The Global Importance of Plants as Sources of Medicines and the Future Potential of Chinese Plants

  • James S. Miller


It has been estimated that more than 25% of prescription pharmaceuticals contain plant-derived ingredients yet only a small percentage of the plants in the world have been evaluated for potential pharmaceutical use. Increased efforts to survey plants as sources of new drugs in recent years have stepped up the pace of the discovery of new bioactive compounds from plants, and many programs will continue to contribute to this in the near future. With an estimated 30,000 species of plants, many with a long history of use as traditional medicines, China has played an important role in the development of presently used pharmaceuticals. Chinese plants also have promise to contribute useful medicines in the future. Several factors are contributing to the current interest in Chinese plants, particularly those used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Recently programs have been initiated for clinical trials of herbal products from Chinese species. In addition, advances in pharmaceutical screening and evaluation of plants against a broader range of targets is increasing the potential for the discovery of new pharmaceutical and nutritional products from Chinese medicinal plants. Plants have always played an important role as a source of medicines both in a western sense and in a traditional sense. This review will cover the historical importance of plants in human health care and will examine three areas in which Chinese plants may be of particular importance in the future. New trends in natural products research have great importance for the potential use of Chinese plants for both the discovery of novel bioactive compounds and also the scientific validation of traditional Chinese medicine.


Traditional Chinese Medicine Herbal Product Natural Product Research Chinese Medicinal Plant Chinese Plant 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Bernart, M. W., Y. Kashman, M. Tischler, J. H. Cardellina II, and M. R. Boyd. 1993. Bershacolone, an unprecedented diterpene cyclobutene from Maprounea Africana. Tetrahedron Letters 34: 4461–4464.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bokesch, H. R., T. C. McKee, M. J. Currens, R. J. Gulakowski, J. B. McMahon, J. H. Cardellina II, and M. R. Boyd. 1996. HIV-inhibitory gallotannins from Lepidobotrys staudtii Natural Product Letters 8: 133–136.Google Scholar
  3. Boyd, M. R., Y. F. Hallock, J. H. Cardellina II, K. P. Manfredi, J. W. Blunt, J. B. McMahon, R. W. Buckheit, Jr., G. Bringmann, M. Schäffer, G. M. Cragg, D. W. Thomas, and J. G. Jato. 1994. Anti-HIV michellamines from Ancistrocladus korupensis. J. Med. Chem. 37: 1740–1745.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Cragg, G. M., M. R. Boyd, J. H. Cardellina II, M. R. Grever, S. A. Schepartz, K. M. Snader, and M. Suffhess. 1993. Role of plants in the National Cancer Insitute drug discovery and development program. Pp. 80–95. In: A. D. Kinghorn and M. F. Balandrin (eds.) Human Medicinal Agents from Plants. American Chemical Society, Washington, D.C.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Farnsworth, N. R. 1977. Problems and prospects of discovering new drugs from higher plants by pharmacological screening. Pp. 1–22. In: H. Wagner and P. Wolf (eds.) New natural products with pharmacological, biological, or therapeutic activity. Springer-Verlag, New York.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Farnsworth, N. R., O. Akerele, A. Bingel, D.D. Soejarto, and Z. Guo. 1985. Medicinal plants in therapy. Bulletin of the World Health Organization 63: 965–981.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Grifo, F, D. Newman, A. S. Fairfield, B. Bhattacharya, and J. T. Grupenhoff. 1997. The origins of prescription drugs. Pp. 131–163. In: F. Grifo and J. Rosenthal (eds.) Biodiversity and Human Health. Island Press, Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
  8. Hallock, Y. F., K. P. Manfredi, J. W. Blunt, J. H. Cardellina II, M. Schäffer, G. Bringmann, A. Y. Lee, J. Clardy, G. Francois, and M. R. Boyd. 1991. Korupensamines A-D, novel antimalarial alkaloids from Ancistrocladus korupensis. J. Org. Chem. 59: 6349–6355.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Kingston, D. G. I., M Abdel-Kader, B.-N. Zhou, S.-W. Yang, J. M. Berger, H. van der Werff, R. Evans, R. Mittermeier, S. Malone, L. Famalare, M. Guerin-McManus, J. H. Wisse, and J. S. Miller. 1999a. Biodiversity conservation, economic development, and drug discovery in Suriname. Pp. 39–59. In: S. J. and H. G. Cutler (eds.) Biologically Active Natural Products: Pharmaceuticals. CRC Press, Boca Raton.Google Scholar
  10. Kingston, D. G. I, M. Abdel-Kader, B.-N. Zhoud, S.-W. Yang, J. M. Berger, H. van der Werff, J. S. Miller, R. Evans, R. Mittermeier, L. Famolare, M. Guerin-McManus, S. Malone, R. Nelson, E. Moniz, J. H. Wisse, D. M. Vyas, J. J. K. Wright, and S. Aboikonie. 1999b. The Suriname International Cooperative Biodiversity Group Program: lessons from the first five years. Pharmaceutical Biology 37 (Suppl.): 22–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Mays, T. D., K. Duffy-Mazan, G. Cragg, and M. Boyd. 1997. A paradigm for the equitable sharing of benefits resulting from biodiversity research and development. Pp. 267–280. In: F. Grifo and J. Rosenthal (eds.) Biodiversity and Human Health. Island Press, Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
  12. Miller, J. S. and S. J. Brewer. 1992. The discovery of medicines and forest conservation. Pp. 119–134. In: R. P. and J. E. Adams (eds.) Conservation of Plant Genes Through DNA Banking and in vitro Biotechnology. Academic Press, San Diego.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Psenak, M. 1998. Biosynthesis of morphinane alkaloids. Pp. 159–188. In: J. Bernath (ed.) Poppy, the Genus Papaver. Harwood Academic Publishers, Amsterdam.Google Scholar
  14. Rosenthal, J. 1997. Integrating drug discovery, biodiversity conservation, and economic development: early lessons from the International Cooperative Biodiversity Groups. Pp. 281–301. In: F. Grifo and J. Rosenthal (eds.) Biodiversity and Human Health. Island Press, Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
  15. Rosenthal, J., D. Beck, A. Bhat, J. Biswas, L. Brady, K. Bridbord, S. Collins, G. Cragg, J. Edwards, A. Fairfield, M. Gottlieb, L.A. Gschwind, Y. Hallock, R. Hawks, R. Hegyeli, G. Johnson, G. Keusch, E. E. Lyons, R. Miller, J. Rodman, J. Roskoski, and D. Siegel-Causey. 1999. Combining high-risk science with ambitious social and economic goals. Pharmaceutical Biology 37(Suppl.):6–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • James S. Miller
    • 1
  1. 1.Missouri Botanical GardenSt. LouisUSA

Personalised recommendations