Front. Pharmacol., 25 July 2013 |

Traditional medicines and globalization: current and future perspectives in ethnopharmacology

  • 1Department of Biomedical Sciences, University of Cagliari, Cagliari, Italy
  • 2Department of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Cagliari, Cagliari, Italy

The ethnopharmacological approach toward the understanding and appraisal of traditional and herbal medicines is characterized by the inclusions of the social as well as the natural sciences. Anthropological field-observations describing the local use of nature-derived medicines are the basis for ethnopharmacological enquiries. The multidisciplinary scientific validation of indigenous drugs is of relevance to modern societies at large and helps to sustain local health care practices. Especially with respect to therapies related to aging related, chronic and infectious diseases traditional medicines offer promising alternatives to biomedicine. Bioassays applied in ethnopharmacology represent the molecular characteristics and complexities of the disease or symptoms for which an indigenous drug is used in “traditional” medicine to variable depth and extent. One-dimensional in vitro approaches rarely cope with the complexity of human diseases and ignore the concept of polypharmacological synergies. The recent focus on holistic approaches and systems biology in medicinal plant research represents the trend toward the description and the understanding of complex multi-parameter systems. Ethnopharmacopoeias are non-static cultural constructs shaped by belief and knowledge systems. Intensified globalization and economic liberalism currently accelerates the interchange between local and global pharmacopoeias via international trade, television, the World Wide Web and print media. The increased infiltration of newly generated biomedical knowledge and introduction of “foreign” medicines into local pharmacopoeias leads to syncretic developments and generates a feedback loop. While modern and post-modern cultures and knowledge systems adapt and transform the global impact, they become more relevant for ethnopharmacology. Moreover, what is traditional, alternative or complementary medicine depends on the adopted historic-cultural perspective.

Keywords: knowledge transmission, globalization, medical pluralism, global economy, traditional medicines, syncretism

Citation: Leonti M and Casu L (2013) Traditional medicines and globalization: current and future perspectives in ethnopharmacology. Front. Pharmacol. 4:92. doi: 10.3389/fphar.2013.00092

Received: 03 June 2013; Accepted: 02 July 2013;
Published online: 25 July 2013.

Edited by:

Thomas Efferth, University of Mainz, Germany

Reviewed by:

You-Ping Zhu, Chinese Medical Center Tasly Group BV, Netherlands
Elizabeth Mary Williamson, University of Reading, UK

Copyright: © 2013 Leonti and Casu. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited and subject to any copyright notices concerning any third-party graphics etc.

*Correspondence: Marco Leonti, Department of Biomedical Sciences, University of Cagliari, Via Ospedale 72, 09124 Cagliari, Italy e-mail: