History, Scope and Development of Pharmacognosy

History, Scope and Development of Pharmacognosy


• Definition of Pharmacognosy

• History of Pharmacognosy

• Scope of Pharmacognosy


At the end of this tutorial, student will be able to

• Define Pharmacognosy

• Describe the evolution of Pharmacognosy

• Describe the evolution of Pharmacognosy

• Discuss the scope of Pharmacognosy


Pharmacognosy (Materia Medica)

Pharmacognosy = “Pharmakon” (Drug) + “Gignosco” (To acquire knowledge about)

• Analecta Pharmacognostica by C A Seydler

• Objective study of crude drugs from natural sources, treated scientifically and it encompasses the knowledge of the history, distribution, cultivation, collection, processing for market and preservation, the study of sensory, physical, chemical and structural characters and uses of crude drugs

• Simultaneous application of various scientific disciplines with the object of acquiring knowledge about the drugs from every point of view

• Applied science which deals with the biologic, biochemical and economic features of the natural drugs and its constituents


• Plants - medicinally in China, India, Egypt, Greece, etc

– Western Medicine

– Unani

– Ayurvedic

– Orient

Prehistoric Evidence

• Archaelogical studies

• Neanderthal men (60, 000 B.C)

New Stone Age (8000-5000 B.C.)

• Paleolithic (food gathering) to Neolithic (food producing) period

• Lake dwelling people

Eg., Papaver somniferum, Verbana officinalis, Fumaria officinalis

• Medicine - rituals

Ancient Mesapatomia

• Sumerians, Cuneiform writing

• About 660 tablets (650 B.C) from the Ashurbanipal’s Library at Ninevah, now in British museum

• Treatise of Medical Diagnosis and prognoses

• Practitioners were of two types

Ashipu: (sorcerer) diagnose the ailments

Asu: (Physician) Specilised in herbal medicine

• Decoctions

Ancient Egypt

Papyrus Ebers (1600 B.C.)

• Tomb of Mummy

• More than 800 formulae / 700 different drugs

• Embalming the dead body                             

Edwinsmith Papyrus (1600 B.C)

• Surgical instructions, formula for cosmetics

Ancient China

• “Pen-t-Sao” by Shen-Nung in 3000 B.C. contained about 365 drugs

• One a day for a year

– 120 emperor drugs

– 120 minister herbs

– 125 servant herbs

• Bencao Gangmu or the Compendium of Materia Medica, 1578 by Li Shi Zhen

• 1898 crude drugs of plant, animal, mineral origin

Ancient India

• Ayurveda - “Ancient Science of Life” [space, air, energy, liquid and solid]

• “Gunas”

• “Charaka”; 50 groups with 10 herbs in each group

• “Sushruta”; 760 herbs in 7 sets based on common properties

• “Charaka Samhita” (Medicinal plants); “Sushruta Samhita” (Surgery)

Ancient Greece and Rome

• Earliest of Greek medical knowledge is “Homer”

• Iliad and the Odyssey, dates around 8th century B.C

• Iliad - treatment of injuries

Hippocrates, Father of Medicine (460-360 B.C), first natural doctor, used simple natural remedies like vinegar, honey, etc

• Theophrastus

• Father of Botanical Sciences

• De histori Plantarum

• Dioscorides (40-80 AD)

• Materia Medica

• Galen (131-200 AD

• Method of preparing the formulae

• Galenical Pharmacy

Middle Ages

• Schools of medicines

• Avicenna - Ash-Shifa (Book of Healing) and Canon of Medicine

• Monastic Pharmacy

The Renaissance:

• Ortus Sanitatis (Garden of health), Latin in 1491

• Older German book Herbarius Zu Teutsch

• Standard book of medicine in England during 16th century

• De Histori Stirpium by Leonhurt Fuchs in 1542

• A New Herball, by William Turner in 1551

• Ortus Sanitatis and Ye Grete Herball

During Modern Times

• Nicotine by Posselt and Reimann in 1828

• Cocaine by Neumann in 1860

• Pilocarpine by Gerard and Hardy in 1875

• Ouabain by Hardy and Gallows in 1877

• Ephedrine by Nagai in 1875

• Podophyllotoxin by Keursten in 1891

• Antibiotic Era; Penicillin by Sir Alexander Fleming in 1928

• Isolation of Ergometrine, Digoxin, Reserpine, Theophylline, Vincristine, Vinblastine and Quinidine

• During the second half of the 20th century,

– Chromatographic techniques – HPLC, HPTLC, GC, GC-MS etc

– Modern analytical methods – IR, NMR, X Ray Diffraction etc

• After 1970, Pharmacognosy - descriptive structure - integrative science of Pharmacy - various principles

• Plant Kingdom

• Prototypes

Scope of Pharmacognosy

• Regulatory Requirements

• Monographs

New Bioassays

• Problem in fractionating extracts

• Simple and reliable bioassays

New Analytical Methods

• Complex nature of plants

• New analytical techniques

New Culture Techniques

• Main problem - securing adequate amounts

• Plant cell culture techniques

• New information regarding the factors influencing the formation of secondary plant constituents

Types of New Plant Drugs

• Viral diseases

• Diseases of unknown etiology

• Self-inflicted diseases

• Genetic diseases

• Immunotherapy

• Hepato protective drugs

Scope of Pharmacognosy

• Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacology            

• Pharmaceutical and Basic Sciences

• The plant and animal kingdom will continue to serve mankind in future centuries just as they have done from the dawn of history

• Significant new drugs of natural origin and new methods of producing them will be continued


• Pharmacognosy is derived from two Greek words

• Pharmacognosy is the study of crude drugs obtained from plants, animals and minerals

• Neanderthal men fortified plants along with dead bodies in the burial site

• Sumerians developed cuneiform writing and contributed Treatise of Medical Diagnosis and prognoses

• Papyrus Ebers and Edwinsmith Papyrus were the important contribution by Egyptians

• Chinese contributed Pen-t-Sao and Bencao Gangmu

• Charaka and Sushruta contributed Charaka Samhita (medicine) and Sushruta Samhita (surgery) respectively

• Astanga Hrdya Samhita was also contributed by Indians

• Homer, Hippocrates, Theophrastus, Dioscorides and Galen from Rome and Greece made important contributions to the development of Pharmacognosy

• During middle ages, several schools of medicines originated and Avicenna was an important contributor

• In the Renaissance period books were compiled, written and printed

• During modern times several pure phytochemicals were isolated

• Time consuming conventional pharmacological screening methods can be replaced by new bioassays

• The complex nature of the plant constituents can be solved by using new analytical techniques, which also made isolation and characterization of the compounds easier

• Inadequate supply and over exploitation of the natural products lead to development of new culture techniques which also helped to manipulate the genes to enhance the production of secondary metabolites

• For several diseases where satisfactory cure is not available, it is believed that drugs will be obtained from natural source

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