Phytochemistry is the study of phytochemicals, which are chemicals derived from plants. Those studying phytochemistry strive to describe the structures of the large number of secondary metabolic compounds found in plants, the functions of these compounds in human and plant biology, and the biosynthesis of these compounds. Plants synthesize phytochemicals for many reasons, including to protect themselves against insect attacks and plant diseases. Phytochemicals in food plants are often active in human biology, and in many cases have health benefits.[1] The compounds found in plants are of many kinds, but most are in four major biochemical classes, the alkaloids, glycosides, polyphenols, and terpenes.

Phytochemistry can be considered sub-fields of botany or chemistry. Activities can be led in botanical gardens or in the wild with the aid of ethnobotany. The applications of the discipline can be for pharmacognosy, or the discovery of new drugs, or as an aid for plant physiology studies.


Techniques commonly used in the field of phytochemistry are extraction, isolation, and structural elucidation (MS,1D and 2D NMR) of natural products, as well as various chromatography techniques (MPLC, HPLC, and LC-MS).

Constituent elements

The list of simple elements of which plants are primarily constructed—carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, calcium, phosphorus, etc.—is not different from similar lists for animals, fungi, or even bacteria. The fundamental atomic components of plants are the same as for all life; only the details of the way in which they are assembled differs.

Eastern medicine

Phytochemistry is widely used in the field of Chinese medicine especially in the field of herbal medicine.

Phytochemical technique mainly applies to the quality control of Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic medicine(Indian traditional medicine) or herbal medicine of various chemical components, such as saponins, alkaloids, volatile oils, flavonoids and anthraquinones. In the development of rapid and reproducible analytical techniques, the combination of HPLC with different detectors, such as diode array detector (DAD), refractive index detector (RID), evaporative light scattering detector (ELSD) and mass spectrometric detector (MSD), has been widely developed.

In most cases, biologically active compounds in Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, or herbal medicine have not been determined. Therefore, it is important to use the phytochemical methods to screen and analyze bioactive components, not only for the quality control of crude drugs, but also for the elucidation of their therapeutic mechanisms. Modern pharmacological studies indicate that binding to receptors or ion channels on cell membranes is the first step of some drug actions. A new method in phytochemistry called biochromatography has been developed. This method combines human red cell membrane extraction and high performance liquid chromatography to screen potential active components in Chinese medicine.


Many plants produce chemical compounds for defence against herbivores. These are often useful as drugs, and the content and known pharmacological activity of these substances in medicinal plants is the scientific basis for their use. The major classes of pharmacologically active phytochemicals are described below, with examples of medicinal plants that contain them.[2] Human settlements are often surrounded by weeds useful as medicines, such as nettle, dandelion and chickweed.[3][4][5]

Many phytochemicals, including curcumin, epigallocatechin gallate, genistein and resveratrol are pan-assay interference compounds and are not useful in drug discovery.[6][7]


Alkaloids are bitter-tasting chemicals, very widespread in nature, and often toxic. There are several classes with different modes of action as drugs, both recreational and pharmaceutical. Medicines of different classes include atropine, scopolamine, and hyoscyamine (all from nightshade),[8] the traditional medicine berberine (from plants such as Berberis and Mahonia),[a] caffeine (Coffea), cocaine (Coca), ephedrine (Ephedra), morphine (opium poppy), nicotine (tobacco),[b] reserpine (Rauwolfia serpentina), quinidine and quinine (Cinchona), vincamine (Vinca minor), and vincristine (Catharanthus roseus).[5][11]

Opium poppy

The opium poppy Papaver somniferum is the source of the alkaloids morphine and codeine.[5]


The alkaloid nicotine from tobacco binds directly to the body's Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, accounting for its pharmacological effects.[12]

Atropa belladonna - Köhler–s Medizinal-Pflanzen-018

Deadly nightshade, Atropa belladonna, yields tropane alkaloids including atropine, scopolamine and hyoscyamine.[8]


Anthraquinone glycosides are found in the laxatives senna,[13] rhubarb[14] and Aloe.[5]

The cardiac glycosides are powerful drugs from plants including foxglove and lily of the valley. They include digoxin and digitoxin which support the beating of the heart, and act as diuretics.[15]

Senna alexandrina Mill.-Cassia angustifolia L. (Senna Plant)

Senna alexandrina, containing anthraquinone glycosides, has been used as a laxative for millennia.[13]

Digitalis purpurea2

The foxglove, Digitalis purpurea, contains digoxin, a cardiac glycoside. The plant was used to treat heart conditions long before the glycoside was identified.[15][16]


