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Medicinal Plants



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Kinds of Drugs

Drug Plants    Drug Classification    Drugs from Roots    Aconite    Chichona   Colchicum    Gentian Goldenseal    Ginseng    Ipecac    Jalap    Licorice    Podophyllum    Rhubarb    Squills    Senega    Valerian

Drugs from Bark    Cascara    Curare    Quinine    Slippery Elm    Drugs from Stems & Wood    Ephedrine

Guiacum    Quassia    Drugs from Leaves    Aloe    Belladonna    Cocaine    Buchu    Digitalis    Eucalyptus    Hamamelis    Henbane    Hoarhound    Lobelia    Pennyroyal    Senna    Stramonium    Wormwood

Drugs from Flowers    Chamomile    Hops    Santonin    Drugs from Fruits & Seeds    Chaulmoogra Oil    Colocynth    Cubebs    Croton Oil    Nux Vomica    Opium    Psyllium    Strophanthus    Wormseed

Drugs from Lower Plants    Antibiotics    Penicillin    Streptomycin    Aureomycin    Chloromycetin    Terramycin    Neomycin    Misc. Antibiotics    Agar    Ergot    Kelp    Lycopodium    Male Fern

Insecticides & Rodenticides    Pyrethrum    Rotenone    Lonchocarpus    Red Squill



             Pictures of Medicinal Plants            Sindu Translation      Urdu Translation




          Plants have been used from ancient times to attempt cures for diseases and to relive physical suffering.  Ancient peoples all had acquired some knowledge of medicinal plants.  Oftentimes these primitive attempts at medicine were based on superstition and speculation.  Evil spirits in the body were thought to be the cause of medical problems.  They could be driven out of the body through the use of poisonous or disagreeable plant substances that rendered the body a disagreeable habitat.  Medicine men or women of a tribe were usually charged with knowledge of such plants.  The progress of medicine has often been guided by the earlier observations and beliefs.


          Drug plants were always of especial interest.  As early as 5,000 B.C. many drugs were in use in China.  Sanskrit writings testify to methods of gathering and preparing drugs in these early times.  The Babylonians, ancient Hebrews and Assyrians were all familiar with medicinal plants.  From Egypt there are records dating to 1,600 B.C. naming many of the medicinal plants used by physicians of that period, among which myrr, opium, cannabis, aloes, cassia and hemlock are prominent.  The Greeks were familiar with many of the drugs of today, evidenced by the works of Hippocrates, Theophrastus, Aristotle and Pythagoras.  The supernatural element continued to remain prominent in their culture, however.  Only a few individuals were thought able because of some special power to distinguish harmful from valuable plants.  This “rhizotomoi” or root diggers were an important caste in ancient Greece.  In Rome there was less interest in plants that had healing powers.  But by 77 BC Dioscorides wrote in his treatise, “De Materia Medica,” dealing with the nature and properties of all the medicinal substances known at that time.  This work was highly esteemed for 15 centuries and to this day is valued in parts of Turkey and North Africa.  Pliny and Galen also described the nature of some drug plants (Hill 1952).


          Following the Dark Ages there began a period of the encyclopedists and herbalists.  The monasteries of Northern Europe produced large compendiums of information regarding plants, much of which was false.  They stressed the medicinal value and folklore of plants.  About the same time there appeared a “Doctrine of Signatures.”  This superstitious doctrine suggested that all plants possessed some sign, given by the Creator, which indicated the use for which they were intended.  A plant with heart-shaped leaves was good for heart ailments; the liverleaf with its 3-lobed leaves was good for liver problems, etc.  Many of the common names of plants owe their origin to this superstition.  Names such as heartease, dogtooth violet, Solomon’s seal and liverwort are examples.


       Pharmacology and pharmacognosy owe their beginnings to the earlier beliefs and knowledge about medicinal plants.  The interest in medicinal plants was especially pronounced among the early botanists who were often physicians.


Drug Plants


          That branch of medical science dealing with the drug plants themselves is known as Pharmacognosy.  It is concerned with the history, commerce, collection, selection, identification and preservation of crude drugs and raw materials.  The action of drugs is Pharmacology.  Worldwide there are several thousand plants that have been and are still being used for medical purposes.  Many of these are restricted in use by native people who have long resided in any given area.


          The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 in the United States has standardized most of the truly valuable drug plants.  Such drugs are referred to as “official.”  Details about these plants may be found at the United States Pharmacopoeia, the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia and the National Formulary, and various other sources in the United States and Europe.


          Very few drug plants are cultivated.  Most of the drug supply is from wild plants growing in different parts of the world, especially in tropical areas.  These drug plants are collected and prepared in a crude way for shipment.  They eventually reach the centers of the drug trade and are processed.  Sometimes a country has built up a monopoly of some particular drug.  For example, Japan used to control the export of camphor, agar and pyrethrum, while the Dutch in Java supplied almost all the Quinine (Chichona) for world trade.  From 1920-1930 the importation of crude drugs increased 140 percent.  Most of the processing of the crude material was carried out in the United States.  Additionally, several drugs are produced in the United States either from wild or cultivated sources.  These include ginseng, goldenseal, digitalis, cascara, wormseed and hemp.  When there are shortages additional plants grown are henbane, belladonna and stramonium.


