Medicinal Plants

David S. Seigler Department of Plant Biology University of Illinois Urbana, Illinois 61801 USA

Outline: Medicinal Plants
Importance o “Primitive” cultures + Link to religion + Link to psychoactive drugs Economics

Botanical o Many families

Chemical o Terpenes + Cardiac glycosides + Steroids + Metabolically altered triterpenes o Alkaloids + Analgesic drugs + Antitumor drugs + Emetics .

o Anthraquinone glycosides + Laxatives o Polyketides + Aspirin o Mode of action Herbal medicines .

pp. . 262 ff.Reading • CHAPTER 11.

many types of plants are used. Chemistry. and medicine were all considered one field until the 1700's. . botany. Some are efficacious and others are not. In some. • The science of botany originated in the study of medicinal plants.Introduction • The use of medicinal plants is found in almost all cultures.

Herbal medicines in Madagascar Courtesy Dr. Voara Randrianasolo .

Medicinal plants in Toluca market .

• Substances such as anthraquinone glycosides as well as a variety of other types of glycosides are also widely used. • The most important of the plant-derived compounds are terpenoids (such as steroids) and alkaloids.• Many plant and fungal derivatives are important medicinally. .

). quassia (used to control lice etc.• These include the active principles of Salix (Salicaceae). . Artemisia cina (Asteraceae or Compositae) (santonin used as an anthelmintic drug). • Table of some important medicinal plants on page 263.

. from the Code of Hammurabi.• Presumably curative agents were discovered by trial and error. licorice (Glycyrrhiza sp.C. Lamiaceae) were mentioned. Solanaceae). and mints (Mentha spp. a series of plants such as henbane (Hyoscyamus niger. ..C. • Sumerian drawings of opium from 2500 B. • In 1770 B. suggest that they were knowledgeable about medicinal plants.. Fabaceae).

• The ancient Egyptians recorded much of their knowledge of plant drugs as well. . Many of the plants used by them are still used in medicine.

C.C.) and Theophrastus (372-287 B. .) essentially started the science of botany. • Hippocrates (460-377 B.The Greeks • The Greeks made other significant contributions to medicine.C. Aristotle (384322 B. • The number of effective medicinal plants came to be about 300-400 species.).

that became the standard work for 1500 years.) He wrote a 5 volume work. De materia medica. . 40-90 A. • Because of later historical developments and the fact that Europe went into intellectual decline.D. was Dioscorides (ca.Dioscorides • The most significant contribution however. the book was blindly followed and accepted without question until the fifteenth century.

Paracelsus (1393-1451). . broke publicly with the works of the Greeks and advocated the "Doctrine of Signatures". a contemporary of da Vinci. This was soon displaced by more objective methods.Doctrine of Signatures • Finally.

morphine. strychnine.• In the 19th century. and ephedrine were isolated and studied. such compounds as quinine. • Later (mostly in the twentieth century) many of the compounds were synthesized and some became available from that source. .

• Most of the drugs used in western culture come from Europe and Asia. although a number of extremely important ones come from other sources. .

. Others such as fatty acids (e.. however.g.Types of active compounds • The most important types of compounds are terpenoids and alkaloids. • The chemical structures of several important drug materials are given in this chapter. chaulmoogra oil) are also used.

• In some countries malaria is common and millions of people suffer from the disease throughout the world. malaria has been one of the worst of all human diseases.Malaria and quinine • Historically. . • Malaria is caused by a sporozoan of the genus Plasmodium and is passed from one human to another by mosquitoes.

.• In the 17th century. Jesuits in South America discovered that a native remedy for other diseases made from an infusion of the bark of cinchona (Cinchona spp.. Rubiaceae) coincidentally controlled malaria.

Walter Hodge .Peru in the early 1940s Courtesy Dr.

Walter Hodge .Quinine. Cinchona officinalis. Rubiaceae Calisaya type Courtesy Dr.

Harvesting cinchona bark Courtesy Dr. Walter Hodge .

Drying and storing cinchona bark Courtesy Dr. Walter Hodge .

