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Medicinal Plant Names Services

The Medicinal Plant Names Services will facilitate research and lead to more effective healthcare by providing a free and authoritative online resource for medicinal plant names, and additional services for the health, research and regulatory authorities.

There is enormous and growing interest in the use of plants and plant extracts in health care. In Western Europe annual revenues for plant-based medicinal products exceed 5 billion US$, and the global estimate for this trade is 60 billion US$.

Professionals working in the health and research sectors, and the herbal or pharmaceutical industries, all need to access information about plants and to communicate with one another accurately, unambiguously and effectively about these plants. Most medicinal plants typically have between 5 and 40 different Latin scientific names. They are also known by pharmaceutical, drug, common and trade names. Medicinal plants are used globally and are known by different names in different communities, health traditions, generations and languages. The same name can also be applied to different plants for just the same reasons. To find all the information published about a particular plant, and to ensure that you are sharing data about the same plant, you need to know all the possible names that have been used, and any possible confusions.

There is currently no one reference source which can claim to be authoritative or complet, and which can fulfill the needs of the medicinal plant research and health communities. Health regulations are therefore published with meaningless or ambiguous names. The pharmaceutical industry suffers hidden costs, duplication of effort, poorly directed investment and lost opportunities through a failure to share knowledge about plants effectively.

Building upon existing plant name resources at Kew (such as IPNI and the World Checklist) we are compiling a comprehensive names resource that maps Latin scientific names onto common, trade, Latin, pharmaceutical and other drug names used in pharmacopoeias, research literature, legislation, and trade regulation. Links will be made to other data sources enabling comprehensive access to additional information such as conservation status and chemistry.

The MPNS resource will enable:

  • effective information retrieval from disparate publications
  • interoperability and links between existing resources
  • organisations holding long lists of plant names to validate these and reduce their maintenance costs
  • development and support of global, industry-wide medicinal data standards

By improving the accuracy and breadth of information being gathered about plant species by those involved in R&D, pharmacovigilance and the regulation of medicinal plants and functional foods, the MPNS resource will facilitate research and lead to more effective healthcare. This tool will also allow the standard of medicinal plant research, management and use to be significantly raised by enabling collation of relevant pharmacological, phytochemical and natural product data, irrespective of the plant name used.

The MPNS resource will be accessed freely via an online portal for enquiries about individual plant names. The first release of the portal will be in the autumn of 2013. We are also developing a range of services based on this resource and specifically tailored to the needs of particular audiences. A user group with representatives from the health, research, pharmaceutical and regulatory communities is assisting us in the design of the resource and of the associated services to ensure its long-term sustainability.

The project is funded by the Wellcome Trust and officially began on 1 October 2011.

Project partners and collaborators


National Poisons Information Service


European Medicine Agency

IUCN Medicinal Plant Specialist Group


World Health Organisation

Project funders


Wellcome Trust