          A plant’s medicinal value is due to the presence in its tissues of some chemical substance or substances that produce a physiological action on the body.  Most important are the alkaloids, compounds of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen.  Glucosides, essential oils, fatty oils, resins, mucilages, tannins and gums are all utilized.  Some of these are powerful poisons so that the preparation and administering of them should be entirely supervised by physicians. 


Drug Classification


          Many methods have been proposed to classify drugs and drug plants.  Classifications can be based on the chemical nature or the therapeutic value of the plant product, the natural affinities of the various species or the morphology of the plant organ from which the drug is obtained.  Hill (1952) proposed a morphological basis of classification.  Generally it is found that the active principles are present in the storage organs of the plants, especially in roots and seeds, and less in leaves, bark, wood or other plant parts.  The amount of the chemical substances present in any specific organ is so small that it is difficult to give any biological significance to it.  There may be some slight protective function, but most likely the action that is valuable to humans in the treatment of disease are merely waste products of plant metabolism.



Drugs from Plant Roots




          This is obtained from the tuberous roots of the monkshood, Aconitum napellus.  Although poisonous, its use in medicine is comparatively recent.  The plant is a native of the Pyrenees, Alps and other mountainous regions of Asia and Europe.  It is cultivated in temperate regions both as an ornamental and as a drug plant.  Most of the commercial supply is from Europe.  At first the leaves and flowering shoots were utilized, but later only the roots were used.  These are collected in the autumn and dried.  Aconitine is the most important of the several alkaloids that are present.  It is used externally for neuralgia and arthritis, and internally to relieve fever and pain.




          Dried corms of the meadow saffron, Colchicum autumnale, are the source of colchicum.  It is a perennial tulip like herb of Europe and Northern Africa.  It possesses an alkaloid, colchicine, which is used in the treatment of arthritis and gout.  Fresh roots seeds are also used to some extent.  Colchicine has the ability to double the chromosomes in genetics studies.


       Gentian (Bitterroot)


          Gentiana lutea is a tall perennial herb with striking orange-yellow flowers.  Gentian is common in the mountains of Central Europe.  The rhizomes and roots are dug out in the fall, sliced and dried.  They contain several glucosides that are valuable as a tonic for they can be used with iron salts.




          Goldenseal, Hydrastis canadensis, was formerly common in the woods of Eastern North America.  The Amerindians and European settlers used it as a remedy.  The plant has been cultivated in the Pacific Northwest and North Caroline for it was almost exterminated as a wild plant.  The roots and rhizomes contain several alkaloids that may be used as a tonic and for the treatment of catarrh and other inflamed mucous membranes.




          Ginseng has been used in China since ancient times, where it is used to cure an array of diseases.  True ginseng, Panax schinseng, is a plant of Eastern Asia and this was once the only source of the drug.  However, the demand became so great that large quantities of American ginseng, Panax quinquefolium, have been grown in recent years, and by 2003 Wisconsin led the production.  In America ginseng is used as a stimulant and stomachic.




          These are small shrubby plants in humid forests of the Neotropics.  Several species are the source of this well-known drug, but the main source consists of the dried rhizome and roots of Cephaelis ipecacuanha.  The main ingredient is Emetin, a white, bitter, colorless alkaloid.  Ipecac is used as a diaphoretic emetic and expectorant.  It is valuable in the treatment of amoebic dysentery and pyorrhea.




          This is a resinous drug obtained from the tubers of Exogonium purya, a twining, morning glory-like vine of the woodlands of eastern Mexico.  The plant has been cultivated in Mexico, Jamaica and India.  The roots are collected and dried over fires.  Jalap is used as a purgative.




          This is a product that is known from ancient times.  The plant, Glycyrrhiza glabra, is a perennial herb that grows wild in Southern Europe and Western and Central Asia.  It is also cultivated in many parts of the same area.  The largest producer of cultivated licorice root has been Spain.  The roots are dried in sheds for several months and are shipped in cylindrical pieces.  Licorice is used in medicine as a demulcent and expectorant and to disguise the flavor of medicinal preparations.  However, most of the supply is used as a flavoring material in the tobacco and candy industries and in the manufacture of shore polish.  There are also many other industrial uses for licorice.  It has a compound, glycyrrhizin, that is 50-times sweeter than sugar.  A solution of it can be used for etching steel sections in photomicrographic work; and a substance is made from the waste root that foams readily and is used by brewers to give a head to beer.  The fibers can be made into wallboard and boxboard under the name of “Maftex”.  It gives an insulating material and is made into Jacquard cards that are used for controlling the designs in the weaving of tapestries and other figured materials.




