9 Famous Examples of Drugs That Came From Plants (2022)

Do you know where your drugs come from?Most of the drugs we use today came from plants originally.

Plant chemicals (phytochemicals) are responsible for some of the most important medical advancements of our time.

Some examples include:

  • Antibiotics
  • Chemotherapy
  • Pain management
  • Hallucinogenics

Here are some of the most common drugs that were derived from, or inspired by compounds found in plants.

9 Famous Examples of Drugs That Came From Plants (1)

Aspirin is a popular treatment for pain, inflammation, and fever. It works by inhibiting an enzyme known as cyclooxygenase (COX).

The COX-1 enzyme converts arachidonic acid to thromboxanes and prostaglandins which are responsible for sustaining inflammation and blood clotting.

The compound was first synthesized in 1890 by a man named Felix Hoffmann.

Aspirin is modelled after the naturally occurring polyphenol salicylic acid — a compound found in a handful of plants including Salix alba (white willow), Spirea spp. (wintergreens), and Betula spp. (birch).

All of these plants were traditionally used for conditions involving injury, pain, and inflammation.

The difference Aspirin has to its naturally occurring counterpart is the addition of an acetyl chemical group, which gives Aspirin its antifibrinolytic effects and improved bioavailability.

9 Famous Examples of Drugs That Came From Plants (2)

Quinine is used as a malaria and babesiosis medication. It remains one of the primary treatments for malaria to this day under the brand name Quinalaquin, and the generic name Quinine.

It’s an alkaloid taken from the Cinchona calisaya tree from South America. It was a popular herb used by the local Quechua tribes of the Amazon rainforest, which eventually caught the attention of the Jesuits who brought it to Europe.

Although the drug can be synthesised, the most economically viable method of production is to extract it from the cinchona tree. Unfortunately, there are many side effects to this medication, including permanent kidney damage.

9 Famous Examples of Drugs That Came From Plants (3)

Opiates are a class of chemicals that target the opioid receptors in the human body that regulate pain and temperature control.

Most opiates are classified as benzylisoquinoline alkaloids which can be either naturally occurring, or synthetic.

These alkaloids were discovered from the Opium poppy (Papaveraceae somniferum), starting with codeine and morphine. In 1874, a chemist named C.R Alder Wright synthesised a similar compound called diamorphine, more commonly referred to as heroin.

For the first 23 years of this discovery, nothing was done.

It wasn’t until Felix Hoffmann (the creator of aspirin), re-synthesised it that it caught the attention of Bayer Pharmaceuticals, where it was commercialised as a pain management drug.

Heroin has since been banned in most countries due to high addiction rates and drug abuse, however, opiates in general are still widely used in modern medicine. Morphine, codeine, methadone, and Fentanyl are all used to provide varying potencies of pain management.

Myriocin (aka ISP-1 or thermozymocidin), is an antibiotic and immunosuppressant derived from the sterile (non-spore-producing) fungus Mycelia sterilia and entomopathogenic (bug-eating) fungus Isaria sinclairii.

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Scientists modified myriocin to produce a compound known as fingolimod (compound FTY720), which is used to treat autoimmune conditions like multiple sclerosis.

Penicillin was the very first class of antibiotics ever discovered. It’s made from a mould known as Penicillium chrysogenum. It was known for years that this mould was able to kill off bacteria, including Streptococcus and Staphylococcus strains that were responsible for substantial loss of human life around that time. A Scottish scientist named Alexander Fleming finally isolated the active constituent in 1928.

Unfortunately, Alexander was a poor communicator, and couldn’t attract any serious attention from the media or his peers on his finding. It wasn’t until 1940 that penicillin was mass produced and incorporated into conventional medicine.

Although there are many penicillins, they’re all classified as beta-lactam antibiotics. They work by blocking a key process during cell division (peptidoglycan cross-link formation), causing the cell to eject its insides, effectively killing the bacteria. This is most effective in gram-positive bacteria.

