Plants for Health

A global reference enabling regulators, industry, health practitioners and researchers to reliably access and exchange information concerning health products derived from plants or fungi.

Close up of fan shaped leaves of Gingko biloba, the maidenhair tree

Plants for Health will improve the safety, quality and reliability of “natural” health products derived from plants and fungi.

It will facilitate research, and particularly multi-disciplinary research into these species, their traits, ingredients and products. It will do this by cataloguing and disambiguating the imprecise and inconsistent terminologies employed to refer to both plants and their products and by mapping these often ambiguous terms to Kew’s modern authoritative taxonomic framework.

Plants for Health will enable regulators, practitioners, manufacturers, suppliers, traders and researchers to comprehensively access published information and to exchange data with one another reliably despite their use of alternative names.

This will lead to more effective regulation and quality control, to greater safety in the use of these products, to an increased awareness of the associated adverse reactions and to better focused research and development.

Plants for Health builds upon the success of Medicinal Plant Names Services by:

  • Expanding the resource to include all health products (food supplements, beverages, cosmetics. Essential oils) and relevance to human health (nutrition, allergens, poisons).
  • Recording the use of fungi as well as plants.
  • Enriching species descriptions to include traits (e.g. active chemicals), conservation, regulation and trade.
  • Facilitating more flexible use of our data via an enhanced portal and additional data services.
  • Engaging and supplying data to a far wider set of audiences, collaborators and stakeholders in diverse disciplines.

Plants for Health is an international consortium led by Kew which benefits from the expertise, data and audience networks from our partners.

Plants for Health contributes to Kew’s Science Strategy by:

  • “Sharing Knowledge” deploying Kew’s authoritative and comprehensive core taxonomic datasets in ways making them more accessible and relevant to new audiences.
  • “Integrating Knowledge” accumulating evidence of how plants and fungi are employed and impact on human health, thus demonstrating their value to humans.
  • Facilitating and capturing data for the “Biointeractions and Bioactive Molecules” Initiative.
  • Enabling global analyses of how plants are used and where.
  • Contributing to the conservation of these species highlighting their value, global conservation and trade status.
Project lead

Bob Allkin

Project co-investigator

Paul Kersey


Nick Black
Francesco Civita
Tiziana Cossu
Kristina Patmore
Caroline Wilkinson 

Advisory team

Rafaël Govaerts
Melanie-Jayne Howes
Rob Turner
Tiziana Ulian
Christopher Wallis

Plants for Health is an international consortium led by Kew and counting on the expertise, data and audience networks of the following partners: 

1. A global ontology for plant-derived health products for use across multiple disciplines and health sectors.  It will contain the diverse terminologies for the plants, ingredients and derived substances however ambiguously, imprecisely or inconsistently they are used. It will map these terms to RBG Kew’s authoritative and global botanical reference resources for scientific nomenclature and for plant taxonomy.  The ontology will be under Version control.

2. A suite of tools, services and consultancies offered by RBG Kew for deploying this ontology and which enable diverse audiences across multiple health disciplines to use the ontology effectively.  These will include:

  • a search portal;
  • digital services facilitating access by users’ and collaborator’s systems;
  • the means to embed the ontology within partners’ information systems and to refresh these over time; and
  • training and consultancies as to best practice and interpretation and use of the ontology and services.

3. A network of users, collaborating partners and end-beneficiaries identifying the benefits, cost efficiencies and impact of Plants for Health on scientific research, public health, and industry.

4. A plan and business model to sustain and support the curation and dissemination of the ontology beyond the end of the initial 4-year funding period.

Dauncey, E., Irving, J., Allkin, R., & Robinson, N. (2016)

Common Mistakes when Using Plant Names and How to Avoid Them.

European Journal of Integrative Medicine 8: 597-601. 

Allkin, R. & Patmore, K. (2018).

Navigating the Plant-Names Jungle.

WHO Uppsala Reports 78: 16-20.

Allkin, R. et al. (2017).

Medicinal Plants: current resource and future potential.

In: State of the World’s Plants (ed. Willis, K.), Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Pp.22-29.

Rivera, D., Allkin, R., Obón, C., et al. (2014)

What is in a name? The need for accurate scientific nomenclature for plants.

Journal of Ethnopharmacology 152: 393-402.

The Wellcome Trust Biomedical Resources Fund


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