Types of Cinchona bark Courtesy Dr. Walter Hodge .

the allies were cut off from a supply of quinine.W. but resistance to most is a major problem. • At the time of W. Many are still important. • During the war. a number of synthetic substitutes for quinine were developed. After several years of trying to grow the plants and improve them.• The Dutch acquired seeds from a highyielding plant near Lake Titicaca. Bolivia. they were able to begin to cultivate high quality lines in the Dutch East Indies and eventually they got a monopoly on the production of quinine. II. .

few have surfaced. .• Quinine is also used in small amounts to make tonic water and other soft drinks such as bitter lemon. has proven effective and is currently being used in southeast Asia. • One. artemisinin from Artemisia annua. • Although there have been extensive searches for new plant-derived antimalarials.

Artemisia annua. Asteraceae or Compositae .

a gymnosperm) have been used for thousands of years in China..Ephedra or ma huang. • In the 1920's the plant was "discovered" by western medicine and the active compounds isolated. There it is often called "ma huang". . Ephedraceae • Infusions of Ephedra spp. (Ephedraceae. Ephedra spp.

. Ephedra sp. Ephedraceae .Ephedra.

however. .. in Sudafed.g.• Ephedrine and a series of related compounds are used today as decongestants (e. • Most of the active compounds are made synthetically.) and to treat low blood pressure. Robitussin etc.

Willows and aspirin
• Even in the time of Dioscorides it was known that extracts of willow bark (Salix spp., Salicaceae) and leaves alleviated pain. • The compound that is responsible is called "salicin". Salicin is too irritating to take internally, however. • In the late 1800's, a German chemist made another compound that could be taken readily and that had similar properties to salicin.

Willow in flower, Salix nigra, Salicaceae

• This compound, acetylsalicylic acid, could be taken orally and was an effective analgesic, anti-inflamatory, and antipyretic drug and is probably the most widely used drug in the world today. • Interestingly, we only learned how aspirin actually functions in the last 30 years. Aspirin inhibits the synthesis of certain prostaglandins.

Coca and cocaine
• The Indians of Andean South America have long used coca leaves (from Erythroxylum coca, Erythroxylaceae) as a stimulant. The Indians chewed the leaves mixed with lime to free the alkaloids. The alkaloids reduced feelings of hunger and pain. • Later when the alkaloids were isolated, it was discovered that they had local anesthetic properties. Cocaine has been used for surgery (especially dental surgery).

Coca, Erythroxylum coca, Erythroxylaceae

Steroids from plants • Many types of animal hormones are steroids. These are viny plants with large tuberous roots. (Dioscoreaceae). • Diagram p. Although the steroids from plants are similar. . 277. • The most commonly used plant source of steroids is Dioscorea spp. most do not have pronounced hormonal activity in animals and ordinarily must be chemically modified before use.

These compounds are relatively common in plants. • Dioscorea species are used because they have relatively large amounts of saponins and the structure of the aglycone is particularly appropriate for conversion to the desired steroids.• These steroids occur as complex glycosides (that is. . they have sugars attached) that give them soap-like properties and are sometimes called saponins.

Male and female Dioscorea plants .

Disocorea root .

.• Steroids from these plants are converted chemically into hormonally active substances that simulate pregnancy and serve as antifertility or contraceptive compounds or as anti-inflamatory drugs such as cortisone etc. that are used to treat a number of diseases such as arthritis etc.

One of the plants found in the folk medicine of Europe is Digitalis purpurea (Scrophulariaceae).Cardiac glycosides • The use of plants to treat heart disease goes back thousands of years and is found in several cultures. .

Digitalis purpurea (Scrophulariaceae) .Digitalis.

277. • The active compounds are saponins. . but have an aglycone with a special type of structure. a condition associated with congestive heart failure. He standardized the dosage of the drug. William Withering.• In 1775. • Digitalis became accepted and today is widely used in treatment of dropsy. a British physician documented that patients treated with foxglove improved. • Diagram p.

.Opium poppy. Pictorial representations are found in Egyptian. Papaver somniferum (Papaveraceae). The wild ancestor of the plant is no longer known with certainty. • Capsules have been found in prehistoric deposits from the Mediterranean and from the Near East. See diagram of the plant on page 279. Roman and other art.C. • Opium was used to treat dysentery from at least the first century B. Greek. have long been used to alleviate pain. Papaver somniferum (Papaveraceae) • The alkaloids found in opium poppy.

