Who's the daddy? A paternity test for pharmaceuticals

Updated: Mar 14

In just 150 years, synthetic pharmaceuticals have dominated the health industry and culture of the West. And in that short span of time, we have already forgotten our roots.

But we humans have survived for the vast majority of our existence (which includes the golden ages) using only natural medicines. And contrary to popular myth, people did manage to live long lives in good health prior to the advent modern medicine - Pythagoras lived to 75, Ramesses II lived to 90.

It is no secret that herbal medicine is the progenitor of modern day pharmaceutical medicine. But you might be surprised to know that still today, some of the most effective and widely used medicines still rely on plants for their active therapeutic agents.

Below are some popular pharmaceuticals, and their lesser known botanical counterparts:


Codeine is a prescription pain killer and sedative, made from extracts of the Opium Poppy (Papaver somniferum), also traditionally used as a sedative and pain killer. Morphine and the class-A drug heroin are also made with the opium poppy.


Aspirin is used as a general pain killer, and also to help treat fevers. It's key ingredient is an extract from Willow Bark, which is also used to treat pain, fever, and inflammation. Willow Bark is still used today as an alternative to aspirin, particularly for headaches or chronic back pain.


Artemisinin isn't as widely recognised as the first two on this list. It is one of the most effective anti-malaria medicines available, and is also commonly used to treat fevers. The key ingredient of this medicine is sourced from Wormwood (Artemisia annua), a plant that has been used to treat malaria an