Medicinal plants including microbes
India is endowed with a rich wealth of medicinal plants. From earliest times mankind has used hundreds of medicinal plants in an attempt to cure diseases and relieve physical sufferings. They derived this knowledge as a result of trial and error. Medicinal properties of plants have been mentioned even in the oldest 'Rig Veda'. Medicinal plants are becoming popular throughout the developed world, as people want to treat illness.
It is estimated that around 70,000 plant species, from lichens to tall trees, have been used as medicinal plants. 500 plants have been studied in detail. According to WHO about 25 per cent of prescribed human medicines are derived from plants. India accounts for nearly 1,100 species used in different systems of medicines like Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani, etc. Out of these, 600 to 700 species are used much in the country. But 95 per cent of medicinal plants are obtained from wild sources and they are not cultivated now.
Now, efforts are being made to introduce many of these useful plants to farmers. Agronomic practices have been developed for growing poppy, isobgol, cincona, belladona, ergot, etc. Medicinal plants have curative properties due to presence of various complex chemical substances in different composition like alkaloids, glycosides, corticosteroids, essential oils, etc. Nowadays, these medicinally valuable compounds obtained from the medicinal plants are called 'biomedicines'.
Some of the important medicinal plants and their products are
1. Morphine, the strongest pain killer obtained from Opium poppy - Papaver somniferum.
2. Quinine, antimalarial drug which controls malarial fever is derived from Cinchona calisaya and C. officinalis.
3. Digoxin, used to treat heart diseases is obtained from the plant Digitalis.
4. Ephedrine, used to treat cough is extracted from the plant Ephedra sinica.
5. Mental and physical stress relaxing drug is obtained from the plant ginseng - Panax ginseng.