Nature's Rx

Plants like the periwinkle have contributed to the development of 25 to 50 percent of all prescription drugs used in the United States, either directly or by providing biochemical models, or templates, used to make synthetic compounds. Digitalis, which is used to treat chronic heart failure, comes from the leaves of the foxglove plant, and ephedrine, a component of many commonly prescribed respiratory medicines, is derived from a chemical formula from the ephedra plant. But overall, in the past 40 years there has been little development of new plant-based pharmaceuticals. During that period the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved fewer than a dozen drugs derived from plants.