Medicinal plants have been utilized by indigenous communities in various regions since ancient times. They are regarded as valuable and finite resources in nature. Furthermore, the livelihoods of many indigenous people and local farmers are closely intertwined with these plants.
Indigenous people in regions where medicinal plants grow wild gather them and, following traditional drying methods, sell them to local merchants.
Today, farmers are increasingly inclined to cultivate medicinal plants due to their high profitability compared to growing grains and vegetables. They allocate their fields for the cultivation of native plants.
In some villages, efforts have been made to establish workshops for processing medicinal plants, which significantly contribute to the employment opportunities for local communities.
In Iran, the processing of medicinal plants is limited due to the absence of modern and well-equipped facilities. Therefore, these plants are often exported in raw form to neighboring countries. Unfortunately, many of our native plants are sold under the names of countries such as India and the United Arab Emirates to Europe and the United States.
What Are Medicinal Plants?
Medicinal herbs refer to plants whose certain parts contain active compounds.
The term ‘Herb’ is derived from the Latin word ‘Herba,’ meaning green products. This term encompasses all plants cultivated on farms or found in the wild, which are self-sustaining.
In a broad definition, medicinal plants are those used due to the presence of active substances in various industries, including pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, food production, perfumery, traditional medicine, and dyeing.”
Medicinal Plant Parts
- Seeds and grains
How medicinal plants are utilized?
- Fresh plants
- Dried plants
- Extraction of active compounds for industrial use
- Processed forms, including heat treatment
Note: To date, 2,500 to 500,000 plant species have been identified as medicinal plants worldwide, of which approximately 35,000 are used as medicinal herbs. Only about 100 species are systematically cultivated worldwide, while the rest are wild and self-sustaining, collected from nature. Those collected from nature are referred to as wild medicinal plants.
Number of medicinal plant species in the world
|Turkey||Less than 500|
|European countries||Less than 2000|
|Iraq||Less than 1500|
|The global number||3500-7500|
Medicinal plants are used in what industries?
1- Food industry
2- Cosmetic industry (perfume and aromatherapy)
Medicinal plants can be served as essential components in cuisine, spices, seasonings, and food preservation.
With the increase of health-conscious people and vegetarians, the use of herbal teas, flavored beverages, aromatic coffee, and herbs to improve the taste, color, fragrance, and nutritional value of foods and beverages has recently reached a new stage. The use of medicinal and aromatic plants has gained significant popularity.
The most crucial parts of medicinal plants utilized in the food industry include:
The consumption of medicinal plants in cooking is steadily increasing, mainly due to the growing demand for edible greens.
- However, a notable challenge in integrating medicinal plants into the food industry is to preserve freshness. Therefore, advanced technologies for transporting, storing and drying these medicinal plants are essential.
- Modern drying techniques involve the separation of superior-quality medicinal plants from inferior ones, followed by their categorization and placement in drying apparatuses.
- Medicinal plants can be used in various forms including fresh, dried, powdered, capsules, tablets, and tinctures.
- Among the processed products of medicinal plants, functional foods are in high demand in the market of medicinal plants as new products.
- Functional Foods first gained prominence in the 1980s in Japan and have since spread in other advanced nations.
- These foods play a critical role in combating the increasing number of diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, making them an important target on the development agenda of advanced countries.
- What distinguishes Functional Foods is the presence of bioactive compounds that provide physiological benefits, especially in the prevention and treatment of diseases.
- In these foods, harmful constituents are eliminated, while beneficial compounds are incorporated into nutritional products.
- Functional foods are dietary items with therapeutic benefits whose nutritional value is enhanced by the addition of certain highly effective components.
- Noteworthy examples of flavoring agents in Functional Foods include vanilla, cocoa, menthol, essential oils, eugenol, spices, and dried herbs.
- Botanical extracts such as saffron, caramel (derived from sugar beets), beta-carotene, capsanthin, capsorubin, anthocyanin, and lutein xanthophyll (extracted from dried marigold petals, safflower, and golden yellow color alfalfa blossoms) are among the prominent edible plant-based colorants.
