Pharmacognosy—A Brief History

‘Pharmacognosy’—has been coined by the merger of two Greek words Pharmakon (drug) and Gnosis (knowledge) i.e., the knowledge of drugs. The nomenclature—‘Pharmacognosy’ was used first and foremost by C.A. Seydler, a medical student in Halle/Saale, Germany, who emphatically employed Analetica Pharmacognostica as the main title of his thesis in the year 1815. Besides, further investigations have revealed that. Schmidt has made use of the terminology ‘Pharmacognosis’ in the monograph entitled Lehrbuch der Materia Medica (i.e., Lecture Notes on Medical Matter) which dates back to 1811, in Vienna. This compilation exclusively deals with the medicinal plants and their corresponding characteristics.

It is indeed quite interesting to observe that our ancients were duly equipped with a vast, indepth and elaborated knowledge of plethora of drugs from the vegetable origin but unfortunately they possessed a scanty knowledge with regard to the presence of chemically pure compounds in most of them.

Camphor found its enormous use in the treatment and cure of many ailments, for instance: internally as—a stimulant and carminative; externally as—an antipruritic, counterirritant and antiseptic by the ancient Egyptians, Chinese, Indians, Greeks and Romans.

Earlier it was obtained by mere cooling of volatile oils from—ssasafras, rosemery, lavender, sage; while the Ancient Greeks and Romans derived it as a by product in the manufacture of wine. Nowadays, camphor is obtained on a large-scale synthetically (racemic mixture) from the α-pinene present in the terpentine oil.

African natives used plant extracts in their ritual ceremonies whereby the subject would lose his/her complete body movements but shall remain mentally alert for 2 or 3 days. Later on, the earlier civilization also discovered a number of fermented drinks solely derived from carbohydrate—rich plant substances invariably containing alcohols and vinegar. With the passage of time they also recognised certain plant products exclusively used for poisoning their spears and arrows in killing their preys and enemies as well. Interestingly, they found that some plant extracts have the unique property of keeping the new meat fresh and also to mask its unpleasant taste and flavour.

Source :  Kar, A. (2007).  Pharmacognosy and Pharmacobiotechnology. New Delhi, India:  New Age International.

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