Medicinal Plants Database?

In the Environmental Science class that I teach, I have my students research biodiversity in a country of their choice. One of the options is to research ethnobotany or medicinal plants in their country. When students research this, they often just have to google “Medicinal plants in Spain” or whichever country they are in.
Does anyone know of a decent atlas or database of medicinal plants? I would love to find some sort of program like iNaturalist where students can explore medicinal species. One of the things I love about iNaturalist is the easy-to-use map where you can easily see a species’ distribution. Such a map of medicinal plants would be helpful for students trying to find plants specific to their country.

Programs I use now are IUCN Redlist (advanced search by medicinal use). I use Slow Food’s Ark of Taste (https://www.fondazioneslowfood.com/en/what-we-do/the-ark-of-taste/) for food use of different species. But I’m wondering if there are any other websites or projects out there that you are aware of. Thanks!

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A single database? No.

I have reference materials for medicinal plants for the US and Canada, the NW Amazon, Vietnam, parts of China, and a few other areas, but not all of those are digitized and I don’t know of a single unified database. I don’t even know of an area that has databases that don’t contradict each other.

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iNat have in the past been reluctant to support features that might promote medicinal or nutritional categorisation, and personally I think with good reason. There are many things that will have medical benefit, but they can also cause harm, depending largely on the context and manner in which they are used, and how do you curate that in a system like iNat?

iNat could be used to help identify organisms, or perhaps to establish where such organisms are likely, eg ranges, but the actual classification as medicinal or culinary is unlikely to be sourced from iNat. I think you would be better off with sources that are more of a cultural perspective, ie “what do these people use” rather than “what of those things can people use”… if that makes sense…

Yes, I understand your point, that makes perfect sense. Many plants are beneficial to medicine in small, controlled amounts and toxic in large amounts. So that definitely could have pitfalls by introducing a project or feature like that to iNat. Good thoughts.

Which of course is no different from the drugs produced by pharmaceutical companies. Every year, on average, 458 people die of Acetaminophen (Tylenol) overdose.

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Maybe a Worldcat search would yield some more useful and/or scholarly results, if the books are available at a local library or through Inter-library Loan. Something like: “ethnobotany Spain” or “edible plants Montana” or “medicinal plants andes” might get you some good hits, and you can follow the subject links to find pretty much what you are looking for.

"Plants, medicinal – "

That’s the old school way of doing that kind of research. I’m trying to envision a website specifically devoted as an encyclopedia for medicinal plants. Every plant has some medicinal quality of some degree, it’s just a matter of potency. Therefore, I think what you want is a list of plants in a region (iNat), and more detailed wikipedia sections on ethnobotany for each species. Perhaps a database devoted to it could facilitate some helpful features to search and filter different parameters, and collect information that wikipedia editors might deem too niche or irrelevant.

true - it can be very tricky to safely impart such information. I used to lead forest walks for children that focused on the indigenous uses of the native plants. I always tried to make clear that the indigenous people had knowledge we may not have: about when and how to collect potentially toxic plants and how to process them to remove toxins. Also, that their centuries long association with those plants may have given them immunity to some of the toxins (e.g., poison oak).

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I didn’t see a mention of the age of the students in your Environmental Science class, so here are a number of possible approaches, from simple to more complex:

  1. A Google search of Medicinal Plant Map brings up at least two illustrated maps (one for the US (https://www.davidrumsey.com/luna/servlet/detail/RUMSEY~8~1~260602~5522896:Medicinal-plant-map-of-the-United-S - note the slider bar on the image allows you to zoom in) and one for the world (https://mapsontheweb.zoom-maps.com/post/144457778797/interesting-maps-centers-of-origin-for-some)) showing a selection of plants and the areas where they grow.

  2. Wikipedia to the rescue: The category Medicinal Plants is further subdivided approximately by continent: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Medicinal_plants. Each of those links provides a list of plants that can be explored on iNaturalist.