          Roots of the Mandrake or May Apple, Podophyllum pellatum, yield the drug podophyllum, which has been used in rural eastern United States as an emetic and cathartic.  The commercial supply of this widespread plant is southern Appalachia where it is collected wild or cultivated.  Roots are collected in the autumn or spring and are cut into cylindrical segments and carefully dried.  They contain a resin that is the source of the cathartic.  East Indian podophyllum is obtained from Podopjhyllum emodi from the Himalayas. 




          Two native shrubs of China and Tibet are the sources of the drug form of rhubarb:  Rheum officinale and R. palmatum. These plants are similar to the garden rhubarb but grow to a much larger size.  They have been extensively cultivated in China.  The rhizomes and roots are dug and cut into short pieces or slices.  These are threaded on a string and dried in the sun or in kilns.  Rhubarb is used as a tonic and laxative and for indigestion.  East Indian rhubarb is from Rheum emodi.




          The white variety of sea onion, Urginea maritima, is the source of squills.  The plant is native of the seacoasts of the Mediterranean and has come under cultivation.  The bulbs are dug up and the outer scales removed.  The fleshy inner scales are then sliced and dried.  Several glucosides are present.  The drug is used as an expectorant and stimulant.  A red variety contains toxic substances that render it useful as a raticide.




          Senega snakeroot or milkwort, Polygala senega, is a small herbaceous perennial of Eastern North America.  It is the source of a glucosidal drug obtained from the dried roots.  The common name was derived because Senega or Seneca Indians used the plant as a cure for snakebites.  Senega is used as an expectorant, emetic and stimulant.




          Dried rhizomes and roots of the garden heliotrope, Valeriana officinalis, furnish valerian.  Native to Eurasia, it has long been cultivated in the United States as an ornamental.  It contains an essential oil that is used to relieve nervous afflictions, pain, coughing and hysteria.


Drugs from the Bark of Plants




          Of North American origin, cascara is obtained from the reddish-brown bark of the western buckthorn, Rhammus purshiana, a tree of the northwestern United States and southwestern Canada.  It was used by the Amerindians of the west and by the pioneer Spanish settlers who called it cascara sagrada, ors sacred bark.  The bark is peeled in long strips during the summer and dried on racks.  It is stored for a year before being used as a tonic and laxative.




          Amerindians of Northern South America have long used a variety of poisonous extracts from various woody lianas as poisons.  The identification of the constituent plant materials in curare is difficult because the sources vary from place to place.  Strychnas toxifera, Chondodendron tomentosum and species of Abuta and Cocculus, as well as other species, have been used.  New sources appear with continued explorations in the vast region.  In the preparation of curare portions of the bark, roots, stems and tendrils are boiled down, the impurities skimmed off and the residue filtered.  Catalytic agents are added and the whole mass is boiled to syrup.  This is exposed to the sun and dried to a paste that is kept in tightly covered gourds or bamboo tubes.


          Curare can cause progressive paralysis and eventual cardiac failure.  These lethal effects are due to several alkaloids.  One of these, curarine, has now been available to medicine for use in shock therapy, and as an ideal muscle relaxant.  Curarine is also used for chronic spastic conditions, in surgical operations and tetanus and as a powerful sedative.




          One of the most important of all drugs, quinine has been a boon to mankind because it is the only adequate cure for malaria.  Although some synthetic products are available, they only complement quinine and are not substitutes for it.  Quinine is obtained from the hard thick bark of several species of the genus Cinchona, evergreeen trees of the Andes of South America.  Chinchona calisaya, C. officinalis, C. ledgeriana and C. succccirubra are the principal species that have been used.


          The Amerindians were familiar with chinchona bark.  The first use of the drug by Europeans was in 1638 when, according to tradition, the Countess of Cinchon, wife of the Viceroy of Peru, was cured of malaria after all other remedies failed (Hill 1952).  Although a story of doubtful accuracy, nevertheless the Jesuits were familiar with the use of the bark and carried it with them in their world travels.  Very soon Jesuit’s bark or Peruvian bark was in great demand.  The supply at first seemed inexhaustible but diminished under the wasteful methods of collection.  The trees were felled and the bark stripped off and dried in the open or over fires in huts.  It soon became evident that only cultivation would guarantee the supply.  Both the Dutch and the English sent collectors to South America, but the Andean natives guarded the remnants of the cinchona forests with great zeal.  However, despite the hostility a few seedlings and seeds were finally brought out of the area and became the basis of the great plantations of Java and India.  Few tropical crops have been studied more intensively.  All phases of cinchona production:  breeding, culture, harvesting and processing were investigated.  Eventually the Dutch developed a virtual monopoly, producing 95 percent of the world’s supply.  The Amerindian output was reduced to local consumption.


            As the amount of bark produced was regulated in order to maintain high prices, attempts were made beginning in 1934 to establish a cinchona industry in the Western Hemisphere.  An experimental plantation was begun in Guatemala and by the beginning of World War II a substantial mass of data and a nursery of superior clones from all parts of the world was available.  When the East Indian supplies were cut off because of the war, the United States instituted an extensive program of cinchona procurement in the Neotropics, utilizing all available wild stands and developing new plantations.  Several promising new sources were discovered, among them Cinchona pitayensis, a species that gave very high yields.  From 1942-1945 exports of cinchona and quinine from the Neotropics increased from 207,000 to over seven million pounds, with Ecuador and Peru being the main producers.


