Techniques: Bioprospecting historical herbal texts by hunting for new leads in old tomes

Trends Pharmacol Sci. 2004 Sep;25(9):494-8. doi: 10.1016/


Ethnobotany has led to the identification of novel pharmacological agents but many challenges to using ethnobotany as a research tool remain. In particular, the loss of traditional knowledge together with the advent of high-throughput screening has made ethnobotanical techniques laborious and potentially unnecessary. However, historical herbal texts provide a preexisting resource that documents the traditional uses of various species as medicines. As generational losses of traditional knowledge accrue, these herbal texts become increasingly valuable. The methodology for extracting useful information contained within these resources had been cumbersome and consuming. However, the application of new bioinformatics data-mining systems to herbal texts holds great promise for identifying novel pharmacotherapeutic leads for bioactive compounds.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Ethnobotany / history
  • Herbal Medicine / history*
  • History, 15th Century
  • History, 16th Century
  • History, 17th Century
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, Ancient
  • History, Medieval
  • Humans
  • Manuscripts, Medical as Topic / history*
  • Medicine, Traditional / history*
  • Phytotherapy / history*
  • Plant Extracts / history
  • Plants, Medicinal*


  • Plant Extracts