  3. I found this older reference: https://www.fs.fed.us/ne/newtown_square/publications/research_papers/pdfs/scanned/OCR/ne_rp138B.pdf and the glossary (page 21) gave me the idea of looking at the problem from the perspective of the condition, rather than geographically. Once I changed my search terms to look for specific benefits (e.g. anti-inflammatory) rather than the broad term “medicinal” lots of sources showed up, for example:

  1. If your students are capable of parsing databases on their own, then as has been mentioned by other posters, there are databases and other sources of information specific to certain areas of the world (PubMed and the NLM had a lot of results, and the terms ethnobotanical, ethnomedicinal, and ethnopharmacological may help to dial in searches). For example,
    India:
    https://cb.imsc.res.in/imppat/
    http://bif.uohyd.ac.in/nemedplant/
    https://www.bioinformation.info/ (Note: Security certificate is expired - use caution)
    The Caribbean:
    http://www.tramil.net/node/50170?language=en

And finally, you may be interested in this article: Review on natural products databases: where to find data in 2020 (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7118820/). Although more broadly applicable to chemicals from any living organism, medicinal plants make up at least a subset.

Good luck!

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I’m finding it interesting that my animal and bird observations almost instantly get confirmed (or occasionally corrected:-) However, my plant observations are often orphans. I wonder why? Is it because plants have fewer aficionados? I’m thinking I should make a point of observing my meadow as more and more plants volunteer there. My property is on the Pollinator Pathway in the Hudson Valley, so I’m planting a lot of natives, which I suppose I should not post. I’m mobility disabled, but it would be a motivator to get out of the house.

as long as you mark your “cultivated” plantings as such, they are fine… and even to leave them unmarked until you get ID and then mark as cultivated… pushing the boundaries of the “guidelines” a bit, but most of us do it. Just don’t encourage others to do it if they aren’t going to stick around and followup!

I think plant taxonomy is far more confusing than spider taxonomy, but by far the biggest reason for the difference in observations is that plants are easier to make observations of. They sit still, they are large enough to be reasonable subjects for a phone camera (ie focal length), and people have a much more positive interaction history for plants than they do for spiders, for example. By that, I mean people buy plants to put in their house/garden, whereas they buy bug spray to get rid of the bugs… so the natural inclination is to make observations of plants more so than bugs etc.

I wish I had kept the photo of the parson spider on my bathroom wall I took a couple of years ago. Took the photo to find out what it was. I’m a recovering arachnophobe, but willing to study. OTOH, they often move too fast for me to get a camera or phone before they’re gone. And likewise a Carolina wren a couple of weeks ago. Didn’t post either.

BTW, should I post an observation if I don’t have a photo? Saw a bluebird yesterday, ID certain, a male, but too far to photograph. I looked at it with good binoculars.

If you know the species for certain, and you think there is merit to an observation of it, then by all means! Photoless observations can be very useful in certain circumstances… especially of taxa that are difficult to get an actual photo of. I tend to do it when it’s the first observation I would have made for it in an area, or at a weird time of year, that sort of thing… or if I think it is a species that shouldn’t be there… and even if unsure… just make sure to comment heavily to that effect when you make the observation. For instance, I had seen many Polistes chinensis around my house, but one day I saw what I thought was a Polistes humilis fly by… couldn’t be sure… but I made a photoless observation to record the “possibility” of one. About a month later, I had opportunity to see both species in a single tree, some 20km from where I live, and I was able to resolve in my mind that it wasn’t impossible for them to be at my yard, but the way they fly is different enough that I could rule out the P. humilis, so I went back to that observation and changed it to P. chinensis, with appropriate comments about the change and why… it’s all useful information, or at least potentially could be in the future… but of course I don’t do it with everything, in fact since covid my observations have taken a nose dive… I mostly identify these days

Thanks. I didn’t know bluebirds stick around in the winter, so I suppose that’s of educational value for someone like me, a lifelong but casual naturalist.

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Thank you so much! I found the Wikipedia categories to be the most helpful resource here that you suggested. I am teaching high schoolers, and while we tend to stray away from Wikipedia, it certainly is a good starting point for finding sources. Thanks!

I know that in the past I was able to find out some of this type of information on the Sigma-Aldrich website. You may have to do a search on each individual plant instead of being given a list, but it will tell you a lot about the constituents of them. As others have said, it wouldn’t be a good idea to list many of them as they often have unhealthy elements, too, and those would need to be processed out to be medicinal.