There is a huge amount of information about medicinal plants on the web. A lot of it is fluff and hooey; the user must judge VERY carefully the value of the information. If you are looking for information on a specific plant, try searching for the Latin name, as this is always a unique keyword.
"In this age of rapidly expanding information, we have reached a period where the most important contributions to our knowledge are syntheses of disparate information in diverse disciplines."
Richard Evans Schultes
“Without recognition of the knowledge and accomplishments of humans in the past and in other cultures, Western scientific discovery is often only rediscovery”
Banisteriopsis caapi, one component
of the hallucinogenic mixture ayahuasca used by Amazonian shamans
General Information on Medicinal Plants
- Herb Research Foundation
- Spices: Exotic Flavors and Medicines (exhibit from the biomedical library at UCLA)
- The archive to Jean Carper's articles that appear in USA Weekend dealing with medicinal foods and nutrition
- NCCAM National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
- The Phytochemistry of Herbs. Lisa Ganora's excellent site. Lisa gives background information at three levels of detail and sophistication. A great place for the neophyte to start!
- Flora Delaterre, the Plant Detective. Short radio excerpts on medicinal plants.
- The Lloyd Library and Museum in Cincinnati is a relatively unknown but tremendous resource. They have virtually all modern holdings on the broad topics of medicinal plants and pharmacology. They also have originals of many historically important books and documents. Founded by the Lloyd brothers who were Eclectic Physicians (go to the site to learn what that means).
- The Aboca Museum in Italy (English web site). A library and museum featuring the history of herb use, artifacts, and an extensive collection of older herbal works.
Botany & Botanical Gardens (plant info, current and historic)
- Botanical Gardens
- Tropical plant identification: if you want to learn to identify tropical plants, it's a challenge due to the high diversity. A great way to make sense of things is to learn the tree and shrub families first. I strongly recommend the tropical dendrology course offered by Humberto Jiménez and the Tropical Science Center.
Open Access Journals
Databases and Other Sources of Specific Information
- The Agricultural Research Service (US government) maintains Dr. Duke's Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases where you can search for specific information on medicinal plants. This takes a little effort to learn to use but is worth it if you're really serious. You can search for all the chemicals reported in a given plant, what plants contain a certain chemical, and many other variations. This is actually several databases cross referenced and linked to each other. The service will provide you with literature references as well. Very Powerful!
- Dan Moerman's excellent Native American Ethnobotany database (Univ. of Michigan at Dearborn).
- HerbMed Electronic database on herbs.
- Database on Plant Oils (lots of hard to find information here).
- Looking for plant identification info for a specific region? Try searching for "digital flora" plus the region's name, for example, "digital flora texas".
- One of the best resources for medicinal plant information is NAPRALERT (which stands for Natural Product Alert). There is a new web interface for this service which is searchable. You do have to set up an account and pay a modest fee for each citation located. However, you can see how many hits there are in the database before paying for anything.
- Poisonous plants are often sources of therapeutically useful compounds. Try the Cornell Poison Plant page. The dose makes the poison!
- The Butantan Insitute in Brazil is a world-renowned research organization dealing with plant and animal toxins.
- American Herbal Pharmacopeia
- The American Botanical Council has a large and interesting web site.
- Herb Research Foundation
- Michael Moore is a respected author and scholar on medicinal plants. He runs The Southwest School of Botanical Medicine which trains herbalists. The school has an interesting web page where you can get find information and links dealing with alternative medicine.
- Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center medicinal herb site.
- The Council for Responsible Nutrition - the science behind the supplements
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) - An office of the US Government.
- NCCAM's Ten Things to Know about Evaluating Medical Information on the Web
- The Society for Economic Botany deals with many ethnobotanical issues.
- International Society of Ethnobiology
- The American Society of Pharmacognosy
- Native Seeds/Search An organization devoted to preserving the seeds of traditional Native American crops from the Southwest U.S., along with the native agricultural heritage of the region. A good resource on the ethnobotany of the region.
- Other groups hoping to make a difference via research and policy changes are the Amazon Conservation Team and the Costa Rican Institute of Biodiversity (INBIO - this link can be very slow).
- The Organization for Tropical Studies funds a great deal of research and runs a summer field course on Ethnobiology. They also have numerous field stations for tropical research.
At right, Enriqueta Contraras, a curandera in Oaxaca Mexico, explains her craft. Above, the medicinal plant market in Belen, Peru, just outside of Lima.
"Once again, indigenous peoples in red breechclothes, living deep in the Amazon, had proven to be our equals -- actually our betters -- in organic chemistry"
Mark J. Plotkin
Tales of a Shaman's Apprentice
- The Lycaeum - Main Index
- Erowid: The Entheogen Vault Entheogens are substances which "...generate God or Spirit within" I guess that says it all!
- The Foundation for Shamanic Studies
- A web site on the work of Timothy Leary
Here is a very well written, web-savvy master's thesis on some ethnobotanical work in central Mexico. This is not likely to give you (directly) any information on specific plants you might be interested in, but browsing parts of it will give you a real feel for the work. Strongly recommended!Indigenous People/Indigenous Property Rights/Intellectual Property Rights
- The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO; part of the United Nations).
- The ETC Group promotes indigenous rights, including the preservation of indigenous knowledge about plant resources. Their web site contains several interesting articles.
- NativeWeb - resources on indigenous peoples
- The Convention on Biological Diversity An international treaty on intellectual & genetic property rights as they relate to biological resources.
- Survival International - an international group working to protect the lives, rights and lands of tribal people.
- Terralingua, an organization devoted to linguistic preservation, and therefore cultural and biodiversity preservation as well.
"Yet there is a shared suspicion around the world that modern laboratories in their narrow search for precisely acting pharmaceuticals may have missed some important aspects of why the "naturals" do work. The erstwhile impurities might be as essential as the concentrated extract. Moreover, the suspicion of "something missing" in modern pharmacy, fully dependent on laboratory products, is accompanied by a growing awareness that our forefathers were anything but fools in their knowledge of drugs, and that traditional medical systems throughout the world contained an enormously sophisticated number of approaches to therapeutics, "tested by time" as it were, through thousands of generations."
The background on this page is a 19th century woodcut of Phytolacca americana.
Last updated Tuesday, December 27, 2011 Contents & layout copyright 2011 Prof. Bryan Hanson