          Cinchona bark is removed from cultivated trees by uprooting them when they are about 12 years old and stripping off the bark from both the stems and roots or by cutting the trunks above ground and stripping the felled portion.  In the latter case adventitious roots develop and later the bark is removed from these in long quills.  The most important constituent of cinchona bark is quinine.  This is a very bitter, white, granular substance.  In addition to its use in the treatment of malaria, it is valuable as a tonic and antiseptic and in the treatment of fevers.  Over 29 other alkaloids have been isolated from the bark, including cinchonidine, cinchonine, and quinidine.  All of these are useful in medicine.  Totaquina is a standard mixture of all of these alkaloids.


       Slippery Elm


          The inner bark of the slippery elm, Ulmus rubra, is the source of this drug.  The bark of this Eastern North American tree is removed in the spring and the outer layers are discarded while the inner portion is dried.  The bark has a very characteristic odor.  It contains mucilage and is used for its soothing effect on inflamed tissues, either in the crude state or in the form of lozenges.


Drugs from Stems & Woods




          This is an alkaloid from the Asiatic Ephedra sinica. E. equisetina and other species of the same genus.  These shrubs are low growing, dioecious, leafless with slender green stems.  The drug is extracted from the entire woody plant.  In China the drug is known as “ma huang” for 5,000 years.  In modern times it has been used in the treatment of colds, asthma, hay fever and other medical purposes.


       Guiacum    <Photos>


          This is a hard resin that exudes naturally from the stems of the lignum vitae trees, Guaiacum offininale and G. sanctum.  It hardens into round, glassy greenish-brown tears.  It is acquired from incisions, from the cut ends of logs or from pieces of the wood.  Gum guaiac is used as a stimulant and laxative.  It is also a good indicator of oxygen in the air.  Lignum vitae, or Ironwood, trees are evergreens native to the West Indies and other Neotropical regions.




          There are two different sources for quassia.  Jamaican quassia, Picrasma excelsa, is a tall tree of the West Indies and Surinam quassia, Quassia amara, grows in the Neotropics and West Indies.  The latter is also a valuable timber tree with lustrous, yellowish-white fine-grained wood.  Quassia is transported in the form of billets, and the drug is extracted by preparing an effusion of chips or shavings.  It is very bitter to the taste and is used as a tonic and in the treatment of dyspepsia and malaria.  It is also an insecticide.




          Please refer to Balsams and Oleoresins for additional medicines obtained from stems and wood.


Drugs from Plant Leaves


       Aloe    <Photos>


          Aloes are obtained from several different sources.  Curacao or Barbados aloes are from Aloe barbadensis of the West Indies, Socotrine aloes from Aloe perryi of East Africa and Cape aloes from A. ferox of South Africa.  These are tropical and subtropical fleshy plants with showy flowers.  The leaves contain a resinous juice with several glucosides.  The juice slowly exudes from cut leaves placed in containers.  It is evaporated in pans to a thick, viscous black mass that may be solidified.  Aloes have been used as purgatives and as additions to skin salves.  They seem to aid in the healing process of wounds. [see Pictures]




          Atropa belladonna is the source of this old and important drug.  The dried leaves and tops and to some degree the roots contain the drug.  The plant is a coarse perennial herb, native to Central and Southern Europe and Asia Minor.  It is cultivated as a drug plant in the United States, India and Europe.  Leaves are collected during the flowering season and dried.  They contain several alkaloids among which hyoscyamine and atropine are most important.  Belladonna is used externally to relieve pain and internally to curb excessive perspiration and coughs.  Atropine is used to dilate the pupil of the eye and as an antidote for organophosphorus insecticide poisoning.


       Cocaine    <Photos>


          Leaves of the coca shrub, Erythroxylon coca, and related species contain cocaine.  Native to Bolivia and Peru, the plant is cultivated in South America where the leaves are used as a masticatory.  It is also grown in Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Java.  The leaves mature in about four years when they are picked 3-4 times a year.  They are carefully dried and shipped in bales.  The have a bitter aromatic taste.  About 100 pounds of leaves yields one pound of the drug.  Cocaine has been used as a local anesthetic and as a tonic for digestion and treatment of nervous conditions.  It is addictive when used habitually.  Some evidence suggests that cocaine was used in Ancient Egypt (see Mummy).




          The dried leaves of the shrubs Barosma betulina, B. serratifolia and B. crenulata contain the drug buchu.  It grows in the dry mountainous parts of South Africa.  The active ingredient is an essential oil that is used to disinfect and to stimulate excretion and also in the treatment of indigestion and urinary disorders.


Digitalis    <Photos>


          Foxglove, Digitalis purpurea is native in Southern and Central Europe and has been used to treat disorders of the heart.  The dried leaves are dried for use.  It contains a glucoside, digitoxin.  Its action improves the tone and rhythm of the heart beats thereby making contractions more powerful and complete.  As a result more blood is sent from the heart, which aids circulation and improves body nutrition and hastens waste elimination.