Digoxin is used to treat atrial fibrillation, atrial flutter and sometimes heart failure.[15]


Polyphenols of several classes are widespread in plants. They include the colourful anthocyanins, hormone-mimicking phytoestrogens, and astringent tannins.[17][5] In Ayurveda, the astringent rind of the pomegranate is used as a medicine,[18] while polyphenol extracts from plant materials such as grape seeds are sold for their potential health benefits They have been continually studied in cell cultures for their different anti-cancer effects.[19][20]

Plants containing phytoestrogens have been used for centuries to treat gynaecological disorders such as fertility, menstrual, and menopausal problems.[21] Among these plants are Pueraria mirifica,[22] kudzu,[23] angelica,[24] fennel, and anise.[25]

Angelica sylvestris 3

Angelica, containing phytoestrogens, has long been used to treat gynaecological disorders.


Polyphenols include phytoestrogens (top and middle), effective mimics of animal estrogen (bottom).[26]


Terpenes and terpenoids of many kinds are found in resinous plants such as the conifers. They are strongly aromatic and serve to repel herbivores. Their scent makes them useful in essential oils, whether for perfumes such as rose and lavender, or for aromatherapy.[5][27][28] Some have had medicinal uses: thymol is an antiseptic and was once used as a vermifuge (anti-worm medicine).[29]


The essential oil of common thyme (Thymus vulgaris), contains the monoterpene thymol, an antiseptic and antifungal.[29]


Thymol is one of many terpenes found in plants.[29]