Poppy flower and capsule Carolina Biological Supply Co. .

• Morphine is one of the principal alkaloids of opium. These alkaloids are very addictive. but are potent pain killers (analgesics). another morphine alkaloid. The latex oozes out and hardens after a day or so. The yields are 25-40 lbs. • Codeine. it inhibits coughing. The latex is about 11% morphine and 1% codeine. is a potent antitussive agent. per acre. The exudate is scraped off and made into bricks of pure opium. .• Opium is isolated by lightly slashing the immature fruit capsules. that is.

Incised poppy capsule and latex Carolina Biological Supply Co. .

. • Poppies are also cultivated for the seeds which are eaten and are used as an oilseed crop in some countries.• Morphine is acetylated to produce heroin. • Opium played a role in the history of China and (especially) British colonialism in the last two or three centuries.

hyoscyamine. 280. and atropine.Tropane alkaloids • A number of alkaloids from solanaceous plants are used as analgesics. and Duboisia species (the last species native to Australia). • The most commonly used plants are Atropa belladonna. . • See p. • The most commonly used alkaloids are scopolamine (hyosine). Hyoscyamus niger.

Hyoscyamus niger. Solanaceae .Henbane.

Solanaceae . Datura stramonium.Jimson weed.

• Today. . to treat cardiac problems. It was also used in the Middle Ages in Europe to enhance the appearance of women by causing them to have large pupils. these alkaloids are used as antidotes for poisoning.• Belladonna has been used since the times of the Greeks. for antidiarrhetic preparations. and to dilate pupils during eye examinations.

Solanaceae .Black nightshade. Atropa belladonna.

is used to treat hypertension and certain types of mental illness. • One of these plants is Rauvolfia serpentina (Apocynaceae).Rauvolfia Alkaloids • A number of plants of this group were used medicinally in India several centuries BC. This plant contains alkaloids that are extremely potent hypotensive agents. • One of the main alkaloids. . Relatively large doses are used to treat schizophrenic patients. reserpine.

Rauvolfia serpentina (Apocynaceae) .

.Catharanthus alkaloids • Two complex alkaloids of Catharanthus roseus (Apocynaceae) are used to treat leukemia. In lymphocytic leukemia. Vinblastine and vincristine produce remissions or cures in up to 50-70% of cases in certain forms of leukemia. even higher cures are reported.

Periwinkle. Catharanthus roseus (Apocynaceae) .

Colchicine • Colchicine. an alkaloid from Colchicum autumnale (Liliaceae). The compound is fairly specific for the disease. but is highly toxic and its use must be carefully monitored. . is used to treat gout.

1880. Colchicum autumnale (Liliaceae) R. London. Medicinal Plants. Bentley and H. Trimen.Autumn crocus. . Churchill.


They also have other medicinal applications.Anthraquinone glycosides • Anthraquinone glycosides from a number of plants [including Aloe (Liliaceae). Rhamnus (Rhamnaceae). Cassia (Fabaceae or Leguminosae)] are widely used as laxatives. .

Liliaceae . Aloe sp..Aloe.

. was first discovered in the 1960's. • Taxol is useful for treating several types of tumors.Taxol • The antitumor activity of taxol (paclitaxel). but the alkaloid didn't become widely used until the mid 1980's. a diterpene alkaloid from several Taxus species. but was originally developed for ovarian tumors.

materials from other species of Taxus have proven useful for sources of the drug. largely alleviating the environmental problems that resulted from over harvest of the original source. .• The alkaloid occurs in highest concentration and in the most readily purifiable form in the bark of Taxus brevifolia. the Pacific yew. • Recently.

Taxus baccata.Yew. Taxaceae .

. The active ingredient.Calabar bean. Physostigma venenosum (Fabaceae or Leguminosae) • Calabar beans have been used as a trial-by-ordeal plant. is presently used to treat glaucoma. physostigmine.

Medicinal Plants. Churchill. 1880 . Trimen. London. Physostigma venenosum (Fabaceae or Leguminosae) R.Calabar bean. Bentley and H.

