Here are a few examples of ancient medicinal plants which have proved beneficial as modern drug formulations.
Catharanthus roseus is indigenous to Madasgascar. The leaves and roots have been used in traditional therapies. Screening assays of the Madagascar rosy periwinkle in tissue culture have revealed that the plant holds several alkaloids, some of which are effective against different types of cancer. The pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly commercialized Vincristine and Vinblastine obtained from the alkaloids isolated from the cells of the Madagascar rosy periwinkle grown in tissue culture. Vincristine has proved quite effective in childhood leukemia, and reducing fatalities. Vinblastine is prescribed to patients with Hodgkins disease.
Cephaelis ipecacuanha or Brazilian Ipecac is indigenous to Brazil and cultivated in India and Malaysia. C. acuminata or Nicaragua, Panama or Cartagena Ipecac is indegenous to Nicaragua, Panama and Columbia. It has been used in traditional cultures to treat amoebic dysentery, with a protozoan culprit. Modern techniques have shown that the active ingredient emetine is effective against the amoebic dysentery protozoa and an effective drug was developed with widespread use. However, the protozoan evolved and became resistant to this modern emetine drug. However, the traditional whole natural plant therapy continued to be largely effective against amoebic dysentery, as it had been for hundreds of years by the indigenous people of West Bengal, India. They could not afford the modern drug and had continued to use the traditional whole natural ipecac plant therapy.
What qualities does whole, natural plant therapy possess that are not transferred when only the active ingredient is used in isolation? How does one prevent evolution of ancient disease causing protozoan?
In its natural Brazilian habitat C. ipecacuanha, considered a threatened species is known to propagate by vegetative multiplication. Plants regenerated from tissue culture have grown well in the field and 25% have produced flowers within a year (2008). Cultured, genetically transformed roots have yielded ipecac alkaloids cephaeline and emetine.
Historically, ipecac syrup has played a role in treatment of poisoning. Ipecac over-the-counter abuse can be dangerous and there have been calls to have stronger labeling warning that this drug could be deadly although if one stops using it, the symptoms could be reversed.