Pharmacognosy: History, Development, Scope and Sources of Crude Drugs


Pharmacognosy word is derived from two Greek words, pharmakon means drugs and gignosco means to acquire knowledge of something. The term pharmacognosy is first termed by German scientist Seydler (1815), in his work “Analacta Pharmacognistica”. Pharmacognosy is the systemic study of crude drugs obtained from natural origin like plant, animal and minerals. Pharmacognosy is defined as the branch of science which involves scientific and systematic study of structural, physical and biological characteristics of crude drugs including their therapeutic actions, uses and adulterants. In this article we will cover history, scope, development of pharmacognosy and sources of crude drugs.

History and development of pharmacognosy

The substances from plant and animal sources are used as food by human beings, but later on they classified them in food stuffs and therapeutic agents. History of pharmacognosy can be classified in to three major stages as follows;

For first stage (before 18th century) very few documents and recorded evidences are available. Human beings are using natural products in their crude form.

In second stage (19th century), pharmacognosy subject evolved more and came to practice. In this stage humans started advance techniques like extraction, isolation of drugs.

In third stage (20th century) series of discoveries resulted in complete change of pharmacognosy. In recent trend peoples are preferring more natural products, hence the importance of herbal products is increasing in the market.

Papyrus Eberus (1500 BC) is the oldest known Egyptian document on medicine, it is the evidence that Egyptians were aware of medicinal uses of natural products and human anatomy. Since then, many scientists contributed in the field of pharmacognosy.

The Greek physician Hippocrates (460-360 BC) is known as the father of medicine. Some other scientists like Aristotle (384-322 BC), Theophrastus (370-287 BC), Dioscorides (40-80 BC), Galen (131-200 AD) also contributed in the field of pharmacognosy.

In context of Indian history, medicinal plants and their curative properties are mentioned in the Suktas of Rigveda and Atharveda (3500 BC). Ayurveda described medicinal uses of plants. There are two Samhita in Ayurveda which deals with the medicinal properties of natural products and human anatomy. One is Cahrak Samhita written by Charak and second is Susruta Samhita written by Susruta.

Scope of pharmacognosy

  • Pharmacognosy plays an important role in the development of different branches of science.
  • Pharmacognosist have knowledge of vegetable and animal drugs, covered under botany and zoology respectively. The thorough knowledge of plant taxonomy, plant breeding, plant pathology and plant genetics is very helpful in the cultivation of medicinal and aromatic plants.
  • Phytochemistry has evolved significantly in the recent years, which concern with various substances that are synthesized and accumulated by plants and structural elucidation of these substances.
  • For complete understanding of pharmacognosy, knowledge of chemotaxonomy, biogenetic pathways of primary and secondary metabolites and plant tissue culture is essential.
  • Pharmacognosist should have basic knowledge of biochemistry and chemical engineering for the development of collection, processing and storage of crude drugs.
  • Pharmacognosy is an important link between allopathy and traditional systems of medicine, which is affordable as well accessible to common man. It provides safe and effective drugs in combination with modern medicine system.
  • Pharmacognosy connects different branches of pharmacy like pharmacology, medicinal chemistry, pharmacotherapeutics and pharmaceutics.

Traditional and alternative systems of medicine

Traditional medicine system refers to various health practices, knowledge and beliefs of natural sources, spiritual therapies, manual techniques, exercises, applied alone or in combination to treat, diagnose and prevention of illness. Different types of traditional systems of medicine are as follows;

  • Ayurveda
  • Siddha
  • Unani
  • Homeopathy
  • Yoga
  • Naturopathy

Read more about traditional systems of medicine.

Sources of drugs

Sources of Crude Drugs
Sources of Crude Drugs

The word drug is derived from French word drogue which means dry herb. Drug is a chemical substance which is obtained naturally or synthetically to treat, cure, diagnose and prevention of illness. There are various sources of drugs as follow;

Plant Leaf: neem, tulsi

Flower: vinca

Fruit: opium

Root: shatavari, ashwagandha

Seed: dhatura

Bark: arjuna bark, cinchona

Animal Pancreas: insulin

Bone: gelatin, calcium

Cod liver oil

Mineral Zinc, sodium bicarbonate, ferrous ascorbate, silver, shilajit, talc
Microbial sourcePenicillium notatum, streptomycin, neomycin, lactobacillus
Tissue cultureAtropine, vincristine, etoposide, cocaine, scopolamine, hyoscyamine
Marine sourceZiconotide, vidarabine, eribulin mesylate, cytarabine


Pharmacognosy is the important branch of pharmacy which plays an important role in new drug discovery and development by using natural products. As apart of integrative system. Pharmacognosy can help to increase the effectiveness and reduce the toxicity of modern medicines. Development of pharmacognosy also leads to botany, zoology, taxonomy, plant biotechnology, plant genetics, pharmaceutics, pharmacology, phytochemistry and other branches of science.

Frequently asked questions

Who coined the term pharmacognosy?

The term pharmacognosy is coined by German botanist Seydler in 1815.

Who is the first pharmacist?

Galen is considered to be the first pharmacist in world.

Who is the father of medicine?

Hippocrates is the father of medicine.

Who is the father of pharmacognosy?

Dioscorides, a physician in military, is known as the father of pharmacognosy.

Who is the father of Indian pharmacognosy?

Chandrakant Kokate is the father of Indian pharmacognosy.

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