. The compounds are vasocontrictive and in the Middle Ages in Europe caused many human poisoning problems.. on cereal grains have long caused problems in human health. Claviceps spp. Clavicepitaceae • The alkaloids from Claviceps spp.Ergot.

Ergot.. Claviceps spp. Clavicepitaceae .

• Some of the alkaloids also cause hallucinogenic effects and bizarre behavior. . The basis for the syndrome was not understood until about 150 years ago. Anthony's fire". and to induce labor. • Today the alkaloids are used to treat migraine headaches.• People's hands and feet sometimes developed gangrene when they ate grain containing ergot. control hemorrhaging after childbirth. • All together the syndrome was called "St.

Herbal medicines .

. contain the active principles. ironically (in the U. and standardized.) are sold in "Health Food" stores with little assurance that the plant materials are pure. in Western Culture. purified. Recent changes in FDA regulations promise to improve this situation. or . most of the active ingredients are isolated.. or are effective.S.• Today. .

companies that market herbal medications are required to establish efficacy and to provide the materials in a form that ensures that the active materials are present in a designated dosage. However. the crude plant drugs are still used directly. . particularly in Germany. in many cultures.• In Europe.

Herbal medicines in a Mexican market .

John's wort.St. but has been introduced into North America. Hypericum perforatum. Clusiaceae • St. . • This plant is native to Europe and Asia. Hypericum perforatum. John's wort. is effective as an antidepressant drug. where it is a common weed.

St. Hypericum perforatum. Clusiaceae . John’s wort.

a gymnospermous tree from China. . The active components are diterpenes. improve capillary blood flow and improve memory and some aspects of brain function.Ginkgo. Ginkgo biloba. Ginkgoaceae • Extracts from the leaves of Ginkgo biloba.

Ginkgo biloba.Ginkgo. Ginkgoaceae .

Panax quinquefolia. this plant was presumed to treat many problems. Because of the shape of the roots. Panax ginseng. was one of the earliest exports from the American Colonies to the Orient. based on the doctrine of signatures. In Japan. Korea. some are called gensenosides. and China. The Eastern North American species. . the most common species is Panax ginseng. Araliaceae Ginseng has long been used by Oriental peoples as a way of maintaining health and for treating and curing many types of human ailments.Ginseng. The active compounds are triterpenoid glycosides.

Araliaceae Takatori. . Color Atlas of Medicinal Plants of Japan. Panax ginseng.Ginseng.

Echinacea. Echinacea purpurea. Echinacea induces an immune response in humans and has been used more recently to treat colds and other viral diseases. As the plant is often wild harvested. The plant was introduced into patent medicines in the 1870s and has been used since that time to deal with a number of problems. This plant drug is especially popular in Europe. . Echinacea was an important plant medicine in the 1920s. but fell into disuse as antibiotics of various types were introduced. there are many conservations concerns about the continued unrestricted use of this valuable resource. Asteraceae Echinacea was used as a medicinal plant by American Indians.

Echinacea purpurea. Asteraceae .Echinacea.

Valerianaceae Valerian has long been used as a sedative. the plant is documented to be an effective sleep-inducing drug. in this case. Interestingly. . The dried roots and rhizomes have been used as a tranquilizer and calmative for more than 1000 years in cases of nervousness and hysteria. However. the active components have never been conclusively identified.Valerian. The plant parts have a somewhat disagreeable odor. Valeriana officinalis.

Valerianaceae . Valeriana officinalis.Valerian.

• This plant was used by many of the American Indians of the Eastern United States.Black cohosh. . Ranunculaceae • The underground parts of Cimicifuga racemosa are used to treat a number of “female problems”. Cimicifuga racemosa.

and cough suppressant. Cimicifuga racemosa.Black cohosh. . Ranunculaceae • An infusion of the roots and rhizomes is drunk to treat rheumatism. uterine difficulties to stimulate menstrual flow. • The plant has been shown to have estrogenic activity and is used in Europe to treat premenstrual syndrome (PMS). • It was the active component of Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound in the 1800s and early 1900s. and as an antidiarrheal.

Black cohosh. Ranunculaceae . Cimicifuga racemosa.