The use of herbal medicines for treatment of diseases was documented several thousand years ago. As seen from journals, studies on herbal medicines have been encompassed under several different names, such as plant medicine, phytomedicine, pharmacognosy, and natural products. “Natural products” usually refer to products processed or derived from living organisms, including plants, animals, insects, microorganisms, and marine organisms.

Data from the WHO show that 25% of modern medicines are made from plants that were first used traditionally. Examples include atropine, morphine, quinine, ephedrine, warfarin, aspirin, digoxin, vincristine, taxol, and hyoscine.

Traditional medicine needs to be modernized in the twenty-first century. However, modernization of traditional medicine should not be simply Westernization. For herbal medicines, the purpose of a study is not only to screen out bioactive compounds from herbal extracts for new drug development, but also to standardize and control the quality of raw herbal materials and their products to ensure the safety and efficacy; and more importantly, to reveal their preventative and therapeutic mechanisms. So far, only a relatively small number of herbal medicines have been well studied from all of these aspects; these herbs include Echinacea, ginkgo, ginseng, and licorice.

To a large extent, the depth and progress of research on herbal medicines depend on the development of related technology and equipment, as well as the in-depth understanding of the human body and diseases. Mechanism study and functional evaluation of herbal medicine involve the fields of chemistry, biochemistry, biology, pharmacology, toxicology, and clinical study. Thus, organized and consistent team- work is absolutely vital.

Researchers from different labs need to work closely together, discuss problems frequently, and analyze the results instantly. A scientist for extraction and isolation of herbal medicines in the chemistry lab should have enough knowledge of biology and pharmacology to provide an appropriate sample because an improperly extracted or isolated sample provided from his or her lab for biological and pharmacological study could lead to wrong results in the bioassay or animal test. The scientist in the bioassay or animal lab for screening or mechanism study of herbal medicines should make sure that the sample to be tested is correctly extracted, that the concentrations of tested samples are within a proper range, and that the design of the experiment is scientific enough to provide a true result. And to reach such a goal, an adequate understanding of the research target, the functions and indications, as well as clinic applications of the study herb is necessary. The following are several main aspects of herbal medicine research.

Soure: Traditional Herbal Medicine Research Methods, Edited by Willow J.H. Liu Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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