Major research institutes


  1. ^ John T. Arnason; Rachel Mata; John T. Romeo (2013-11-11). Phytochemistry of Medicinal Plants. Springer Science & Business Media. ISBN 9781489917782.
  2. ^ "Angiosperms: Division Magnoliophyta: General Features". Encyclopædia Britannica (volume 13, 15th edition). 1993. p. 609.
  3. ^ Meskin, Mark S. (2002). Phytochemicals in Nutrition and Health. CRC Press. p. 123. ISBN 978-1-58716-083-7.
  4. ^ Springbob, Karen & Kutchan, Toni M. (2009). "Introduction to the different classes of natural products". In Lanzotti, Virginia (ed.). Plant-Derived Natural Products: Synthesis, Function, and Application. Springer. p. 3. ISBN 978-0-387-85497-7.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
  5. ^ a b c d e f Elumalai, A.; Eswariah, M. Chinna (2012). "Herbalism - A Review" (PDF). International Journal of Phytotherapy. 2 (2): 96–105.
  6. ^ Baell, Jonathan; Walters, Michael A. (24 September 2014). "Chemistry: Chemical con artists foil drug discovery". Nature. 513 (7519): 481–483. Bibcode:2014Natur.513..481B. doi:10.1038/513481a. PMID 25254460.
  7. ^ Dahlin JL, Walters MA (July 2014). "The essential roles of chemistry in high-throughput screening triage". Future Medicinal Chemistry. 6 (11): 1265–90. doi:10.4155/fmc.14.60. PMC 4465542. PMID 25163000.
  8. ^ a b "Atropa Belladonna" (PDF). The European Agency for the Evaluation of Medicinal Products. 1998. Retrieved 26 February 2017.
  9. ^ Yin, Jun; Xing, Huili; Ye, Jianping (May 2008). "Efficacy of Berberine in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes". Metabolism. 57 (5): 712–717. doi:10.1016/j.metabol.2008.01.013. PMC 2410097. PMID 18442638.
  10. ^ Charlton, Anne (June 2004). "Medicinal uses of tobacco in history". Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. 97 (6): 292–296. doi:10.1258/jrsm.97.6.292. PMC 1079499. PMID 15173337.
  11. ^ Gremigni, P.; et al. (2003). "The interaction of phosphorus and potassium with seed alkaloid concentrations, yield and mineral content in narrow-leafed lupin (Lupinus angustifolius L.)". Plant and Soil. Heidelberg: Springer. 253 (2): 413–427. doi:10.1023/A:1024828131581. JSTOR 24121197.
  12. ^ "Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors: Introduction". IUPHAR Database. International Union of Basic and Clinical Pharmacology. Retrieved 26 February 2017.
  13. ^ a b Hietala, P.; Marvola, M.; Parviainen, T.; Lainonen, H. (August 1987). "Laxative potency and acute toxicity of some anthraquinone derivatives, senna extracts and fractions of senna extracts". Pharmacology & Toxicology. 61 (2): 153–6. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0773.1987.tb01794.x. PMID 3671329.
  14. ^ praful akolkar (2012-12-27). "Pharmacognosy of Rhubarb".
  15. ^ a b c "Active Plant Ingredients Used for Medicinal Purposes". United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 18 February 2017.
  16. ^ "Digitalis purpurea. Cardiac Glycoside". Texas A&M University. Retrieved 26 February 2017. The man credited with the introduction of digitalis into the practice of medicine was William Withering.
  17. ^ Da Silva, Cecilia; et al. (2013). "The High Polyphenol Content of Grapevine Cultivar Tannat Berries Is Conferred Primarily by Genes That Are Not Shared with the Reference Genome". The Plant Cell. Rockville, MD: American Society of Plant Biologists. 25 (12): 4777–4788. doi:10.1105/tpc.113.118810. JSTOR 43190600. PMC 3903987. PMID 24319081.
  18. ^ K. K. Jindal; R. C. Sharma (2004). Recent trends in horticulture in the Himalayas. Indus Publishing. ISBN 978-81-7387-162-7.
  19. ^ Halliwell, B. (2007). "Dietary polyphenols: Good, bad, or indifferent for your health?". Cardiovascular Research. 73 (2): 341–347. doi:10.1016/j.cardiores.2006.10.004. PMID 17141749.
  20. ^ European Food Safety Authority (2010). "Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of health claims related to various food(s)/food constituent(s) and protection of cells from premature aging, antioxidant activity, antioxidant content and antioxidant properties, and protection of DNA, proteins and lipids from oxidative damage pursuant to Article 13(1) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/20061". EFSA Journal. 8 (2): 1489. doi:10.2903/j.efsa.2010.1489.
  21. ^ Muller-Schwarze D (2006). Chemical Ecology of Vertebrates. Cambridge University Press. p. 287. ISBN 978-0-521-36377-8.
  22. ^ Lee YS, Park JS, Cho SD, Son JK, Cherdshewasart W, Kang KS (Dec 2002). "Requirement of metabolic activation for estrogenic activity of Pueraria mirifica". Journal of Veterinary Science. 3 (4): 273–277. doi:10.4142/jvs.2002.3.4.273. PMID 12819377. Archived from the original on 2008-11-20.
  23. ^ Delmonte P, Rader JI (2006). "Analysis of isoflavones in foods and dietary supplements". Journal of AOAC International. 89 (4): 1138–46. PMID 16915857.
  24. ^ Brown D, Walton N (1999). Chemicals from Plants: Perspectives on Plant Secondary Products. World Scientific Publishing. pp. 21, 141. ISBN 978-981-02-2773-9.
  25. ^ Albert-Puleo M (Dec 1980). "Fennel and anise as estrogenic agents". Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 2 (4): 337–44. doi:10.1016/S0378-8741(80)81015-4. PMID 6999244.
  26. ^ Turner, J.V.; Agatonovic-Kustrin, S.; Glass, B.D. (Aug 2007). "Molecular aspects of phytoestrogen selective binding at estrogen receptors". Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences. 96 (8): 1879–85. doi:10.1002/jps.20987. PMID 17518366.
  27. ^ Tchen, T. T. (1965). "Reviewed Work: The Biosynthesis of Steroids, Terpenes & Acetogenins". American Scientist. Research Triangle Park, NC: Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society. 53 (4): 499A–500A. JSTOR 27836252.
  28. ^ Singsaas, Eric L. (2000). "Terpenes and the Thermotolerance of Photosynthesis". New Phytologist. New York: Wiley. 146 (1): 1–2. doi:10.1046/j.1469-8137.2000.00626.x. JSTOR 2588737.
  29. ^ a b c "Thymol (CID=6989)". NIH. Retrieved 26 February 2017. THYMOL is a phenol obtained from thyme oil or other volatile oils used as a stabilizer in pharmaceutical preparations, and as an antiseptic (antibacterial or antifungal) agent. It was formerly used as a vermifuge.


  1. ^ Berberine is the main active component of an ancient Chinese herb Coptis chinensis French, which has been used to attempt to treat diabetes for thousands of years, although there is no sound evidence of efficacy.[9]
  2. ^ Nicotine has "probably been responsible for more deaths than any other herb", but it was used as a medicine in the societies encountered by Columbus and was considered a panacea in Europe, although it is no longer accepted as medicinal.[10]

The Aristolochiaceae (English: ) are a family, the birthwort family, of flowering plants with seven genera and about 400 known species belonging to the order Piperales. The type genus is Aristolochia L.

