Recent advances in traditional plant drugs and orchids.

Jin-Ming Kong, Ngoh-Khang Goh, Lian-Sai Chia, Tet-Fatt Chia


The main objective of this paper is to review recent advances in plant drug research and developments in orchid study, in an attempt to provide useful references for plant drug studies. Plants have been used as medicine for millennia. Out of estimated 250 000 to 350 000 plant species identified so far, about 35 000 are used worldwide for medicinal purposes. It has been confirmed by WHO that herbal medicines serve the health needs of about 80 percent of the world's population; especially for millions of people in the vast rural areas of developing countries. Meanwhile, consumers in developed countries are becoming disillusioned with modern healthcare and are seeking alternatives. The recent resurgence of plant remedies results from several factors: 1) the effectiveness of plant medicines; 2) the side effect of most modern drugs; and 3) the development of science and technology. It has been estimated that in the mid-1990s over 200 companies and research organizations worldwide are screening plant and animal compounds for medicinal properties. Actually, several important drugs used in modern medicine have come from medicinal plant studies, eg, taxol/paclitaxel, vinblastine, vincristine, topotecan, irinotecan, etoposide, teniposide, etc. As for drugs derived from orchids, some novel discoveries, both in phytochemical and pharmacological properties, were reported by some universities. However, studies on plants are very limited. Only about a third of the million or so species of higher plants have been identified and named by scientists. Of those named, only a tiny fraction has been studied. Nowadays the linking of the indigenous knowledge of medicinal plants to modern research activities provides a new approach, which makes the rate of discovery of drugs much more effective than with random collection.

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