Pharmacognosy, a discipline at the intersection of botany and medicine, deals with knowledge about medicines derived from plants (Youngken 1950). A central goal of pharmacognosy is the accurate and consistent taxonomic identification of medicinal plants and medicinal plant products. Unlike drugstore pill bottles, medicinal plants in nature do not come with labels. One aspect of pharmacognosy, then, is the identification of whole plants found in nature. Much as in field botany and plant systematics, this aspect of pharmacognosy involves learning to recognize species by overall appearance (gestalt), or by dichotomous keys, or both.
Copyright © 2017 The Quarterly of the Virginia Native Plant Society. This article first appeared in Sempervirens Summer/Fall 2017: 6-7.
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Hayden, W. John. “On the Complexity of Simples, Pharmacognosy, and Actaea Racemosa.” Sempervirens Summer/Fall 2017: 6-7.