Bacopa monnieri

Bacopa monnieri (waterhyssop, brahmi, thyme-leafed gratiola, water hyssop, herb of grace, Indian pennywort) is a perennial, creeping herb native to the wetlands of southern and Eastern India, Australia, Europe, Africa, Asia, and North and South America. B. monnieri is an herb used in Ayurveda. In 2019, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned manufacturers of dietary supplement products containing Bacopa monnieri against making illegal and unproven claims that the herb can treat various diseases.


Borage ( (listen); Borago officinalis), also known as a starflower, is an annual herb in the flowering plant family Boraginaceae. It is native to the Mediterranean region and has naturalized in many other locales. It grows satisfactorily in gardens in the UK climate, remaining in the garden from year to year by self-seeding. The leaves are edible and the plant is grown in gardens for that purpose in some parts of Europe. The plant is also commercially cultivated for borage seed oil extracted from its seeds. The plant contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids, some of which are hepatotoxic, mutagenic and carcinogenic (see below under Phytochemistry).


The Euphorbiaceae, the spurge family, is a large family of flowering plants. In common English, they are sometimes called euphorbias, which is also the name of a genus in the family. Most spurges such as Euphorbia paralias are herbs, but some, especially in the tropics, are shrubs or trees, such as Hevea brasiliensis. Some, such as Euphorbia canariensis, are succulent and resemble cacti because of convergent evolution. This family occurs mainly in the tropics, with the majority of the species in the Indo-Malayan region and tropical America a strong second. A large variety occurs in tropical Africa, but they are not as abundant or varied as in the two other tropical regions. However, Euphorbiaceae also has many species in nontropical areas such as the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East, South Africa, and the southern United States.

Hypericum hirsutum

Hypericum hirsutum is a flowering plant in the genus Hypericum commonly known as hairy St John's-wort. It is found in Western Europe.

Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute

"Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute", (formerly Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute) ([1]) renamed in the fond memory of visionary Prime Minister of India Shri Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru is an autonomous Institute established by the Government of Kerala on 17 November 1979 at Thiruvananthapuram, the capital city of Kerala. It functions under the umbrella of the Kerala State Council for Science, Technology and Environment (KSCSTE), Government of Kerala. The Royal Botanic Gardens (RBG), Kew played an exemplary and significant role in shaping and designing the lay out of the JNTBGRI garden in its formative stages.

The Institute undertakes research in conservation biology, Biotechnology, plant taxonomy, microbiology, phytochemistry, ethnomedicine and ethnophamacology, which are the main areas considered to have immediate relevance to the development of the garden. While taxonomists prepared a flora of the garden documenting the native plant wealth before mass introduction and face lift which subsequently followed, the bio-technologists mass multiplied plants of commercial importance, especially orchids for cultivation and distribution to the public.

JNTBGRI makes a comprehensive survey of the economic plant wealth of Kerala, to conserve, preserve and sustainably utilize the plant wealth. The institute carries out botanical, horticultural and chemical research for plant improvement and utilization; and offers facilities for the improvement of ornamental plants and propagation in the larger context of the establishment of nursery and flower trade. The cultivation and culturing of plants of India/other countries with comparable climatic condition for the economic benefit of Kerala/India is also taken care. Activities to help botanical teaching and to create public understanding of the value of plant research is initiated by JNTBGRI. JNTBGRI gardens medicinal plants, ornamental plants and various introduced plants of economic or aesthetic value. JNTBGRI also serves as a source of supply of improved plants which are not readily available from other agencies.

Scientific researches on plant wealth are pursued through the following Divisions:

1. Garden Management, Education, Information and Training

2. Plant Genetic Resources

3. Biotechnology and Bioinformatics

4. Conservation Biology

5. Ethnomedicine and Ethnopharmacology

6. Phytochemistry and Phytopharmacology

7. Plant Systematics and Evolutionary Sciences

8. Microbiology


The Marantaceae are a family, the arrowroot family, of flowering plants known for its large starchy rhizomes. It is sometimes called the prayer-plant family. Combined morphological and DNA phylogenetic analyses indicate the family originated in Africa, although this is not the center of its extant diversity.


Menispermaceae ( Botanical Latin : 'Moonseed Family' from Greek mene 'crescent moon' and sperma 'seed' ) is a family of flowering plants. The alkaloid Tubocurarine, a neuromuscular blocker and the active ingredient in the 'tube curare' form of the dart poison curare, is derived from the South American liana Chondrodendron tomentosum. Several other South American genera belonging to the family have been used to prepare the 'pot' and calabash' forms of curare. The family contains 68 genera with some 440 species, which are distributed throughout low-lying tropical areas with some species present in temperate and arid regions.

