To remember them all. Ancient manuscripts help to study medicinal herbs

This discovery would not have become a revelation for the doctors of Ancient China. Artemisinin used to treat malaria back in the early 70’s but the plant on the basis of which manufactured the drug, was used in febrile States already in III–IV centuries.

The residences identified properties of artemisinin, studying traditional Chinese treatises on the use of medicinal herbs. The way this discovery was complicated by a vast array of information, the need to conduct hundreds of experiments and political situation in China of the 70s. fortunately, persistence paid off, and now artemisinin is a key anti-malaria drug.

Artemisinin is not only derived from plants, the compound that is used in modern medicine. For example, another medicine for malaria – quinine comes from the bark of a tropical South American Cinchona tree Cinchona officinalis L. analgesic morphine from the opium poppy Papaver somniferum L, and the poison strychnine – from the tree Strychnos nux-vomica L. These plants were used for thousands of years before chemists were able to extract their active ingredients.

So can we hope to find new drugs in ancient manuscripts, as it successfully made The Yuyu? The answer to this question is quite complex and, unfortunately, can be unambiguously affirmative. In ancient pharmacological texts, be they written in Chinese, Arabic, Greek or any ancient language, difficult to navigate for several reasons.

Prepare the recipe?

Think of your favorite cookbook: you can hardly cook anything. Now, pharmacological texts in the manuscripts represent only a set of recipes. Information about how and when these recipes were used, and were applied in General, is almost completely absent, except for some cases.

In addition, it is often difficult to accurately determine what plants were used. Currently worldwide for plant classification used international classification system of plants and animals Carl Linnaeus, where indicated genus, species, and the name of the discoverer. So, in the name of our “Artemisia annua L.” “Artemisia” is the category of genus, “annua”, and the letter “L” indicates the name of the Linnaeus .

However, before the system of Linnaeus became widely accepted, classification of plants was carried out extremely randomly, and to denote one and the same plant could be used local names. It is not always possible to know for sure what kind of plants are mentioned in ancient texts. But, if it is impossible to translate old recipes, then how to evaluate their effectiveness?

In addition, the definition of the various diseases connected with culture. Every people in different ways to interpret those or other ailments. For example, the Greeks and Romans believed that fever is a distinct disease, while modern doctors consider it to be merely a symptom of an underlying disease.

In Greek and Roman texts is the many descriptions of the so-called “intermittent fever”. Currently it is a symptom of malaria, and a number of other diseases. Whether scientists test all the ancient Greek and Roman money in the search for new antimalarial drugs?


Although many drugs that have reached us from time immemorial, it is highly efficient even by modern standards, some of them are frankly dangerous. For example, very few of us would consider it appropriate to use large doses of toxic plants hellebore as a laxative, as practiced by the ancient Greeks.

However, according to historians of medicine, medical system should be considered as a whole. Non-optimal focusing on those aspects of ancient healing, which correspond to modern standards of treatment, and to reject those that are not.

Despite these reservations, ancient medical texts carry great potential for new discoveries in the field of drug development. Of course, will require the cooperation of pharmacologists, historians and ethnopharmacologic and their willingness to find each other a common language. But, as an inspiring example of The YOYO, it’s worth it when it comes to defeating the diseases.