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Feverfew is a bitter herb sometimes known as the ‘mediaeval aspirin’ for its ancient reputation in reducing fevers and headaches. Its modern popular use in migraine prevention has been supported by clinical trials. A major problem has been that much ‘feverfew’ available to the public has not been the right species or has lacked the active parthenolide constituents.



Why do we need this resource?


Plants have been there for us from the beginning. They are freely available for anyone who wants to reclaim personal or family health care. Their tradition has been as agents that can help the body help itself rather than targeting diseases, chosen to fit individual needs and unique stories.

The plant world is the most proficient producer of pharmaceutical chemicals. Industrial attempts at chemical synthesis cannot compete for the sheer diversity of products. Each plant produces many hundred secondary metabolites with pharmacological properties. The impact on consumption is even more complex: the plant metabolites are often further converted to new molecules by bacteria in the human digestive tract.

Many modern pharmaceuticals are based on products extracted originally from plants. There are undoubtedly many more to find. There will always be much to explore in the actual and potential role of plants in healthcare and medicine.


Click to see as an example some of the flavonoids of chamomile


a Spanish market herb stall

Reviews of the traditional use of plant remedies have showed that humans have a good track record in identifying agents of medicinal interest. Perhaps 75% of the 120 or so modern drugs still derived or modelled from plants or plant products were identified from ethnobotanical observations of indigenous use[1] This early use also proposes a different approach to pharmacology. Experience of plants as foods makes it clear that they do not act like single chemical entities. Early humans discovered that plants and their extracts had characteristic effects on health and illness and created a distinct pharmacology that, surprisingly, is common to many traditions.

There is a whole world of human healthcare experience that medical science barely measures. It is a parallel world, known by millions, including many modern patients. It appears infinitely diverse, often unstructured and even chaotic. However it often involves sensible home treatments that our grandparents would have recognised, and principles understood for more than 2000 years in the ancient world. Exploring this world offers professionals the prospect of meaningfully engaging with their patients in their own self-healthcare, and with earlier form of medicines that have consistent reputations for promoting recuperative functions and which may complement conventional prescriptions and treatments. It is a robust and plentiful resource and it lies at our feet. Most of the medicines involved are based on plants …





a professional herbal dispensary in the UK

Research shows new promise for traditional remedies in long term degenerative problems like diabetes, cardiovascular and auto-immune diseases. Some of the best prospects are the very products that have been most frequently consumed, most safely, throughout history - the spices.


In both Europe and the USA new legislative requirements will make it more difficult for inferior herbal products to reach the market in coming years. The recent crisis of poor quality which has hit consumer confidence in herbal products in the last few years, particularly in the USA, is likely to be corrected. As the message that standards have been raised begins to spread there will be new demands for high quality information to support a renewed interest by public and professionals.


Modern media coverage often raises alarms about the effect of herbal consumption and in particular the potential for interaction with modern medicines. This is most often ill-informed and misleading but real questions do remain. It is important for health professionals and for their responsibilities to their patients that they have full informed information to hand.

Most modern research on medicinal plants is too fragmentary to be of much clinical use. Uniquely however for these remedies, there is a massive resource of 'human bioassay data' - the records of traditional use around the world. When this knowledge base is rigorously evaluated it provides an excellent foundation against which to compare the modern research fragments.






The EXTRACT database integrates traditional use with modern clinical and laboratory research onto a unique dedicated template. This is an ongoing research project: the links made and conclusions drawn are open to refutation and may be critiqued by the user.


1]  Cox PA. The ethnobotanical approach to drug discovery: strengths and limitations. In Chadwick DJ, Marsh J eds. Ethnobotany and the search for new drugs. John Wiley & Sons, Chichester England 1994: 25-35


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contact us           Where to find us? Last Updated: 14 September 2011