Are Plant Remedies Better Than Pharmaceuticals?

There's a catch.

It's becoming commonplace for people to complain about the greed of the pharmaceutical industry and opt for "natural" treatments instead. After all, humans have relied on plants for remedies for millennia, and many plants have compounds that can be used as medicine.

But there's a catch: scientific techniques are typically needed to turn these compounds into viable treatments. 

One of the most famous examples is a product used every day.

For thousands of years, people would steep willow tree bark in water, creating a tea capable of reducing fevers and relieving pain and inflammation. Not only did the tea weaken the properties of the bark, it was very irritating to the stomach. 

In the mid-19th century, chemists were able to isolate the active ingredient: salicylic acid. While this made a more potent medication, it still had harsh side effects. In 1897, an employee at a pharmaceutical company made a small tweak to the compound and turned salicylic acid into acetylsalicylic acid, which was just as effective but far gentler. Bayer patented the compound, selling it under the name: Aspirin.

As SciShow host Hank Green explains, plants do contain lots of wonderful chemicals that can be used to treat a host of illnesses. But more often than not, the magic of science is required to unlock their power.

What major diseases can we treat with plant-based drugs? Find out here:

Cover image: Shutterstock


Subscribe to our newsletter and get the latest news and exclusive updates.