Journal of Ethnopharmacology ∎ (∎∎∎∎) ∎∎∎–∎∎∎

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Extracting a medicine or extracting knowledge

In this issue you will find a letter to the editor (Sõukand, this issue) that is in fact a response to an earlier paper in the journal by Leonti (2014) that discussed the methods applied by Sõukand to collect information on current knowledge on uses of medicinal plants in Estonia (Sõukand and Kalle, 2013). It is not usual for the journal to have such discussions, but as editor I think it is important to publish the views of these authors. It is important for the discussion in our field that we all think about how to extract knowledge from people. It is definitely very different from extracting a medicine from a plant, where there are also different choices, but the limitations of the methods to choose from are well known, and it is always possible to compare methods by performing them in parallel and analyzing the results with different targeted or not targeted phytochemical analysis methods. Unfortunately this is not so easy to do when you have to extract information; knowledge from people. As a result there will always be discussion about the methods used, and probably there is no best method. One may argue that with collecting extensive metadata from all the subjects from whom information is obtained, sufficiently large numbers may allow more significant conclusions. On the other hand one may question why one should do so. The ethnopharmacological data are just the start of a whole chain of activities that usually has as objective to prove that a plant can be safely used for some medical applications or to search for novel leads for drug development. Even a combination of these objectives is of course a possibility. That means that any ethnopharmacological data must be assessed, i.e., weighed for its value. That means that any published data should be considered in a broader context, like cultural knowledge, historical knowledge, regional knowledge, global knowledge about the plants of interest and their uses. That includes, for example, the medical system involved; the type of indication and the ease of diagnosis of a disease and observing results of the traditional medication; and the exchange of information over political as well as geographical borders. Also phytochemical and botanical considerations, e.g., chemotaxonomy, are important in weighing the interest for studying a certain medicinal plant. With an estimated 40,000–70,000 plants with one or more medicinal uses, there is an enormous treasure house for developing novel products, from specialty medicines e.g., to treat cancer, to simple OTC plant extracts for common everyday diseases like a flu or diarrhea. The important role of the primary information in this chain is clear, also the need

for a close collaboration between quite different disciplines is obvious. For that reason I think the discussion in the mentioned papers is important to all of us in the multidisciplinary field of ethnopharmacology. Those used to extract plants may learn to appreciate the value of extracted knowledge, which often is their lead for starting to work on a plant. In that connection I also want to make the point that with the large number of potential plants for further studies we must prioritize plants and go into the depth to eventually open the way to evidence based use of medicinal plants. The field needs this, as if we continue to just superficially study all medicinal plants, society will asks us soon why with all our efforts there are no products coming out of our research. So we need to get FDA, EMA or similar institutions approved traditional medicines to the market! The discussion for which I wrote this editorial is important to sharpen us all, and to do better in developing ethnopharmacology. Because I find such academic discussions important we are working on a system where such discussions can be made and reach out to all colleagues in the field. We think that the journals newsletter could be such a forum where discussions can be published. In the upcoming JEP Newsletter you will find the first experiment with this idea. I would very much appreciate any suggestions from the field how we can come to a regular constructive discussion about our research! References Leonti, M., 2014. Herbal teas and the continuum of the food-medicine complex: field methods, contextualisation and cultural consensus. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 151 (2), 1028–1030. Sõukand, R., Kalle, R., 2013. Where does the border lie: locally grown plants used for making tea for recreation and/or healing, 1970s–1990s Estonia. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 150 (1), 162–174. Sõukand, R., 2014, this issue.

Editor-in-Chief Rob Verpoorte n Leiden University, Natural Products Laboratory, IBL, PO Box 9505, 2300RA Leiden, The Netherlands E-mail address: [email protected]

n 0378-8741/& 2014 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.

Tel.: þ 31 715274528; fax: þ31 715274511.

Extracting a medicine or extracting knowledge.

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