History and Current Status of Herbal Medicines



Herbal medicine, or “phyto-medicine,” refers to the practice of using plant material for medicinal purposes. Herbal medicine has a long tradition of use outside of conventional medicine, its earliest evidence of human use being recorded during excavations of Neanderthal sites, such as the Shanidar caves in northern Iraq. Many herbal medicines have evolved through traditional use within a specific cultural context. For some cultures, the traditional use is documented in written texts, and for others the traditional knowledge and its use have been passed down orally from one generation to the next. Several herbal drugs have yielded important modern therapeutic agents e.g., aspirin (Salix spp L.), taxol (Taxus baccata L.), and the Vinca alkaloids (Catharanthus roseus (L.) G.Don). Herbal medicines also play a significant and increasingly important role in global healthcare, where they are finding new and expanding markets as health foods and preventative medicines. The sources of the supply of medicinal plants are wild harvested and cultivated materials, and there are increasing demands for a sustainable supply of quality material. The worldwide annual market for herbal products approaches US $60 billion. The global “functional food” and dietary supplement markets are growing at a significant pace and have requirements for increasing quantities of high quality herbal materials.


Apothecaries Chinese herbal medicine Classification Cultivation Herbal medicine Middle Ages Neanderthal Neolithic Nutraceuticals Pharmaceuticals Phytochemistry Pre-Christian Species identification Traditional Chinese medicine Traditional herbal medicine Wild-harvesting 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Münster, Institute of Pharmaceutical Biology and PhytochemistryMünsterGermany
  2. 2.Trinity College Dublin, School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical SciencesDublin 2Ireland

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