Digoxin is a heart medication used for heart failure, and cardiac arrhythmias (such as atrial flutter, or atrial fibrillation). It was isolated from the foxglove plant (Digitalis lanata) in 1930, however, the first mention of foxglove derivatives for cardiac related conditions goes all the way back to 1785. It was used to treat a condition known as dropsy, which is an accumulation of fluid under the skin, often as a result of chronic heart failure.

The use of digoxin changed how we treated cardiovascular disease for many years, but has since fallen out of favour due to some of its more dangerous side effects. In fact, in 2003 a nurse named Charles Cullen killed 40 of his patients with overdoses of digoxin and other heart medications.

Digoxin works by inhibiting sodium, potassium, ATP channels in the heart. This causes sodium levels to build up inside the cells of the heart, which then causes calcium to increase inside the cell as well. This heightened calcium allows stronger contraction of the heart, while expending less energy. It also has an effect on the vagus nerve, which is used to control the heart rhythm.

9 Famous Examples of Drugs That Came From Plants (5)

Paclitaxel is a chemotherapeutic agent derived from the bark of the Pacific Yew (Taxus brevifolia).When making the medicine, the yew tree was killed. As demand for the drug increased, the drug became involved in an ecological controversy. The need for the medication was scrutinised in light of the extensive damage it was causing to yew populations in North America. Researchers began seeking more sustainable ways to obtain this compound.

The drug is now made using semisynthetic methods obtained from liquid plant cultures. Although the plant tissue is still needed to make the medicine, it poses no threat to wild yew populations because manufactures now rely on sterile lab-grown cultures of the plant.

Paclitaxel works by inhibiting a compound called tubulin inside the cells.

Tubulin is needed during cell division, by inhibiting this compound, Paclitaxel is able to prevent cell division in the body.

Since cancer often involves rapidly dividing cells, the drug is used to target these rapidly dividing cells more specifically, slowing the growth of cancer.

Unfortunately, there are also a wide range of side effects, mostly as a result of the inhibition of rapidly dividing cells.

Side-effects include:

  • Hair loss
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Nausea
  • Eczema

9 Famous Examples of Drugs That Came From Plants (6)

Vincristine and vinblastine are alkaloids taken from the Madagascar periwinkle plant (Catharanthus roseus).

Both are intravenous chemotherapeutic agents used for cancers like Hodgkin’s disease and neuroblastoma. Vinblastine was isolated first in 1958, with vincristine to follow in 1961.

Similarly to Paclitaxel, these alkaloids work by preventing cells from dividing by blocking tubulin. This has a marked effect on cancers, which are often characteristic in how rapidly they divide. As a result of this action, both have fairly strong side effects including hair loss, constipation, nausea & vomiting, neutropenia (low white blood cells), and lung damage.

Lysergic acid was made in 1938 by a man named Albert Hofmann in Switzerland.

It’s made from a naturally occurring alkaloid called ergotamine found in the fungus called ergot (Claviceps purpurea). It can now be manufactured synthetically.

Hofmann didn’t identify the psychoactivity of the extract for another 5 years. Soon after his discovery, it was picked up by psychologists a treatment for psychiatric illnesses, and by the United States government in an attempt to use mind control (for which it was unsuccessful).

LSD works by stimulating various types of serotonin receptors (5HT2A, and 5HT2B), as well as the dopamine D2 receptors in the brain.

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What drugs came from plants? ›

Aspirin, morphine and chemotherapy: the essential medicines powered by plants. Plants have long been used as traditional remedies, but now their many health benefits are helping fight some of humankind's biggest killers, such as heart disease and cancer. Discover nature's plant powerhouses.

How many drugs are derived from plants? ›

70% of new drugs come from Mother Nature.

Is an example of a drug made from a plant source? ›

The most dominant natural medicine source is plants, due to their chemical and structural diversity and the biodiversity of their components. Examples of medicines that are derived from plants are aspirin (from willow tree bark) (2), digoxin (from the flower, Digitalis lanata) (3) and morphine (from opium) (4).