          The mature leaves of the blue gum, Eucalyptus globulus, contain an essential oil that is used in medicine.  The tree can reach a height of 300 ft. in its native Australia.  It was once extensively cultivated in California, Florida and the Mediterranean area.  There was some belief that eucalyptus trees aid in eliminating malaria in countries where they are planted.  Their extensive root system may play a role in drying-out mosquito breeding habitats.  Eucalyptus oil is obtained from the dried leaves. It is used in the treatment of throat and nose disorders, malaria and other fevers.  The colorless oil is yellow with a unique pungent odor.


       Hamamelis (Witch Hazel)


          Witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, is a shrub of Eastern North America.  The dried leaves are gathered in southern Appalachia.  However, in New England the bark, twigs and sometimes the entire plant are utilized.  The active principle is tannin that is extracted with water and steam and distilled.  Alcohol is added to the distillate in a ratio of about one part alcohol to seven parts distillate.  Witch hazel is used as an astringent and to curtail bleeding.




          Henbane, Hyoscyamus niger, is a coarse smelly herb native to Europe and Asia.  It has assumed weed status in other parts of the world.  The drug is usually obtained in Europe, but during the World Wars the plant was cultivated in the United States.  The leaves and flower tops contain several poisonous alkaloids:  hyoscyamine and scopolamine.  Henbane is used as a sedative and hypnotic.  It acts in a similar manner to belladonna and stramonium, but is less powerful.




          Native to Central Asia and Europe hoarhound, Marrubium vulgare, has become naturalized in America where it is also cultivated.  It is a small herbaceous perennial with white flowers in dense axillary whorls.  Dried leaves and flower tops are used medicinally.  Hoarhound is used as an infusion or in the form of candy or lozenges.  It once was a favorite remedy for breaking up colds and has been used for arthritis, dyspepsia and other ailments.




          The Indian tobacco, Lobelia inflata, is the source of this drug that is secured from the dried leaves and tops of wild or cultivated plants.  It is a small North American annual with many blue flowers in leafy terminal racemes.  It is also one of the few poisonous plants in North America.  An alkaloid in lobelia is used as an expectorant, antispasmodic and emetic.  Amerindians knew its properties.  Some evidence suggests that tobacco was used in Ancient Egypt (see Mummy).




          Pennyroyal, Hedeoma pulegioides, is a small aromatic annual found in poor soil in the eastern United States.  An essential oil that it contains is derived from the dried leaves and tops of the plant.  It has had some use in internal medicine.  It has been an ingredient in liniments because of a counterirritant action.  However, its main use was as an insect repellent.




          Senna is an ancient drug that is obtained from dried leaflets and pods of several species of Cassia that are indigenous to arid regions in Egypt and Arabia.  Alexandrian senna is from Cassia acutifolia and East Indian or Tinnavelly senna is from C. angustifolia.  Both species are cultivated in India.  Leaves are picked, dried in the sun and baled.  Senna is used as a purgative.




          Thorn apple or Jimson weed, Datura stramonium, is the source of stramonium.  The plant is highly poisonous and occurs worldwide although its origin was thought to be in Asia.  However, Amerindians knew of its narcotic properties.  It has been cultivated in Europe and the United States.  The drug is extracted from the dried leaves and flowering tops.  The active principles are alkaloids that include hyoscyamine, atropine and scopolamine.  The drug has been used as a substitute for belladonna for relaxing the bronchial muscles in asthma treatment.  It has also been used in Asia for its narcotic effects.




          A perennial plant of Northern Asia, Northern Africa and Europe, wormwood, Artemisia absinthium, is the source of an essential oil obtained by steam distillation from dried leaves and tops of the plant.  The greenish liquid has been used in liniments.  Over dosage can result in deleterious consequences.  Its principal use is to flavor the liqueur absinthe, the use of which is prohibited in some countries.  Absinthe contains other aromatics as well as wormwood.  The plant has been grown in Oregon and Michigan.


Drugs from Flowers




          Chamomile, Matricaria chamomilla, is a Eurasian daisy like plant that has become cultivated in many places.  The dried flower heads contain an essential oil infusions of which are used as tonics and gastric stimulants.  The flower heads of the Russian or garden chamomile, Anthemis nobilis, are used for similar purposes but also in poultices for bruises, sprains and arthritis.




          The hop plant, Humulus lupulus, is native of the north temperate regions of Eurasia and America. The plant was known to the Romans and has been grown in parts of Europe since the 9th Century (Hill 1952).  Hops are extensively cultivated in the United States, Europe, South America and Australia.  It is a climbing herb with perennial roots.  These send up several rough, weak, angular stems with deeply lobed leaves and dioecious flowers.  The female flowers are found in scaly, cone like catkins that are covered with glandular hairs.  They contain resin and various bitter, aromatic and narcotic principles, mainly lupulin.  The hop plants are trained on poles or trellises.  Harvest is in the early autumn.  The catkins are carefully picked out dried in kilns at 70 deg. Fahrenheit or lower.  They are treated with sulfur and baled for shipment.  Hops are used in medicine for their sedative and soporific properties and also as a tonic.  They have been used also in poultices.  However, their principal use is in the brewing industry.  Hops are added to beer to prevent bacterial action and decomposition, and also to improve the flavor.




