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Pharmacopoeias in Codifying Quality of Herbal Medicines (Part 6)

Written by insincerely Roy Upton


The modern concept of pharmacopeias is defined as containing “pharmaceutical specifications that are intended to secure uniformity in the composition, quality, and therapeutic activity of medicines and that are made obligatory within a political unit by legally effective authority” (Sonnedecker 1993). The term pharmacopoeia is derived from the Greek pharmakon (meaning medicine or charm) and poien (meaning to make). Any of the earlier works of materia medica, which attempted to codify the preparation of medicinal ingredients or formulae, can be considered the antecedents of today’s pharmacopoeias. In this regard, China’s Shennong Bencao, Egyptian papyri (e.g., Eber’s Papyrus), the Caraka Samhita of India, and the early Greek and Roman works of Theophrastus, Dioscorides, and Galen all represent such works. However, over time, pharmacopoeias evolved as consensus documents generated by groups of physicians or pharmacists, versus individual authors, and were given formal authority by authoritative bodies.

Historians differ as to the earliest of formal works of medical authority, but perhaps the first such consensus standard was Nuovo Receptario Composito, a book of medical ingredient standards commissioned by the guild of physicians of Florence and made official in Florence in 1498 (Gaddum 1946). Fifty years later in 1548, the actual word pharmacopoeae appeared in Pharmacopoeae Jacobi Sylvii libri tres of French physician Jacques Dubois, but the term was used only in its generic sense. The first officially sanctioned work with the word pharmacopoeia was the Pharmacopoeia Augustana of 1601 (Sonnedecker 1993) and others soon followed establishing the model for official pharmacopoeias.

Roy Upton is the founder, president, and editor of the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP). He has been working and practicing professionally as a herbalist since 1981, and he trained in Ayurvedic, Traditional Chinese, and Western herbal medicine and has also studied and worked extensively with Native American and Caribbean ethnobotanical traditions. As an integral part of his work as a herbalist, he spend a great deal of time defending the rights of consumers to access herbal medicines and to see herbal medicine integrated into the fabric of both our homes and health care systems.

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