What are 4 prescription drugs that derived from plants? ›

Natural compounds of pharmaceutical importance that were once obtained from higher plant sources, but which are now produced commercially largely by synthesis, include caffeine, theophylline, theobromine, ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, emetine, papaverine, L-dopa, salicylic acid, and A9-tetrahydrocannabinol.

Is aspirin made from plants? ›

Aspirin is one of the most widely used drugs in the world. Its main ingredient comes from a natural product, salicin, found in plants such as willow and myrtle.

What plant does ibuprofen come from? ›

Scientists say traditional medicine plant could be the natural ibuprofen—and treat cancer and diabetes. The leaves of the Psychotria insularum plant, known in Samoa as matalafi, have been used to treat inflammation for generations.

What plant is used to make paracetamol? ›

Paracetamol's structure is relatively simple, explains the scientists: a six-carbon benzene ring with two small chemical groups attached. Poplar trees naturally make a remarkably similar structure, called p-hydroxybenzoate, which is attached to lignin.

What plant is aspirin made from? ›

The story of the discovery of aspirin stretches back more than 3500 years to when bark from the willow tree was used as a pain reliever and antipyretic.

Where did paracetamol come from? ›

Harmon Northrop Morse synthesized paracetamol at Johns Hopkins University via the reduction of p-nitrophenol with tin in glacial acetic acid in 1877, but it was not until 1887 that clinical pharmacologist Joseph von Mering tried paracetamol on humans.

Where does aspirin come from? ›

History of aspirin

It comes from Spiraea, a biological genus of shrubs that includes natural sources of the drug's key ingredient: salicylic acid. This acid, resembling what's in modern-day aspirin, can be found in jasmine, beans, peas, clover and certain grasses and trees.

What are plants used for medicine? ›

Top 10 Medicinal Plants
  • Calendula (Calendula officinalis). ...
  • Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla). ...
  • Peppermint (Metha x piperita). ...
  • Holy Basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum). ...
  • Plantain (Plantago major). ...
  • Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis). ...
  • English Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia “Vera”). ...
  • Hops (Humulus lupulus).
10 Aug 2018

Is Tylenol made from plants? ›

Acetaminophen—the active ingredient in many Americans' go-to pain reliever, Tylenol—typically stems from a surprising source: coal tar, a viscous liquid produced when oxygen-deprived coal is subjected to high heat.

What is Tylenol made of? ›

Acetaminophen is an active ingredient in TYLENOL® products and in more than 600 other over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medicines. Do not take more than one medicine containing acetaminophen at the same time.

Is aspirin from a tree? ›

Did You Know? It is a common misconception that aspirin is found in the bark of the willow tree. A related compound called salicin does indeed occur in willow bark, thereby explaining the use of the bark as a medication since the time of Hippocrates.

What are the 10 medicinal plants approved by DOH? ›

Ten medicinal plants have been endorsed by the DOH-PITAHC, after they have been scientifically validated to ensure safety and efficacy. These are Acapulco, Ampalaya (Makiling variety), Lagundi (five leaflets), Bawang, Bayabas, Sambong, Niyug-niyogan, Tsaang-gubat, Yerba Buena, and Ulasimang bato (pansit-pansitan).

What plant has anti-inflammatory? ›

9 Herbs and Spices That Fight Inflammation
  • Ginger. Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is a delicious spice with a peppery yet sweet flavor. ...
  • Garlic. Garlic (Allium sativum) is a popular spice with a strong smell and taste. ...
  • Turmeric. ...
  • Cardamom. ...
  • Black pepper. ...
  • Ginseng. ...
  • Green tea. ...
  • Rosemary.
25 Jan 2021

What plant is good for inflammation? ›

Turmeric typically comes in the form of a yellow powder from the root of the turmeric plant. It contains a chemical called curcumin, which may have anti-inflammatory properties. Several studies have shown that turmeric can help reduce inflammation and discomfort in people with arthritis.

