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Bastyr Center for Natural Health (BCNH) Residents' Resources: Botanical Info

Search tips and links for the most useful clinical resources; citation management resources to "complete the research circle".

Tips for Botanical Searches

Do some fact-finding before you begin a search for information on herbs and other botanicals. In most databases, the best searches include the plant's common name, scientific name (genus and/or species), and unique chemical constituents (if any have been identified):

Individual plant names: PubMed generally assigns the scientific name, usually the genus, as the MeSH subject heading, rather than common names, which can vary according to geographical location. BUT this is not always the case! Use both in your searches, just in case.

Plant constituents (chemical components): Including some of the plant’s chemical components in your search may also be good, especially for pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic aspects. Look for constituents that are specific to that species or its genus and that have been identified as producing a bioactive or therapeutic effect..

   For example:

  • (milk thistle OR silymarin) AND liver diseases    

               common name & constituent

  • (licorice OR glycyrrhiza OR glycyrrhetinic acid) AND inflammation

               common name, genus & constituent


Check out the websites below for information about the Eclectic Medicine and more!

Botanical Medicine MeSH Glossary

Scan the list below to see a variety of botanical MeSH terms you can use in your searches; terms in green are all MeSH subject headings:

Angiosperms: “[A]ny member of the more than 250,000 species of flowering plants having roots, stems, leaves, …and well-developed conductive tissues….”

  • Find Angiosperms in PubMed’s MeSH Database and click the link to see the full MeSH record; scroll down to the MeSH tree at the bottom to see MeSH terms that have been assigned to individual plants (genera and species) belonging to this botanical division.

Examples of genera (genus) MeSH terms:

  • Sambucus (elderberry)
  • Glycyrrhiza (licorice)
  • Panax (ginseng)

Examples of species MeSH terms:

  • Astragalus membranaceus (Astragalus plant)
  • Sambucus nigra (black elderberry)
  • Panax notoginseng (Siberian ginseng)

Examples of common name MeSH terms:

  • Comfrey
  • Milk Thistle
  • Mustard Plant

Examples of plant constituent (component) MeSH terms:

  • Silymarin (found in milk thistle)
  • Ginsenosides (found in ginseng)
  • Curcumin (found in tumeric)

Supplementary Concept Terms:

In MEDLINE (PubMed), many plant constituents, usually those with evidence of bioactivity, are designated as Supplementary Concepts, rather than MeSH terms; they appear in the MeSH Database with [Supplementary Concept] following the constituent name.


  • hyperforin [Supplementary Concept] (constituent of St. John’s wort)
  • silybin [Supplementary Concept] (constituent of milk thistle)
  • stevioside [Supplementary Concept] (constituent of stevia)

Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic: Use this MeSH term for anti-cancer (i.e. anti-neoplastic) agents obtained from “higher plants that have demonstrable cytostatic or antineoplastic activity.”

Dietary Supplements: "Products in capsule, tablet or liquid form that provide essential nutrients, such as a vitamin, an essential mineral, a protein, an herb, or similar nutritional substance."

Ethnobotany: Use this term for anthropological/traditional medicine aspects: “The plant lore and agricultural customs of a people. In the field of medicine, the emphasis is on traditional medicine and the existence and medicinal uses of plants and their constituents, both historically and in modern times.”

Ethnopharmacology: The study of the actions and properties of medicinal agents, often derived from PLANTS, indigenous to populations or ETHNIC GROUPS

Herb-Drug Interactions: “The effect of herbs, other PLANTS, or PLANT EXTRACTS on the activity, metabolism, or toxicity of drugs.”

Materia Medica: “Materials or substances used in the composition of traditional, or indigenous, medical remedies. The use of this MeSH term was formerly restricted to historical articles or those concerned with indigenous medicine, but it can also refer to homeopathic remedies. Nosodes are specific types of homeopathic remedies prepared from causal agents or disease products.”

Herbal Medicine: “The study of medicines derived from botanical sources.” Searching with this term will retrieve mixed results because it is included in the Disciplines and Occupations Category MeSH tree, which would retrieve articles relating to professional and occupational aspects of the herbalism field.

Pharmacognosy: “The science of drugs prepared from natural-sources including preparations from PLANTS, animals, and other organisms as well as MINERALS and other substances included in MATERIA MEDICA. The therapeutic usage of plants is PHYTOTHERAPY.” Pharmacognosy is a more specific term than the MeSH term Pharmacology: “The study of the origin, nature, properties, and actions of drugs and their effects on living organisms.”

Phytotherapy: “Use of plants or herbs to treat diseases or to alleviate pain.” Phytotherapy, literally “plant therapy,” was added as a new MeSH heading in January 2002. (It was assigned retrospectively to all citations with a MeSH heading from the Angiosperms MeSH tree that also had the subheading therapeutic use.)

Plant Extracts, and the broader term Plant Preparations: Use these terms for pharmacognosy aspects: “Concentrated pharmaceutical preparations of plants obtained by removing active constituents with a suitable solvent, which is evaporated away, and adjusting the residue to a prescribed standard.” The heading Drugs, Chinese Herbal is located in the MeSH tree for Plant Extracts.

Plant Oils: “Oils derived from plants or plant products.” The MeSH tree includes more specific MeSH for various vegetable oils, Clove Oil and Tea Tree Oil.

Plants, Medicinal: “Plants whose roots, leaves, seeds, bark, or other constituent possess therapeutic, tonic, purgative, or other pharmacologic activity when administered to higher animals.” Useful for a general overview of which medicinal plants are being used for particular health conditions.

Note:  Quoted definitions are taken from the National Library of Medicine’s MeSH Browser:


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