“Pharmacognosy” derives from two Greek words, “pharmakon” or drug, and “gnosis” or knowledge. Like many contemporary fields of science, Pharmacognosy has undergone significant change in recent years and today represents a highly interdisciplinary science that is one of five major areas of pharmaceutical education.
The American Society of Pharmacognosy was founded in 1959 as an outgrowth of the Plant Science Seminar, which itself was established in 1923. The Society is international in scope and brings together men and women dedicated to the promotion, growth, and development not only of pharmacognosy but all aspects of those sciences related to and dealing in natural products. The Society currently has over 1,100 active and associate members. Approximately 40 percent of the active members of the Society reside outside of the U.S. and Canada, and represent more than 60 countries throughout the world.
Pharmacognosy is the study of natural product molecules (typically secondary metabolites) that are useful for their medicinal, ecological, gustatory, or other functional properties. The natural species that are the source of the compounds under study span all biological kingdoms, most notably marine invertebrates, plants, fungi, and bacteria. The field of pharmacognosy is ever-changing and is constantly being refreshed by input from new scientific fields and technologies as they are developed. This is one reason why studying pharmacognosy is a good choice for those who like to work at the interface of many different, but complementary, areas of science that relate to the natural world.
Within the field of pharmacognosy, many diverse and exciting areas are being studied, including:
1. the study of the medicinal properties of natural products, for the purposes of drug discovery and understanding how dietary supplements work;
2. the development and use of analytical methods for quality control of natural products in the marketplace;
3. the study of the use of traditional remedies by native cultures;
4. the microscopic evaluation and species verification of medicinal or economically important natural products;
5. the use of natural products for specific agricultural purposes, such as natural pesticides or insect anti-feedants;
6. the study of the safety and functional properties of compounds found in novel foods or food ingredients and consumer products;
7. the cosmetic application of natural compounds or extracts; and
8. the study and manipulation of genetic biosynthetic pathways for the purpose of enhancing the production of natural compounds, or producing novel compounds.
Pharmacognosists are trained in many disciplines, but they tend to have a solid core of training in chemistry, as the above areas of study necessitate having a basic understanding of the physical and chemical properties of the compounds that occur in nature, in order to be able to isolate, identify, characterize, and utilize them for specific purposes. Pharmacognosists typically also gain experience in one or more of the following areas, depending on their choice of specialization: analytical chemistry; biochemistry; botany; crystallography; ethnobotany; ethnomedicine; fermentation processes; food, flavor or aroma chemistry; herbal medicine; immunology; medicinal chemistry; microbiology; microscopy; molecular biology; organic chemistry; pharmaceutical sciences; pharmacology; regulatory affairs; taxonomy; and toxicology, among many others. There are endless possibilities with a background in pharmacognosy!
© American Society of Pharmacognosy, 2016