          The Levant wormseed, Artemisia cina, contains a valuable drug known as santonin derived from the dried unopened flower heads.  This is a small semi shrubby perennial of Western Asia.  Most of the supply has come from Turkestan, although the species has been grown in the Northwestern United States.  This drug is a good remedy for intestinal worms and has been used for this purpose for centuries.  It was introduced into Europe during the Crusades.


Drugs from Fruits & Seeds


       Chaulmoogra Oil


          Natives of Burma and other parts of Southeastern Asia have used the seeds and oil from the chaulmoogra tree, Hydnocarpus kurzii, and related species to treat skin diseases.  Thus, in a quest for a treatment for leprosy it was found at the University of Hawaii that the oil from these trees had certain acids the ethyl esters of which were productive in treating leprosy.  These tall trees grow in dense jungles and bear velvety fruits with several large seeds.  These contain fatty oil with a characteristic odor and acrid taste.  The expressed oil is a brownish-yellow liquid or soft solid. 




          The bitter apple, Citrullus colocynthis, has a spongy pulp that when dried is the source of the glucosidal drug colocynth.  The plant is native to warm parts of Africa and Asia, but has been distributed worldwide and cultivated in the Mediterranean area.  The fruits resemble oranges, and the rind is removed while the white bitter pulp is dried and shipped in balls.  It is a powerful purgative.




          The dried unripe fruits of Piper cubeda are called cubebs.  It is a climbing vine of Malaya and eastern India, and it is cultivated in Thailand, Java, Sri Lanka and the West Indies.  The berries look a lot like black pepper, but they are stalked.  They have a warm, butter aromatic flavor and a strong odor from the presence of an oleoresin.  Cubebs are used to treat catarrh and as a kidney stimulant.  They have also been used as a condiment or spice.


       Croton Oil


          The dried ripe seeds of Croton tiglium contains the fatty croton oil.  It is a shrub or small tree of Southeastern Asia, but is also cultivated in Sri Lanka and India.  Croton oil is a yellowish-brown liquid with a burning taste and offensive odor.  It is one of the most powerful of purgatives.  The flowers and crushed leaves are used in India to poison fish.


       Nux Vomica


          This is a valuable drug obtained from the seeds of Strychnos nux-vomica, a tree native to India, Sri Lanka, Cochin China and Australia.  The large fruits contain from 3-5 grayish seeds that are very hard and bitter.  Ripe seeds have two important alkaloids:  strychnine and bucine.  Nux vomica is used as a tonic and stimulant; strychnine is used in small doses to treat nervous disorders and paralysis.  Its properties have been known back in the 16th Century.




            One of the most useful and yet vicious drugs, opium is derived from the dried juice or latex of unripe capsules of the opium poppy, Papaver somniferum.  The poppy is an annual with showy white flowers.  Native to Western Asia, it is no found in most countries as a weed.  It has been cultivated extensively in China, India, Asia Minor, the Balkans and elsewhere.  Following petal fall the capsules are incised with a knife and the white latex exudes and soon hardens in the air.  It is scraped off and shaped into balls or cakes, which are often wrapped in the poppy petals.  Crude opium is a brownish material containing as many as 25 alkaloids, the most important and most powerful being morphine and codeine.  Due to the narcotic and sedative action opium and its derivatives are used to relieve pain, relax spasms and induce sleep.




          Commercial psyllium is the seed of several of the fleaworts, Asiatic and European species of plantain, which are cultivated in France, Spain and India.  French psyllium is Plantago indica, Spanish psyllium is P. psyllium, and blonde psyllium, the East Indian product, is P. ovata.  Psyllium seed contains a tasteless mucilaginous substance that acts as a mild laxative and is comparable to agar and mineral oil for use in chronic constipation.  The extracted mucilage is used as a cosmetic and in stiffening fabrics.




          The dried ripe seeds of Strophanthus kombe and S. hispidus are the source of the drug strophanthus that is used as a heart stimulant.  The plants are woody climbers of African forests.  The active principles include the glucoside strophanthin and a few alkaloids.  Another species, Strophanthus sarmentosus??, has a substance that can be transformed into cortisone.




          American wormseed, Chenopodium ambrosioides var. anthelminticum is native to South and Central America and the West Indies, but has become naturalized in the United States.  It has also been cultivated in many areas for its natural oil.  The oil is obtained by distillation from the fruits and is used in the treatment of hookworm infections.


Drugs from Lower Plants




          These are substances produced mainly by certain harmless microorganisms that deter the growth and activity of various pathogenic bacteria.  Antibiotics were not considered of importance until 1939 although they had been known previously.  Since this time extensive investigations were carried out and a considerable number have been isolated and their therapeutic action studied.  Molds, actinomycetes and bacteria are the chief sources, although antibiotics are also present in higher plants.




