The search for more and better plant-based medicines continues today.

It’s more than a matter of finding new plants or documenting traditional remedies before they disappear, although that is part of the process.

Researchers are also trying to understand more about the medicinal plants we already use - to identify how each chemical compound affects the human body. Full-scale clinical trials of traditional remedies are just beginning, a process that will give doctors a more complete picture of what a particular herbal remedy can (and can’t) do for a patient. Botanists and growers are also part of this process, as they work on ways to produce plants with a higher or more consistent level of medicinal chemicals.

The search for more and better plant-based medicines continues today.

It’s more than a matter of finding new plants or documenting traditional remedies before they disappear, although that is part of the process.

Researchers are also trying to understand more about the medicinal plants we already use - to identify how each chemical compound affects the human body. Full-scale clinical trials of traditional remedies are just beginning, a process that will give doctors a more complete picture of what a particular herbal remedy can (and can’t) do for a patient.

Botanists and growers are also part of this process, as they work on ways to produce plants with a higher or more consistent level of medicinal chemicals.

© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

Pascale Harster

Proprietor

Harster Greenhouses & Science Based Medicinal Plants Inc.

Dundas, Ontario



Develops new ways to grow medicinal plants with consistent chemical profiles.

Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives


Standardization is making sure that all the plants that are being used to make a pill or a product, in whichever form, an extract or whatever, are identical in the amounts of medicinal compounds they contain. We do this because every plant is different. Because plants come from seeds, and each seed is different, just like brothers and sisters.
Standardization is making sure that all the plants that are being used to make a pill or a product, in whichever form, an extract or whatever, are identical in the amounts of medicinal compounds they contain. We do this because every plant is different. Because plants come from seeds, and each seed is different, just like brothers and sisters.

© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

At one time, thousands of years ago, the people who were harvesting medicinal plants knew what they were doing. They knew this plant is good, this one is not. They had a traditional knowledge that has since been lost. Today, many medicinal plants have become crops, where everything is harvested, whether good or not. So the idea behind standardization is to make sure every plant is the same.

This is important because scientific people now think that there is a synergy among all the different chemical compounds in a medicinal plant. It's not just the one on the label that's important - it's really the whole plant that's important. If you have standardized plants, you can be sure that every plant has the same amount of every single chemical compound within the plant - and there can be hundreds of them.

At one time, thousands of years ago, the people who were harvesting medicinal plants knew what they were doing. They knew this plant is good, this one is not. They had a traditional knowledge that has since been lost. Today, many medicinal plants have become crops, where everything is harvested, whether good or not. So the idea behind standardization is to make sure every plant is the same.

This is important because scientific people now think that there is a synergy among all the different chemical compounds in a medicinal plant. It's not just the one on the label that's important - it's really the whole plant that's important. If you have standardized plants, you can be sure that every plant has the same amount of every single chemical compound within the plant - and there can be hundreds of them.


© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

The concept is to select a really good line of medicinal plants, multiply them in a consistent manner and then grow them in a controlled environment to make sure that this consistency is carried over through the growth period of the plant. It allows us as well to bypass the seasonal aspect of growing it outside, so we can grow them the whole year round. That’s good for supply as well, because very often the plants in the wild are harvested and then stored for months on end, and by the time they are processed there may not be anything left in the plant because it was left on the shelf for too long.
The concept is to select a really good line of medicinal plants, multiply them in a consistent manner and then grow them in a controlled environment to make sure that this consistency is carried over through the growth period of the plant. It allows us as well to bypass the seasonal aspect of growing it outside, so we can grow them the whole year round. That’s good for supply as well, because very often the plants in the wild are harvested and then stored for months on end, and by the time they are processed there may not be anything left in the plant because it was left on the shelf for too long.

© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

Goldenseal

Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives


That’s maybe the hardest part of the project. You have to rely on the plants that have been known to be effective. That is the job of the University of Guelph. They talk to people that have known what the plants were doing for a long time. So you start with a plant with a history of well known efficacy. Then the plant is tested to determine its chemical components. Then, depending on what they learn about the chemical compounds in the plant, they’ll choose one of the lines to standardize.
That’s maybe the hardest part of the project. You have to rely on the plants that have been known to be effective. That is the job of the University of Guelph. They talk to people that have known what the plants were doing for a long time. So you start with a plant with a history of well known efficacy. Then the plant is tested to determine its chemical components. Then, depending on what they learn about the chemical compounds in the plant, they’ll choose one of the lines to standardize.

© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

We're working on St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) and echinacea (E. purpurea and E. angustifolia). Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium), and huang qin (Scutellaria baicalensis) are plants we're going to work on next. We may work on other plants depending on our customers' requirements.

The plants from the University of Guelph are acclimatized and grown in a controlled environment facility. It looks like a greenhouse, but it's way more than that - every aspect of the environment is controlled. We run thousands of experiments on different lines with different types of environments to make sure we get the best plants - that is, ones that are identical and have the right chemical compound contents and the same potency. Growing in a controlled environment ensures that none of the plants is contaminated by polluted soil, which is sometimes a problem when they're grown outdoors in fields.

We're working on St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) and echinacea (E. purpurea and E. angustifolia). Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium), and huang qin (Scutellaria baicalensis) are plants we're going to work on next. We may work on other plants depending on our customers' requirements.

The plants from the University of Guelph are acclimatized and grown in a controlled environment facility. It looks like a greenhouse, but it's way more than that - every aspect of the environment is controlled. We run thousands of experiments on different lines with different types of environments to make sure we get the best plants - that is, ones that are identical and have the right chemical compound contents and the same potency.

Growing in a controlled environment ensures that none of the plants is contaminated by polluted soil, which is sometimes a problem when they're grown outdoors in fields.

© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

Millepertuis

Royal Botanical Gardens

© Royal Botanical Gardens


It's a combination of all the factors in the environment - the light, the temperature, the CO2 in the air, what you feed them, the type of media they're in, whether it's peat moss or other kind of soil-less media or no media at all. It's really a lot of different things. So it's not that easy, unfortunately. If you stress a plant, the plant will try to reproduce and produce more of those chemical compounds. It's their way of defending themselves against predators in the wild. But that doesn't mean we always want to stress them, because we want to have the right proportions of the right chemicals. Getting more of a certain chemical doesn't necessarily make the plant more medicinally effective.

It's a combination of all the factors in the environment - the light, the temperature, the CO2 in the air, what you feed them, the type of media they're in, whether it's peat moss or other kind of soil-less media or no media at all. It's really a lot of different things. So it's not that easy, unfortunately.

If you stress a plant, the plant will try to reproduce and produce more of those chemical compounds. It's their way of defending themselves against predators in the wild. But that doesn't mean we always want to stress them, because we want to have the right proportions of the right chemicals. Getting more of a certain chemical doesn't necessarily make the plant more medicinally effective.

© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

Some medicinal plants are on the endangered species list, and some have disappeared already. It's a concern, of course. Echinacea doesn't seem to be endangered, but often the wrong plants are harvested because people don't know what they're doing. But yes, what we're doing can protect endangered species and, hopefully, in the future, once we go to work on other plants that may be on the CITES [Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora] list, then greenhouse growing ought to have a beneficial aspect.

Some medicinal plants are on the endangered species list, and some have disappeared already. It's a concern, of course. Echinacea doesn't seem to be endangered, but often the wrong plants are harvested because people don't know what they're doing.

But yes, what we're doing can protect endangered species and, hopefully, in the future, once we go to work on other plants that may be on the CITES [Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora] list, then greenhouse growing ought to have a beneficial aspect.

© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

Echinacea

Royal Ontario Museum

© Royal Botanical Gardens


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • define the expression “standardization”;
  • explain how environmental factors can affect plants and how the effects of these factors can be reduced.

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