bunyapraphatsara & R.H.M.J. Lemmens. Leiden/Wageningen, Backhuys/PROSEA. (Bogor, PROSEA, 1999). 711 p.
  • PROSEA 12 (2), 2001. Plant resources of South-East Asia. vol. 12 (2). Medicinal and poisonous plants. ed. by J.L.C.H. van Valkenburg & N. Bunyapraphatsara. Leiden/Wageningen, Backhuys/PROSEA. 785 p.
  • PROSEA 12 (3), 2002. Plant resources of South-East Asia. vol. 12 (1). Medicinal and poisonous plants. ed. by R.H.M.J. Lemmens & N. Bunyapraphatsara. Leiden/Wageningen, Backhuys/PROSEA. p.
  • PROTA 11 (1), 2008. Ressources végétales de l'Afrique tropicale. vol. 11 (1). Plantes médicinales, tome 1. éd. par G.H. Schmelzer & A. Gurib-Fakim. Wageningen, Fondation PROTA - Backhuys - CTA. 869 p.
  • Riva Ernesto, 1995. L'universo delle piante medicinali. Trattato storico, botanico e farmacologico di 400 piante di tutto il mondo. Bassano del Grappa, Ghedina et Tassotti. 637 p.