Origin, Definition, Scope and Area, Subject Matter, Importance, and History of Development of Pharmacognosy

  • A. N. M. Alamgir
Part of the Progress in Drug Research book series (PDR, volume 73)


The term ‘pharmacognosy’ was derived by the merger of two Greek words (e.g., pharmakon—drug and gnosis—knowledge of) to mean the knowledge of drugs. It was introduced and used for the first time by J.A. Schmidt (1811) and C.A. Seydler (1815), respectively, to define the branch of medicine or commodity which deals with crude drugs. Studies on physical, chemical, biochemical, and biological properties of drugs, drug substances, or potential drugs or drug substances of natural origin as well as the search for new drugs from natural sources are now included in pharmacognosy. Pharmacognosy was developed as a descriptive botanical subject in early days (nineteenth and during the last half of the twentieth century), and currently, plant-based drugs are researched and formulated in modern framework of medicine rather than galenical preparations. Pharmacognosy has been playing a significant role in the discovery, characterization, production, and standardization of natural drugs. Therefore, the scope of pharmacognosy is broad and includes the scientific study of crude drugs, medicinal products (e.g., enzymes, vitamins, antibiotics, pesticides, allergens, and allergenic extracts), and excipients (e.g., coloring, flavuring, emulsifying and suspending agents, diluents, bulking or filler agents, disintegrants, anesthetic aids, sweeteners, binders, adhesives, solidifiers and also the research problems in the areas of phytochemistry, microbial chemistry, biosynthesis, biotransformation, chemotaxonomy, and other biological and chemical sciences. Studies on poisonous, hallucinogenic, and teratogenic plants; raw materials for the production of oral contraceptives, aphrodisiacs, etc., as well as spices, beverages, and condiments are included in the subject matters of pharmacognosy. The history of development of pharmacognosy is as old as that of human history as evidenced by the Neanderthals use of healing herbs such as yarrow, marshmallow before >60,000 years. The innovation of medicinal properties of plants at the beginning was accomplished through guesswork, observation, trial and error, accidental discovery, curiosity, and search for food and in many other ways. The ancient people acquired a considerable volume of knowledge about drugs by a combination of all these means and subsequently a group of people (medicine men) emerged in the society who acquired expertise in collecting, testing, and using medicinal plants for treating diseases. The ancient Egyptian, Babylonian or Assyrian, Indian, Chinese, Greek, and Roman were the forerunner of herbal medicine and contributed enormously to the development of pharmacognosy. The knowledge developed on herbal medicine was once transferred to successors verbally by the use of signs and symbols, and the earliest written form was the Egyptian papyri. This was followed gradually by backed clay tablets, parchments, manuscript herbals, printed herbals, pharmacopoeias and recently by computerized information database systems.


Scope of pharmacognosy Medicinal products Excipients History of pharmacognosy 


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© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BotanyChittagong UniversityChittagongBangladesh

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