Medicinal Plants: Introduction to Botany

NAT 101


Botany is a branch of biology studying plant life, including: structure, growth, taxonomy, systematics, reproduction, metabolism, physiology, biochemistry, development, diseases, ecology, and evolution of plants.

Plant Divisions

  • Bryophytes: nonvascular plants that include liverworts, hornworts, and mosses
  • Tracheophytes: seedless vascular plants that include clubmosses, trimerophytes, ferns and horsetails
  • Spermatophytes: seed vascular plants that include conifers, cycads, ginkgo, gnetae, and flowering plants

A thallose liverwort Lunularia cruciata


The hornwort Dendroceros crispus growing on the bark of a tree

Red moss capsules, a winter native of the Yorkshire Dales moorland


Lycopodiella inundata

Ferns at Muir Woods, California

Pinaceae: cone of a Norway Spruce (Picea abies)


Leaves and cone of Encephalartos sclavoi

Ginkgo leaves in summer

Ephedra distachya (male flowers)

Two bees on a flower head of Creeping Thistle, Cirsium arvense


Ethnobotany is the study of the relationship between plants and people and their culture.

  • William Harshberger (1895-1896 ), botanist in USA, coined term “Ethnobotany”
  • Leopold Glueck, 19th century German physician, ethnobotanist
  • Richard Evans Schulte, called “father of modern ethnobotany”


Phytotherapy is the use of plants or plant extracts for medicinal purposes (especially plants that are not part of the normal diet).

The carotenoids in primrose produce bright red, yellow and orange shades. People consuming diets rich in carotenoids from natural foods, such as fruits and vegetables, are healthier and have lower mortality from a number of chronic illnesses.


Pharmacognosy is the study of all medicines that are derived from natural sources.

The bark of willow trees contains large amounts of salicylic acid, which is the active metabolite of aspirin. Willow bark has been used for millennia as an effective pain reliever and fever reducer.


Phytochemistry is the study of phytochemicals produced in plants:

  • Carbohydrates
  • Lipids
  • Amino acids & derivatives
  • Phenolic compounds
  • Terpenoids
  • Steroids
  • Alkaloids

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