Plant medicines are the most widely used medicines in the world today. A full eighty-five percent (85%) of the world's population employs herbs as their primary medicines. And while drugstore shelves in the US are stocked mostly with synthetic remedies, in other parts of the world the situation is quite different. In Germany, pharmacies dispense herbs prescribed by physicians.
For 5.1 billion people worldwide, natural plant-based remedies are used for both acute and chronic health problems, from treating common colds to controlling blood pressure and cholesterol. Not so long ago, this was true in the US as well. As late as the early 1950's, many of the larger pharmaceutical companies still offered a broad variety of plant-based drugs in tablet, liquid and ointment forms.
Plants are the original source materials for as many as 40% of the pharmaceuticals in use in the United States today. This is to say that either the drugs currently contain plant-derived materials, or synthesized materials from agents originally derived from plants. Some medicines, such as the cancer drug Taxol (from Taxus brevifolia) and the anti-malarial quinine from Cinchona pubescens and are manufactured from plants. Other medicinal agents such as pseudoephedrine originally derived from ephedra species, and menthol and methylsalicylate, originally derived from from mentha species and wintergreen (gaultheria procumbens) respectively, are now synthesized.
Herbal Use 60,000 Years Ago
Neanderthals lived from about 200,000 years ago until roughly 30,000 years ago in Europe and western Asia. They coexisted with modern humans for most of the period but then mysteriously vanished. Physical evidence of use of herbal remedies goes back some 60,000 years to a burial site at Shanidar Cave, Iraq, in which a Neanderthal man was uncovered in 1960. He had been buried with eight species of plants, seven of which are still used for medicinal purposes...