- Various plants are utilized as spices, seasonings, and culinary ingredients. These include saffron, cardamom, cumin, red and black pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, anise, German chamomile, marigold, lemon balm, Origanum vulgare, lemon grass, Shirazi thyme, mustard, chicory, garlic, fennel, oregano, tarragon, savory, Damask rose, orange blossom, sesame, caraway, fenugreek, rosemary, and Asafoetida.
- Herbal teas, derived from the flowers, leaves, fruits, peels, seeds, and flowering stems of specific plants.
- Due to their high content of bioactive compounds, herbal teas have numerous health benefits, increasing the body’s immune system and promoting both physical and mental well-being.
- These teas can be prepared from a single plant or a blend of multiple herbs.
- Processed products from medicinal plants, such as essential oils, gums, resins, herbal tinctures, oleoresins, extracts, essential oils, herbal dyes, balsams, concretes, and plant extracts, are extensively employed in the manufacturing of various consumer goods. These include perfumes, fragrances, tonics, lotions, shampoos, deodorants, soaps, styling gels, creams, mums, cosmetics colors, toothpaste, mouthwashes, laundry detergents, and skin creams, moisturizers among others.
Utilization of Medicinal Plants in Industries
- Medicinal plants can be used in various industries, including printing and paper, fabric dyeing, adhesives (such as Arabic gum and gum tragacanth), gelling agents (agar, carrageenan, alginates, carrageenans, forilarans, and pectins), and thickeners like locust bean gum and guar gum.
- Plant growth regulators, and allelopathic compounds (terpenoids, coumarins, flavonoids, alkaloids, glucosides, phenolic acids, glucosinolates, and tannins) are obtained from various plants, along with some essential oils.
- Medicinal and aromatic plants, due to their active compounds, particularly in the form of essential oils and extracts, are used in a variety of products, including pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and antimicrobial agents. They possess significant potential for replacing chemical substances and are currently employed for controlling disease-causing factors and insects.
- Natural colors derived from weeds, wildflowers, root barks, dried fruits, tannin-rich extracts, cholophanes, and bryophytes are extensively utilized for dyeing textiles and fabrics, painting, paper production, and the printing industry.
Today, the use of medicinal plants in pharmaceuticals has seen a significant increase due to industrial growth and the utilization of advanced technologies in the pharmaceutical sector.
Currently, the use of these plants to produce herbal medicines for the treatment of various diseases is one of the most important strategies in the fields of health, commerce, and technology, and this area gained significant attraction.
Since humans are an integral part of nature, approaching nature is considered a faster and safer means of treatment.
The medicinal plant’s application to manufacture herbal medicines is the safest and least hazardous approach to disease treatment, replacing chemical drugs.
Aromatherapy is derived from the fusion of “aroma,” meaning pleasant smell, and “therapy”,” meaning treatment. One of the most noticeable properties of essential oils is their ability to stimulate the sense of smell and activate the nerve receptors responsible for the sense of smell. The olfactory system is intimately connected to the centers for emotion, memory, and sexual feelings, collectively referred to as the limbic system. This neural nexus influences the regulation of heart rate, blood pressure, stress responses, respiration, hormone balance, emotions, and mood, ultimately affecting the physical and mental aspects of human health. The messages the brain receives through the olfactory system can alleviate anxiety, overcome psychological challenges, relieve muscle and rheumatic pain, alleviate digestive disorders, and combat a plethora of physical and mental ailments.
Aromatherapy offers a variety of benefits, including weight loss, sedation, pain control, deep sleep, and increased libido. The human sense of smell is significantly stronger than the sense of taste and can be considered the guardian of memories.
Aromatherapy is proving to be a therapeutic modality that is remarkably safe, inexpensive, and effective. The aromatic essential oil of any plant, such as cinnamon, eucalyptus, peppermint, lavender, rosemary, jasmine, red rose, marigold, thyme, cedarwood, chamomile, or others, particularly on the human body. These effects include reducing fatigue and stress, alleviating depression and aggression, promoting serenity and vitality, and rejuvenating the nerves. Aromatherapy can be used in a variety of ways, including inhalation, application to the skin through massage, or as a component of baths.