Everything you need to know about medicinal plants

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Medicinal plants include various types of plants used in herbalism. The study or practice of the medicinal and therapeutic use of plants is called herbalism. It is a form of alternative medicine. 

“Herb” is derived from the Latin word “herba” and the French word “herbe”. Any part of the plant including fruit, seed, flower, leaf or stigma can be referred to as herb. Non-woody plants are also called herbs. The medicinal plants are used as food, medicine or perfume. They are used in spiritual activities as well. 

Long before the prehistoric period, plants have been used for medicinal purposes. The use of herbs has been mentioned in ancient Unani manuscripts, Egyptian papyrus and Chinese writings. For over 4,000 years, Unani Hakims, Indian Vaids and European and Mediterranean cultures were using herbs as medicine. Herbs were used in healing rituals in indegenous cultures such as Rome, Egypt, Iran, Africa and America. Traditional medicinal systems such as Unani, Ayurveda and Chinese medicine were developed by others using herbal therapies. 

Traditional systems of medicine are widely used. Plant materials are used as a source of medicine for a wide variety of human ailments. Population rise, inadequate supply of drugs, prohibitive cost of treatments and side effects of several synthetic drugs have contributed to their increasing usage. 

Since ancient times, India has had an abundance of medicinal plants. Forests in India have a large collection of medicinal and aromatic plants, which are largely used as raw materials in manufacturing drugs and perfumery products. In AYUSH systems in India, around 8,000 herbal remedies have been codified so far. Major systems of indigenous medicines include Ayurveda, Unani, Siddha and Folk (tribal) medicines. Ayurveda and Unani are the most widely practiced in India. 

80 percent of the people worldwide rely on herbal medicines for their primary health care needs, according to WHO (World Health Organization). There are around 21,000 plant species which can be used as medicinal plants. For satisfying their health care needs, over three-quarters of the world population relies on plants and plant extracts. Plant drugs constitute as much as 25 percent of the total drugs in developed countries such as the United States. Whereas in fast developing countries like India and China, plant drugs constitute 80 percent of the total drugs! So, medicinal plants are of great economic relevance to countries like India. They provide two thirds of the plants used in the modern system of medicine. Their rural populations rely largely on indigenous systems of medicine. 

Treatment with medicinal plants is safe with minimal side effects. The biggest advantage is that the remedies are in sync with nature. The use of herbal treatments is independent of any age groups and the sexes. 

Ancient scholars firmly believed that herbs are the only solution to cure health related issues. Common ailments can be cured using medicinal plants such as Aloe, Tulsi, Neem, Turmeric and Ginger. They are widely used as home remedies in several parts of the country. For example Tulsi is used for making medicines, black tea, in pooja and other daily activities. Off late, medicinal plants are being grown in home gardens. 

Whether it be pharmacopoeial, non- pharmacopoeial or synthetic drugs, medicinal plants are major ingredients in drug development. Plants have played a crucial role in the development of human cultures worldwide. Ginger, green tea, walnuts and turmeric have high therapeutic values. Some plants and their derivatives are active ingredients in toothpaste and aspirin. 

Herbs are also used in natural dye, pest control and tea apart from the medicinal uses. Medicinal plants/herbs are used in fleeing away ants, flies, and mice from homes and offices. 

Traditional medicine practices are effective in the treatment of ailments such as diarrhea, constipation, hypertension and bronchial asthma. Last two decades have witnessed a massive increase in the use of herbal medicine.WHO has so far published three volumes of WHO monographs on selected medicinal plants.

Importance of herbs with their medicinal values

  • Black pepper, cinnamon, aloe, sandalwood and red clover are used for healing wounds, sores and boils.
  • Basil, Fennel, Chives, Cilantro, Apple Mint, Thyme and Golden Oregano are medicinal herbs which can be planted in the kitchen garden. They are easy to grow, look good, taste and smell amazing. They attract bees and butterflies. 
  • Several herbs are used as blood purifiers, they help in eliminating metabolic toxins. They are also called ‘blood cleansers’. They help in improving our body immunity.
  • Some herbs also have antibiotic properties. For example, turmeric is used in checking the growth of germs, harmful microbes and bacteria. It is widely used as a home remedy in healing cuts and wounds.
  • Herbs serve as antacids. They are used to neutralize the acid produced by the stomach. Herbs such as marshmallow root and leaf help in retaining gastric acid which is needed for digestion.
  • It is said that Indian sages developed remedies from plants which acted against poisons from animals and snake bites. 


Medicinal plants have to be promoted for saving human lives. Our lifestyle is getting techno-savvy, but it is important to stay close to nature. Herbs do not have side effects. They are safe, eco-friendly and locally available. 

Herbal products are highly regarded for their medicinal, flavoring and aromatic qualities. People use them with the hope of safety and security. It is essential to promote them globally. 

Check your knowledge

  Answer) The study or practice of the medicinal and therapeutic use of plants is called herbalism.

 Answer) World Health Organization  

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