Importance of Herbal Medicine in Health Care

The following article is based on my own interpretation of the said events. Any material borrowed from published and unpublished sources has been appropriately referenced. I will bear the sole responsibility for anything that is found to have been copied or misappropriated or misrepresented in the following post.

Kousik Das, E-MBA 2015-18, Vinod Gupta School of Management, IIT Kharagpur


Plants are the reservoirs of a large number of important organic compounds and they have long been used traditionally as the sources of medicines to cure or prevent diseases. Nature has been a source of medicinal agents for thousands of years and an impressive number of modern drugs have been isolated from natural sources. Many of these isolations were based on the uses of the agents in traditional medicine. The plant-based, traditional medicine systems continue to play an essential role in health care, with about 80% of the world’s inhabitants relying mainly on traditional medicines for their primary health care. Herbal medicine is the use of plants, plant parts, their water or solvent extracts, essential oils, gums, resins, exudates or other form of advanced products made from plant parts used therapeutically to provide proactive support of various physiological systems; or, in a more conventional medical sense, to treat, cure, or prevent a disease in animals or humans.

About 70-80% of the world populations, particularly in the developing countries, rely on non-conventional medicine in their primary healthcare as reported by the WHO .In recent years, there has been growing interest in alternative therapies and the therapeutic use of natural products, especially those derived from plants. This interest in drugs of plant origin is due to several reasons, namely, conventional medicine can be inefficient (e.g. side effects and ineffective therapy), abusive and/or incorrect use of synthetic drugs results in side effects and other problems, a large percentage of the world’s population does not have access to conventional pharmacological treatment, and folk medicine and ecological awareness suggest that natural products are harmless. However, the use of these substances is not always authorized by legal authorities dealing with efficacy and safety procedures, and many published papers point to the lack of quality in the production, trade and prescription of phytomedicinal products. About 25% of the drugs prescribed worldwide come from plants, 121 such active compounds being in current use. Of the 252 drugs considered as basic and essential by the WHO, 11% are exclusively of plant origin and a significant number are synthetic drugs obtained from natural precursors. Examples of important drugs obtained from plants are digoxin from Digitalis sp., quinine and quinidine from Cinchona sp., vincristrine and vinblastine from Catharanthus roseus, atropine from Atropa belladonna and morphine and codeine from Papaver somniferum. India has had a rich, vibrant and diverse cultural history. An important component of this culture and tradition is that of health and healing. Thus there is a large health and healing related knowledge base present in all ethnic communities across the diverse ecosystems. However, over the last few centuries, this knowledge base has been diluted with increased influences from the mainstream culture, which is derisive of local health traditions. It is important to urgently put in place effective documentation and assessment programs to revitalize local health traditions otherwise this great people’s health culture will be irretrievably lost.  This country is perhaps the largest producer of medicinal herbs and is rightly called the botanical garden of the world. Charaka Samhita and Susruta Samhita refer to the use of more than 700 herbs.


  2. Summary of WHO guidelines for the assessment of herbal medicines. Herbal Gram 1993; Akerele O.

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