The medicinal chemistry of medical herbs

arnica montana

Long before modern medicine and big-pharma development, wizards and tribal shamans treated many illnesses with nature. From herbal teas to psilocybin, they learned to treat many physiological and physical ailments with knowledge gathered that has been passed on for thousands of years. Because of its healing power, people continue to turn their attention to nature for medicinal purposes.

Nature is full of bioactive compounds that can treat various kinds of diseases, and even nowadays, people and even researchers gather their attention to herbs and plants to help themselves.

Read more for some of the fantastic things about medicinal chemistry and the natural herbs from the nature behind them.

What are medicinal herbs?

There are many plants in our nature, but not all of them have medicinal activity. Typically medicinal herbs contain one or more bioactive compounds that interact with our enzyme system to cause some biological response.

Most of the medicinal herbs are known from folk medicine. In those ancient times, someone (that time medicinal chemist or pharmacist) had to do the trial and error research and test the plants for that activity. Some of them did not do anything, some of them were poisonous, but some had great biological activity.

Why are medicinal plants effective?

Humans are the product of nature, and therefore we have some similarities with everything else in nature. That means many biomolecules in our bodies have some similar chemicals that can be found in nature. And there is a chance they will interact with the same enzymes but express different activity, causing wanted biological effects, hence treating some of the diseases.

Are there any examples of compounds?

Yes, of course,e many known bioactive compounds have established their role in modern pharmacy. Some of the prime examples are anti-cancer drugs like vinblastine, vincristine, paclitaxel, and more. 

The most popular pain-relieving medicament Aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid), is also derived from nature.

Why modify already bioactive compounds?

We touched on the subject of Aspirin as a derivative from nature. Indeed, traditional medicine is already full of herbs and plants that can treat the disease with some degree of success. However, most of the time to those biochemicals there are some limitations, why they are not used more widespread.

Medicinal chemists have looked at those complex molecules that nature provides and started to modify, to improve activity, bioavailability, or stability.

Are there still any uses of medicinal herbs and natural compounds?

Yes, definitely! You can find many supplements containing natural compounds and plant extracts. Birch bark extract has been used as a food supplementation and cosmetics to treat various skin diseases and improve general skin health. 

You can find many supplements containing various flavonoids that are natural antioxidants. As previously mentioned, paclitaxel is still one of the most used anti-cancer agents. 

In conclusion

We believe that medicinal herbs are an essential part of modern medicinal chemistry. Extracts and isolates are in high demand in the cosmetic and food industry as supplements promise high and health improving activity. Moreover, a lot is still being discovered, as scientists continue to search recipies from old folk medicine and new remedies for our future.