Medicinal plants are plants that have a recognized medical use. They range from those used in the production of mainstream pharmaceutical products to plants used in herbal medicine preparations. Herbal medicine is one of the oldest forms of medical treatment in human history and could be considered one of the forerunners of the modern pharmaceutical trade. Plants that have medical uses can be found growing in many settings all over the world.
Some medicinal plants are wild crafted, meaning that they are harvested in the wild by people who are skilled at plant identification. Sometimes, plants cannot be cultivated, making wild crafting the only way to get them, and some people believe that wild plants have more medicinal properties. Wild crafting can also be done to gather herbs for home use, with people seeking them out to use in their own medicinal preparations.
Other plants may be cultivated. One of the advantages of cultivation is that it allows for greater control over growing conditions, which can result in a more predictable and consistent crop. Cultivation also allows for mass production, which makes plants more commercially viable, as they can be processed in large numbers and priced low enough that people will be able to afford them.
People who work with medicinal plants can process them in a variety of ways. Many plants contain pharmacologically active compounds that can be accessed by making teas, tisanes, and other preparations. Plants can also be blended with each other to achieve a desired outcome or processed to make homeopathic medicines, along with medicines designed for topical application, such as oils and creams.
The history of studying and working with medicinal plants is quite long. Many chemists are interested in studying plants that have not been researched before, to identify which compounds in the plants are active and to see how those compounds work. Usually, the goal is to develop a synthetic version of the compound that can be easily produced in a lab and packaged in pharmaceutical preparations. Chemists may also be interested in historic medical treatments, examining plants to see whether or not preparations used historically would have worked, and if they would have, how they would have worked.
Preparations made from these plants are available for sale in many health food stores and through the offices of naturopaths, practitioners of Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine, and other alternative health care providers. Some preparations are widely used in the conventional medical community as well; preparations of aloe, for example, are commonly used to treat burns.