What is pharmacognosy?
John Murray, co-founder and director of sustainability and philanthropic projects at Modern Botany, explains
INIn simple terms, pharmacognosy is the study of medicines derived from plants. Pharmacognosy has been around for a long time and we can record how humans have used plants back to the Stone Age, but Western medicine originates from Greek philosophers. Dioscorides (40-90AD), author of De Materia Medica (‘on medical material’), was one of the first physicians to document medicines that can be obtained from plants and it’s from here that we find the origins of Western medicine.
Pharmacognosy is a multidisciplinary study drawing on a broad spectrum of biological and socio-scientific subjects, including botany, marine biology, microbiology and herbal medicine, alongside chemistry, biotechnology and pharmaceutics, among others. Although most pharmacognostic studies focus on plants, and medicines derived from plants, other types of organisms are also regarded as pharmacognostically interesting, in particular microbes, such as bacteria and fungi – think antibiotics – and, more recently, marine organisms, including some interesting anti-cancer products derived from sea sponges.
My co-founder at Modern Botany, Simon Jackson, is a doctor of pharmacognosy and, as one of very few pharmacognists left in the world, has dedicated his career of more than 30 years to this arm of medicine. Through extensive studies and countless expeditions, Simon developed a specific interest and passion for natural cosmetics and nutraceutical product research. Long before it became fashionable to do so, he began promoting a natural movement in the cosmeceutical industry. From the early 1990s, he started to develop formulations based on the principles of pharmacognosy – a unique approach that was founded on science and evidence-based research.
‘I knew my experience and knowledge could add huge value in not only selecting which extracts were used, but checking the quality of ingredients and ensuring that they were pharmacy-grade,’ explains Simon. ‘Even today, it’s common for plant extracts to be adulterated with cheaper alternatives. Feverfew, for example, is often used in place of chamomile and, while the plant and flower look the same to the naked eye, they have a whole different pharmacology.’
Informed by Simon’s considerable research, Modern Botany uses carefully selected blends of plant-based bio actives, sourced responsibly from around the globe. All our products are 100% natural, safe to use and non-toxic.