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Lesson 08 – Medicine from Plants

Read About Medicine From Plants


Can you find where all the definitions are in the text?


Properties are qualities, traits, or characteristics of something.


Aspirin is a white medicine used to relieve pain and made from the bark of willow trees.


Digitalis is a drug used to help regulate the heartbeat, and to treat other heart problems.


Malaria is an infectious disease caused by very tiny organisms that are passed to humans who have been bitten by a specific type of infected mosquito.


Rheumatism is a condition that causes inflammation, or swelling, or pain in the muscles, joints, and tissues of the body.


Gout is a build-up of acid crystals around the joints in the feet or hands, causing swelling and severe pain.

Medicine From Plants

For thousands of years, people have relied on plants for food, building materials, and much more. One other very important way that plants help humans is by keeping them healthy.

Chemical Makers

Plants are able to make many chemicals that help them make food and grow. These chemical substances can also defend a plant against attacks from insects, fungi, and hungry animals. Scientists have been able to identify about 12 000 of these chemicals, but experts estimate that this is only about 10% of the total!

More than 120 of the chemical compounds used in modern medicine come from plants. People have known about the healing properties of plants’ roots, leaves, flowers, bark, and berries since before written records were kept.

Aloe plants help heal sunburns

Bark and Leaves

The bark of the white willow contains a medicine commonly known as aspirin. People have used it for pain relief for more than 2000 years. Another important medicine, digitalis, comes from the foxglove plant. This chemical has been used since the 1500s to treat heart disease. Malaria is an often-fatal disease that is carried by mosquitoes. It kills thousands of people every year. The bark of the fever tree contains quinine, which is used to prevent and treat malaria. Another tropical plant, the aloe, has thick, fleshy leaves. The juice in these leaves contains alonin, a chemical that is used in medicine to cool burns, including sunburns.

Willow bark

More Help from Plants

Toothpick weed, or khella, is a herb from the area around the Mediterranean Sea. A chemical in this plant improves blood flow to the heart and helps the lungs work better. Scientists have used this plant to develop medicines to treat asthma and heart problems. The Madagascar periwinkle has a small, bright-pink flower. This plant may alter the human immune system and is the source of a medicine used to treat diabetes and certain cancers. Meadow saffron also has a pinkish flower. But it is the bulb of this plant that has been used to treat rheumatism (painfully stiff arms, legs, and back) and gout (painful joints). The rubber tree does not provide us with medicine, but with rubber to make such items as rubber gloves and waterproof sheeting that are important parts of health care and medicine.

Chamomile contains antioxidants that can help you sleep and digest food.

Toothpick weed
Chamomile tea

To learn more about medicine from plants, watch the video by DocUnlock on Youtube.

Plants in Danger

As the plants in habitats around the world are being destroyed, thousands of possibly life-saving medicines are disappearing. Scientists believe that plants, especially those that grow in rainforests, may contain cures for some of the world’s deadliest diseases.

Now Show What You Know!

Complete some questions about the reading selection by clicking “Begin Questions” below.