I found Dr. Kinghorn’s statements that roughly 2/3 of the world’s population still relies on plant medicine, and that most modern plant-derived medicines had previous ethnobotanical uses initially very surprising. When I thought it over a bit more, both of these things make quite a bit of sense. I know plenty of people who use various herbal remedies, and my family uses home remedies like ginger, chamomile, lemon juice, etc. for minor ailments. It also makes sense that the majority of plant-derived medicines were from plants with ethnobotanical uses, because these would be the most likely candidates when selecting target plants to analyze for new potential drugs.
I was also surprised by just how much foundational research in plant alkaloids as medicines occurred in France; Jussieu’s standardization of “-ine” endings for alkaloids the discoveries of caffeine, quinine and strychnine being good examples.
Taxol, an important chemotherapy drug, being derived from yew trees was also interesting to me. I’ve eaten yew berries before, which have a very unique taste, but have been very cautious in eating them because of how poisonous the rest of the plant is. That one of the alkaloids that make this plant toxic to humans would also have a medicinal use was not something I had previously considered.
One thought on “Dr. Kinghorn Reflection”
Toxicity is always dose-dependent. Most compounds that are therapeutic are not effective and not toxic at low enough doses, have an optimum therapeutic dose, and are toxic at higher doses. A good example is dixitoxin, the cardiac glycoside he mentioned. It s extremely toxic, but beneficial for heart failure at lower doses. Yes, you are right, that native people must have been testing various plants for generations and hit on some beneficial ones through trial and error. We are taking advantage of that ancient wisdom when we start with those as medicines to test scientifically.