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A subfield of pharmacology which studies the biological and chemical components of medically useful substances that occur naturally (primarily those synthesized by plants).
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a branch of pharmacy that studies medicinal raw materials of plant and animal origin and various products derived directly from these materials (such as essential and fatty oils, resins, and latex).

The principal concerns of modern pharmacognosy are the investigation of medicinal raw materials, the development of methods for determining the active substances in the materials (including methods involving fluorescence and thin-layer chromatography), and the location of the substances in the various plant and animal organs and tissues in which they concentrate. In addition, pharmacognosy develops methods of discovering wild medicinal plants and performs a number of important functions relating to the standardization of medicinal raw materials. For example, it establishes procedures to be used in collecting, drying, and sorting the raw materials, formulates rules governing the transfer of raw materials to factories and warehouses and the delivery and storage of the materials at these facilities, and sets standards for determining the genuineness and quality of the materials.

Pharmacognosy is the oldest branch of pharmacy. Many medicinal plants were known to the ancient peoples of Southeast Asia and the Middle East. The Greek physician Dioscorides (first century A.D.) is considered the founder of pharmacognosy in Europe. His book Materia medica was used as a handbook on the subject up to the 19th century. Galen and Paracelsus developed new areas in pharmacognosy. Medieval Arab physicians made a major contribution to the field. Original works on pharmacognosy, such as prescription manuals and handbooks for the use of medicinal plants, appeared in Russia in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. The first Russian pharmacopoeia, Pharmacopoea Rossica, came out in 1778; N. M. Ambodik-Maksimovich’s multivolume Materia medica, published between 1783 and 1788, included descriptions of many medicinal plants. A. P. Neliubin, Iu. K. Trapp, and V. A. Tikhomirov also made important contributions to Russian pharmacognosy.

The trend toward specialization in modern pharmacognosy has given rise to the development of pharmaceutical chemistry, the field of drug forms, and biological pharmacy as independent theoretical and practical disciplines. Pharmacognosy is closely associated with such other fields as botany (plant anatomy, management of botanical resources), analytical chemistry, and chemical technology. In the USSR, medicinal raw materials have been standardized by the government since 1926. Problems of pharmacognosy are investigated at the All-Union Scientific Research Institute of Medicinal Plants in Moscow Oblast, the Kharkov Scientific Research Institute of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, and the Institute of Pharmacochemistry of the Georgian SSR and in pharmacognosy subdepartments of pharmacy institutes and other scientific establishments. In the Soviet educational system pharmacognosy is a division of pharmacy and is taught in higher and secondary educational institutions of pharmacy.


Gammerman, A. F. Kurs farmakognozii, 6th ed. Leningrad, 1967.
Dragendorf, G. Die Heilpflanzen der verschiedenen Völker und Zeiten. Stuttgart, 1898.
Handbuch der Pharmakognosie, 2nd ed., vols. 1–3. Edited by A. Tschirch. Leipzig, 1930–33.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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