          Best know of the antibiotics is penicillin.  It was accidentally discovered in 1929 and reexamined in 1937.  Soon it was recognized as an extremely valuable substance for combating staphylococcus, streptococcus and gas gangrene infections.  It is acquired mainly from Penicillium notatum, a blue-green mold that occurs in floccose masses with a white margin.  In gelatin substrate the mycelium excretes penicillin turning all to liquid.  The crude penicillin is recovered, purified and dehydrated.  It is an organic acid and readily forms salts and esters.  Superior strains that yield greater quantities of the drug were developed.  Other species of Penicillium, particularly P. chrysogonum, also produce the antibiotic.  Penicillin is highly selective in its action and is effective against gram-positive bacteria.  It is nontoxic and particularly useful in the treatment of bacterial endocarditis, gonorrhea, mastoiditis, local infections and certain types of pneumonia.




          Streptomyces griseus furnishes this antibiotic.  It was first isolated in 1944 after a worldwide project testing soils.  The organism is an actinomycete and is grown in deep submerged cultures.  Streptomycin is especially effective against gram-negative bacteria and is used in the treatment of tularemia, empyema, urinary and local infections and some forms of tuberculosis, peritonitis, meningitis and pneumonia.




          Streptomyces aureofaciens, which was isolated in 1948 from soil, produces aureomycin.  It is more versatile than penicillin or streptomycin by attacking not only gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria, but also the Rickettsiae, which had previously been immune to chemical assault.  It has been used to combat forms of virus pneumonia, osteomyelitis, undulant fever, whooping cough and eye infections and where the patient has developed resistance to the other antibiotics or to sulfa drugs.  Aureomycin is also a growth-producing substance.




          This is a pure crystalline substance produced by Streptomyces venezuelae.  It was isolated in 1948 after a search that involved the worldwide study of thousands of soil samples.  It may also be produced synthetically.  Chloromycetin, like aureomycin, is effective against the Rickettsiae.  It is useful in the treatment of undulant fever, bacillary urinary infections, primary atypical pneumonia, typhus fever, typhoid fever, scrub typhus, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and parrot fever.




          Terramycin is secreted by Streptomyces rimosus that was isolated from a piece of soil in Indiana after an exhaustive search involving many thousands of soil samples.  It is valuable in treating common forms of pneumonia, typhoid fever, streptococci and many intestinal and urinary tract infections.  It is also effective against gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria, Rickettsiae and large viruses.  It is somewhat different in therapeutic action from the other antibiotics.




            This antibiotic that is produced by an organism resembling Streptomyces fradiae, has a complex composition and a wide range of experimental uses.  It has been used to treat tuberculosis.


Misc. Antibiotics


          There are many antibiotics known to be produced by bacteria.  Among these gramicidin and tyrothricin from Bacillus brevis, bactracin and subtilin from Bacillus subtilis and polymixin from Bacillus polymixa have the best therapeutic possibilities.


Other Medicinal Substances




          This is almost pure mucilage secured from various species of red algae.  Japan used to be the principal producer of this product, utilizing Gelideum corneum, Eucheuma spinosum, Gracilaria lichenoides and other species found off the eastern coast of Asia.  Some agar has been produced in the United States since 1919.  However, during World War II production was greatly expanded in the United States.  The principal species used were Gelidium cartilagineum on the Pacific Coast and Gracilaria confervoides on the Atlantic Coast.  Agar industries have also been developed in Russia, South Africa and Australia, etc.  The algae are collected, bleached and dried, and the mucilaginous material is extracted with water.  Agar reaches the marked in flakes, granules or strips that are brittle when dry but become tough and resistant when moist.


          The medicinal value of agar is in its absorptive and lubricating action.  It is frequently used in a granular condition to prevent constipation.  However, its greatest use is as a culture medium for bacteria and other fungi.  In dentistry is has been valuable for making impressions for plates and molds.  Cosmetic, silk and paper industries have found it valuable and is may also be used extensively as food.




          This is the dried fruiting body of a fungus, Claviceps purpurea, which is parasitic on rye and other grasses.  The young fruit is attacked and when mature a purplish structure, the sclerotium, replaces the grain.  Commercial ergot is chiefly from Europe where it is picked from rye plants or after the rye ahs been threshed by special machinery.  Minnesota has also produced ergot.  Wheat ergot is equally good as a drug.  Ergot is used mainly to increase the blood pressure, especially in cases of hemorrhages following childbirth and other uterine disturbances.




          In Europe, the United States and Japan several of the larger brown algae have been used as a source of iodine, potash and other salts.  In the United States the giant kelps of the Pacific involve mainly Macrocystis pyrifera.  Kelp was also used as a source of acetone and kelp char, a bleaching carbon.  There has also been attention given to the medicinal value of these seaweeds. 