Nymphaea alba

Nymphaea alba, also known as the European white water lily, white water rose or white nenuphar, is an aquatic flowering plant of the family Nymphaeaceae. It is native to North Africa, temperate Asia, Europe and Tropical Asia (India).

O-methylated flavonoid

The O-methylated flavonoids or methoxyflavonoids are flavonoids with methylations on hydroxyl groups (methoxy bonds). O-methylation has an effect on the solubility of flavonoids.

Phytochemistry (journal)

Phytochemistry is a peer-reviewed scientific journal covering pure and applied plant chemistry, plant biochemistry and molecular biology. It is published by Elsevier and is an official publication for the Phytochemical Society of Europe and the Phytochemical Society of North America.

A sister journal Phytochemistry Letters is published since 2008.

Plant physiology

Plant physiology is a subdiscipline of botany concerned with the functioning, or physiology, of plants. Closely related fields include plant morphology (structure of plants), plant ecology (interactions with the environment), phytochemistry (biochemistry of plants), cell biology, genetics, biophysics and molecular biology.

Fundamental processes such as photosynthesis, respiration, plant nutrition, plant hormone functions, tropisms, nastic movements, photoperiodism, photomorphogenesis, circadian rhythms, environmental stress physiology, seed germination, dormancy and stomata function and transpiration, both parts of plant water relations, are studied by plant physiologists.


Prosopis is a genus of flowering plants in the pea family, Fabaceae. It contains around 45 species of spiny trees and shrubs found in subtropical and tropical regions of the Americas, Africa, Western Asia, and South Asia. They often thrive in arid soil and are resistant to drought, on occasion developing extremely deep root systems. Their wood is usually hard, dense and durable. Their fruits are pods and may contain large amounts of sugar. The generic name means "burdock" in late Latin and originated in the Greek language.

Psychoactive plant

Psychoactive plants are plants, or preparations thereof, that upon ingestion induce psychotropic effects. As stated in a reference work:

Psychoactive plants are plants that people ingest in the form of simple or complex preparations in order to affect the mind or alter the state of consciousness.

Psychoactivity may include sedative, stimulant, euphoric, deliriant, and hallucinogenic effects.

Several hundred psychoactive plants are known.

Some important examples of psychoactive plants include Coffea arabica (coffee), Camellia sinensis (tea), Nicotiana tabacum (tobacco), and Cannabis (including hashish).

Psychoactive plants have been used ritually (e.g., peyote as an entheogen), medicinally (e.g., opium as an analgesic), and therapeutically (e.g., cannabis as a drug) for thousands of years. Hence, the sociocultural and economic significance of psychoactive plants is enormous.

Sanguisorba officinalis

Sanguisorba officinalis, the great burnet, is a plant in the family Rosaceae, subfamily Rosoideae. It is native throughout the cooler regions of the Northern Hemisphere in Europe, northern Asia, and northern North America.

It is a herbaceous perennial plant growing to 1 m tall, which occurs in grasslands, growing well on grassy banks. It flowers June or July.Sanguisorba officinalis is an important food plant for the European large blue butterflies Maculinea nausithous and M. teleius.


Stilbenoids are hydroxylated derivatives of stilbene. They have a C6–C2–C6 structure. In biochemical terms, they belong to the family of phenylpropanoids and share most of their biosynthesis pathway with chalcones. Stilbenoids can be produced by plants and bacteria.


Symphytum is a genus of flowering plants in the borage family, Boraginaceae. There are up to 35 species, known by the common name comfrey (pronounced ). Some species and hybrids, particularly S. officinale and S. × uplandicum, are used in gardening and herbal medicine. They are not to be confused with Cynoglossum virginianum, known as wild comfrey, another member of the borage family.

Tribulus terrestris

Tribulus terrestris is an annual plant in the caltrop family (Zygophyllaceae) widely distributed around the world. It is adapted to grow in dry climate locations in which few other plants can survive. It is native to warm temperate and tropical regions in southern Eurasia, Africa, North America, and Australia. An aggressive and hardy invasive species, T. terrestris is widely known as a nuisance for its small woody fruit – the bur – having sharp spines which attach to crop workers, pedestrians, bicycle tires, and the mouths and fur of grazing animals.

Withania somnifera

Withania somnifera, known commonly as ashwagandha, Indian ginseng, poison gooseberry, or winter cherry is a plant in the Solanaceae or nightshade family. Several other species in the genus Withania are morphologically similar. Although commonly used as a medicinal herb in Ayurvedic medicine, there is no conclusive clinical evidence that it is effective for treating any ailment.

Plant groups
Plant morphology
Plant growth and habit
Plant taxonomy
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