Medicinal Plants: Their Role in Health and Biodiversity

Medicinal Plants: Their Role in Health and Biodiversity

Medicinal Plants: Their Role in Health and Biodiversity

Medicinal Plants: Their Role in Health and Biodiversity


From the beginning of human civilization, people have depended on plants to cure disease, promote healing of injuries, and alleviate pain. In many places that has changed very little. In the West, however, herbal and botanical cures have long been ignored in favor of "scientific medicine." But the benefits of medicinal plants are being rediscovered in many developed countries, where consumers are turning to such therapies in place of, and in addition to, Western medical treatments. And, all over the world, the drive to lower the cost of health care has made herbals and botanicals an attractive alternative to more expensive synthetic remedies. In 1978, the World Health Organization responded to increased interest in medicinal plants by convening a series of international consultations, seminars, and symposia to explore and promote the use of medicinal plants. "Medicinal Plants" presents the proceedings of the last of these symposia, held in 1993. It brings together an vast range of information and presents an overview of the use of medicinal plants that includes a discussion of a variety of issues--scientific, economic, regulatory, agricultural, cultural--focused on the importance of medicinal plants to primary health care and global health care reform.


All cultures, from ancient times to the present, have used plants as a source of medicine. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), most of the world’s population depend upon plants as an important element in primary health care systems. Nevertheless, a large number of plants have not yet been studied for their medicinal properties, and researchers around the world are turning increasingly to plants in the search for new medicines. In developing countries, governments are looking to plants as a way to extend health care benefits within a viable economic framework; in developed countries, consumers are seeking viable alternatives to modern medicine.

Despite a rich history and powerful economic possibilities, medicinal plants’ potential to contribute to the health of the world’s people has not been fully tapped. For the last two decades, through the resolutions of its governing bodies and implemented by the WHO Traditional Medicine Program, WHO has promoted the use of traditional medicine in general, and the use of medicinal plants in particular, for primary health care. The program has promoted the use of medicinal plants through a series of international consultations, seminars, and symposia.

The symposium on the utilization of medicinal plants held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in April 1993 was part of a WHO international program strategy and had several specific objectives shared by the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania:

to increase awareness throughout the world of the use of plants as medi

to promote the propagation and cultivation of medicinal plants;

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