          Other species, mainly Laminaria digitata and L. saccharina of the Atlantic and Nereocystis luetkeana of the Pacific, have been exploited as a source of algin, a valuable colloid extensively used in the drug, food and other industries.  Algin or its salts, sodium alginate, is used as a suspending agent in compounding drugs; in lotions, emulsions and hand pomades; as a sizing for paper and textiles and in ice cream.




          Lycopodium clavatum and other club mosses contain about 50 percent fixed oils and so are but little affected by water.  They are used as a covering for pills, as a diluent for insufflations and as a dusting powder for abraded surfaces.  In industry they are used for making pattern molds and because of their inflammability, in flares, fireworks and tracer bullets.  Europe and the northeastern United States have been the main producers.


       Male Fern


          Rhizomes and stalks of Dryopteris felix-mas, of North America and Eurasia, and the marginal shield fern, Dryopteris marginalis, of Eastern North America yield a drug known as male fern or aspidium.  Thiis an oleoresinous substance that has been used for centuries for expelling tapeworms.  The commercial supply ha been mainly from Europe.   


Insecticides and Rodenticides




          There are several sources for pyrethrum.  Three of the most important species are Dalmatian insect flowers from Chrysanthemum cinerariaefolium, Persian insect flowers from C. coccineum and Caucasian insect flowers from C. marshallii.  The Dalmatian species is favored.  It is a slender, glaucous, pubescent perennial 18-30 inches in height with pinnate leaves and small daisylike flowers.  It is a native of Dalmatia where it has been cultivated for centuries.  Japan used to be the leading producer of pyrethrum flowers and they constituted one of its most valuable exports.  Great care was exercised in gathering, drying and packing the crop.  Later the species was being cultivated in California and other parts of the United States, Kenya, Italy, Australia, Brazil, Peru and Ecuador.


          Pyrethrum is noninflammable, nonpoisonous and deposits no oily residue.  It has been proven effective against flies, fleas, body lice and yellow fever and malarial mosquitoes.  Pyrethrum bombs were standard equipment in malaria-infested areas.  They contained the insecticide in a solvent under a pressure of 90 lbs. per sq.-in.  A mechanical release allowed the vapor to escape through a valve in a fog.  A 3-sec. application permanently paralyzed most insects.  Pyrethrum coils are still in use in mosquito-infested areas.  These are burned like incense and have a pleasant odor.  Pyrethrum ointment is used in the treatment of scabies.




          Rotenone-containing plants have poisons that were used by native peoples for centuries.  The use of these climbers and creepers of the Leguminosae as fish poisons was noted by De Rochefort in 1665 and Aublet in 1775 (Hill 1952).  Derris was in commercial use in the United States by 1911, but with variable and uncertain results.  years of research resulted in standardizing the product and made it possible for widespread use. 


          This is a colorless crystalline compound together with related substances that occur as solids in the dried roots.  The content may bve as high as 12 percent.  Rotenone is 15-times more toxic than nicotine and 25-times mroe than potassium ferrocyanide in killing insects.  it has little or no effect on humans and other warm-blooded animals.  Two principal sources are species of Derris in the Far East and Lonchocarpus in the Neotropics.




          Natives in Malaya and Borneo for fishing have long used derris or tuba roots and arrow poisons.  The various species of Derris are climbing vines typical of the jungle undergrowth from India to Indonesia and the Philippines.   The plants have a short trunk, 3-4 ft. in height and 4 in. in diameter, with numerous long branches that climb over the vegetation.  The two most important species ore Derris elliptica and D. trifoliata. It may be propagated by cuttings and has been cultivated.  Ecuador and Guatemala made it a commercial crop at one time.  It grows well at low altitudes in deep, well-drained fertile soils.  A dust made from the ground roots has marked insecticidal properties but it is nonpoisonous to humans, at least when taken through the mouth.  The active ingredient, rotenone and a resin, may be extracted and used directly or in the form of soap.




          Roots of several species of Lonchocarpus, mainly L. urucu in Brazil, L. utilis in Peru and L. nicon in Guiana, make up an important source of rotenone.  The plants are known also as cube, timbo and barbasco and are used by the Amerindians as fish poisons.  At first they are bush like but later resemble vines and climb into trees.  They thrive in the tropical forests at low altitudes where there is an 80-in rainfall and well-drained soil.   At 2-3 years of age, the plant tops are cut away and the roots are dug up, dried, bundled and exported.  They are then ground into a powder and mixed with talc or clay for dusting or with a liquid for spraying.  Cube contains more rotenone than derris and, like derris, is an ideal insecticide for crop plants as there is no residue.  Stem cuttings easily propagate Lonchocarpus, and there used to be many small commercial plantations.  Cube first entered the world trade in 1934.  Petroleum based alternatives have cut into this market.


Red Squill


          This substance is obtained from the bulbs of the red variety of Urginea maritima, a native to the Mediterranean area.  It is cultivated in Algeria.  It is used as a raticide from ancient times and came into prominence again during the mid 20th Century.  The toxic substance, a glucoside, has little effect on other animals.