One of the recent winners of the Nobel Prize for medicine discovered a breakthrough drug after poring over 2,000 ancient herbal recipes.
Dr Tu Youyou’s discovery, the anti-malarial artemisinin, derived from wormwood, is credited with saving millions of lives.
From opium in poppies, to quinine derived from the cinchona tree, to digoxin from foxgloves, there are many gems unearthed from the past that have true testable medical benefits.
In fact, there is now a whole branch of science dedicated to the study of traditional medicine, ethnopharmacology.
But it is not as simple as isolating the active ingredient from a plant.
Apart from the fact lots of these plants in their raw form are poisonous, making useful drugs for a population requires planning and sufficient raw material.
“We have to develop drug strategies, and considerations of treating large numbers of people have to be taken into account,” Michael Heinrich, professor of pharmacognosy (medicinal plant research) at UCL, says.