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Herbal Sciences


Plants have been used medicinally in all cultures, for millennia in some cases, but an evidence base of well-conducted research studies lag far behind traditional wisdom for most of them. The studies that do exist can be hard to find, for various reasons, but here are some tips and techniques that will greatly improve your botanical search results!

Search Tips for RAMP

Review of Aromatic & Medicinal Plants, (RAMP) is an international database useful for finding information pertaining to botany, cultivation, biological activity and use of plants. Specifically, content covers herbs, spices, essential oil and medicinal plants. It's a powerful database so review the tips below to get the best results. Access it from the library databases homepage or the list of databases linked on this page.

1. Unless you're very familiar with the terminology, use the Thesaurus to find subject headings (descriptors in this database).

2. Enter a term and click on ones of interest to view the record. If you want to search on the term, click the orange, ADD button.

3. If you enter a second term, the default connector will be OR. Change it to AND if you need both terms to be included in all your hits.

4. Phrases must be enclosed in quotation marks.

5. Open hits of interest and peruse the record for additional terms. The descriptors (subject headings) will be at the bottom.

6. Revise your search as appropriate.

*Limiting to CABI Full Text will retrieve a limited number of hits; you'll get better results by searching RAMP. If the article you need isn't in full text, click on the Request an Article tab at the top of the Databases page

Search Tips for PubMed

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:

Magnoliopsida: “A class of vascular plants which produce flowers and seeds. They include monocotyledons, dicotyledons, and about 80% of all known plant species."

Year introduced: 2018(1998)


  • Find Magnoliopsida in PubMed’s MeSH Database and 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 turmeric)

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, PhytogenicUse 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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