Is Tylenol from a tree? ›

Traditionally, the process to create acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, involves coal tar, which is a by-product of carbonising coal. The researchers use a natural compound derived from poplar trees, offering an environmentally friendly alternative to the traditional production process.

What is Panadol plant? ›

The panadol plant or plectranthus caninus roth is a member of the Lamiaceae (mint, labiatae/deadnettle) family. It comes from a family of flowering plants. I classify it as a very spiritual, healing and intriguing plant. It appears that in St Lucia it is well documented.

What was Tylenol originally used for? ›

Tylenol, trademarked brand of acetaminophen, an aspirin-free pain reliever and fever reducer introduced in 1955 by McNeil Laboratories, Inc.

Are pills made of plants? ›

At present, about 8 out of 10 drugs used to treat infection, cardiovascular disease, or cancers, or as immunosuppressives, come from plants, directly or as derivatives. Between 1981 and 2006, approval was granted to 155 antitumor drugs, of which almost half were derived from natural products.

What are the 5 sources of drugs? ›

Sources of drugs may be natural, synthetic, and biosynthetic. Drugs of plant, animal, microbiological, marine, mineral, geographical origins constitute the natural sources.

What are root drugs? ›

Very popular root drugs are Asparagus racemosus (Shatavari), Withania somnifera (Ashwaganda), Boerhavia diffusa(Punarnava), Chlorophytum borivilianum (safed musale), Tribulus terrestris (Gokhru), Salacia chinensis (Ekanayakam, Swarna moola), Sida cordifolia (Bala), Curculigo orchioides (Kali musale), Smilax chinensis, ...

Is aspirin made from plants? ›

Aspirin is one of the most widely used drugs in the world. Its main ingredient comes from a natural product, salicin, found in plants such as willow and myrtle.

What plant is used in aspirin? ›

Weeping willow to salicylic acid. Willow bark has been used as a traditional medicine for more than 3500 years. Unknown to the ancient Sumerians and Egyptians who made use of it, the active agent within willow bark was salicin, which would later form the basis of the discovery of aspirin (Fig 1).

What plant does ibuprofen come from? ›

Scientists say traditional medicine plant could be the natural ibuprofen—and treat cancer and diabetes. The leaves of the Psychotria insularum plant, known in Samoa as matalafi, have been used to treat inflammation for generations.

What are 4 types of drugs? ›

7 Drug Categories
  • (1) Central Nervous System (CNS) Depressants. CNS depressants slow down the operations of the brain and the body. ...
  • (2) CNS Stimulants. ...
  • (3) Hallucinogens. ...
  • (4) Dissociative Anesthetics. ...
  • (5) Narcotic Analgesics. ...
  • (6) Inhalants. ...
  • (7) Cannabis.

What is an example of a drug that comes from an animal source? ›

Medications may contain animal byproducts that are important for their effectiveness or production. Medications such as conjugated estrogens (Premarin), desiccated thyroid hormone (Armour Thyroid), and heparin come from various animals.

What are the 8 categories of drugs? ›

The drug categories are:
  • Stimulants.
  • Inhalants.
  • Cannabinoids.
  • Depressants.
  • Opioids.
  • Steroids.
  • Hallucinogens.
  • Prescription drugs.
24 Jul 2019

Which drug is obtained from leaves? ›

Cocaine was first isolated from the Coca leaf by German chemist Friedrich Gaedcke. The purification process gradually improved over the years until cocaine became a suitable anaesthetic. The drug is still used medicinally but is more commonly known as a recreational drug.

What plant is used to make paracetamol? ›

Paracetamol's structure is relatively simple, explains the scientists: a six-carbon benzene ring with two small chemical groups attached. Poplar trees naturally make a remarkably similar structure, called p-hydroxybenzoate, which is attached to lignin.

Which drug is obtained from wood? ›

Xylitol is manufactured from birch hemicelluloses. Antibodies for high cholesterol and cardiovascular diseases have also been discovered in wood. Pine compounds can be used to make plant sterols and stanols, which are added to margarines and yogurt products.


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