The importance of plants in the pharmaceutical industry

The use of plants for the prevention and treatment of various physiological conditions and diseases dates back to the history of humankind. Evidence for this can be found in various archaeological sites, cave drawings and writings. From a historical point of view, we can say that medicine and pharmacy began when man, in search of a cure, turned to plants he found in nature. Although many of today’s medicinal products are obtained synthetically, they are often modelled on the chemical composition of medicinal plants.


Phytotherapy is a method of treating, alleviating and preventing diseases and ailments by using whole medicinal plants or their parts (flowers, leaves, roots etc.), their constituents (essential oils, extracts and other isolates) as well as finished preparations (teas, tinctures, ointments, capsules).

The term phytotherapy was introduced into scientific medicine by the French physician Henri Leclerc (1870 – 1955) instead of the expression “herbal medicine”, while phytotherapeutic preparations are called phytotherapeutics.

Today, many scientific disciplines chemically, biodynamically and pharmacologically prove the justification of the use of medicinal plants and preparations, and sometimes their advantage over chemical preparations for the treatment of various diseases, ailments and disorders that affect the human body.

Some fifty years ago, medicinal plants were neglected due to synthetic drugs, but recently they have once again gained in importance. Herbs usually come to mind when discussing medicinal plants, but these also include: plant roots, leaves, stems, flowers and fruits. It is important to distinguish medicinal plants from weeds, their harvesting time and how individual plants are harvested and stored due to the fact that most medicinal plants also have a specific shelf life. When harvesting, it is important not to harvest large quantities of plants or use heavy machinery because such harvesting destroys plant roots: it is possible that plants harvested in such manner do not sprout in the same area in the coming years.

Modern phytotherapy is not “alternative medicine”; it is a part of scientific medicine that presents a fundamental form of prevention and support in the treatment of various disorders and diseases.

Benefits of herbal medicinal products

  • Plants are an integral part of our world
  • They keep the body healthy
  • They restore harmony and balance to the body
  • They usually do not cause addiction, but one should be careful when taking herbal preparations
  • If used properly, there are usually no side effects

Forms of herbal preparations

  • Teas
  • Tinctures and macerations
  • Essential oils
  • Creams
  • Capsules

Herbal preparations can be used in different ways. Teas are usually prepared from soft plant parts (leaves or flowers) by pouring water over the dried plant parts. The type of plants from which teas are prepared also determines the water temperature and steeping time. Special care is required when brewing because some plants release harmful and even poisonous substances during decoction, which can lead to severe poisoning.

Macerations are most commonly used in the cosmetics industry. Tinctures and macerations are prepared by soaking the plant parts in oil or water and sealing them shut; after some time, the macerated plant parts are filtered out to obtain a liquid which is ready for use. On the other hand, essential oils are obtained by extraction from the leaves or flowers of plants. If you would like to learn more about essential oils, read our article about Aromatherapy – essential oils for improving health.

The most commonly used medicinal plants:

Digitalis ambigua / Digitalis grandiflora (yellow foxglove), a genus of flowering plants from the plantains (Plantaginaceae) family. All parts of the plant are poisonous. The plant contains a glycoside that is used in modern medicine for cardiovascular diseases. The difference between the therapeutic and poisonous dose is very small. Therefore, the plant is not intended for lay use.

Figure 1. Yellow foxglove

Symphytum officinale (common comfrey), a flowering plant in the borage (Boraginaceae) family; a perennial plant bearing purple or pink flowers. Comfrey contains allantoin, tannins, mucilage and pyrrolizidine alkaloids. It can promote callus formation, have an anti-inflammatory effect and help with sprains, strains, fractures and bruising. The internal use of the plant for consumption is not recommended because it can potentially cause liver damage.

Figure 2. Common comfrey

Calendula officinalis (pot marigold), an annual flowering plant in the daisy (Asteraceae) family. The leaves and flower heads are considered to have medicinal properties and are used for various inflammatory skin conditions, irritated mucous membranes and wound healing. Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, pot marigolds are useful for the digestive system as well as for the treatment of gastric ulcers. However, they are most commonly used in the production of DIY skin care preparations, most notably in the form of macerated calendula oil, which is used for damaged skin and various inflammatory skin diseases.

Pot marigold flowers are edible, while the leaves can be eaten raw; they are rich in vitamins and minerals.

Figure 3. Pot marigold

Matricaria chamomilla (German chamomile), an annual herbaceous plant in the daisy (Asteraceae) family. The Latin name of the genus Matricaria stems from the Latin word matrix (uterus), indicating the plant’s healing effect on menstrual cramps. Most often only flowers are used, which are collected in June and July, from which herbal tea is made. It calms the nerves and muscle tissues in the digestive system, and is also useful for alleviating bloating, restlessness, insomnia and irritability. Chamomile is also considered safe for use in infants.

The essential oil obtained by steam distillation of the flowers is rich in azulene, which gives the oil a blue colour. It has strong anti-inflammatory properties.

Figure 4. German chamomile

Helichrysum italicum (curry plant), a semi-shrub in the daisy (Asteraceae) family. It is a wild plant that grows in the area of northwest Africa and Asia Minor on rocky, dry and uncultivated ground near the sea. In Croatia, it grows on the coastal area and on the islands of Istria, Kvarner and Dalmatia. The Latin name of the genus Helichrysium stems from the Greek words helios (sun) and chryson (golden), which means “golden sun”. The French name immortelle is also used for the curry plant, which means “immortal, eternal”, because flowers retain their yellow colour even when dried.

Steam distillation of the flowering plant produces essential oil and hydrolate. Such extracts are very useful for haematomas, varicose veins and skin care, especially skin prone to scarring. Immortelle products are increasingly used in the cosmetics industry for the production of various anti-age treatments.

Immortelle is also a good honey plant: its honey is darker in colour and aromatic in taste.

Figure 5. Immortelle

We are increasingly turning to nature and trying to stay healthy for as long as possible by taking various food supplements that, combined with the introduction of lifestyle changes and healthy living habits, make this possible.

Marti Farm provides a wide range of services related to the registration of medicinal products, medical devices, food supplements and cosmetic products. Regulatory requirements are de facto demanding and complex, so it is often a real challenge to meet them on time. To avoid going around in circles, leave that part of the work to our experts with many years of experience who will not only help you at every stage of the registration process, but are there for you throughout the entire life cycle of your product. Connect with us!


Danijela Grizelj,  MSc

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Short company name: Marti Farm Ltd.
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