Plants have been used for health and medical purposes for several thousands of years. The number of higher plant species on earth is about 250 000. It is estimated that 35 000 to 70 000 species have, at one time or another, been used in some cultures for medicinal purposes. A majority of the world's population in developing countries still relies on herbal medicines to meet its health needs. Herbal medicines are often used to provide first-line and basic health service, both to people living in remote areas where it is the only available health service, and to people living in poor areas where it offers the only affordable remedy. Even in areas where modern medicine is available, the interest on herbal medicines and their utilization have been increasing rapidly in recent years.
Medicinal plants are important sources for pharmaceutical manufacturing. Medicinal plants and herbal medicines account for a significant percentage of the pharmaceutical market. For example, in China, medicinal plants and their products had a 33.1% share of the pharmaceutical market in 1995. In Malaysia, the market for traditional medicine is estimated at about 1 billion Malaysia rinngit annually.