Italian law (Law 99/1931) uses the term “officinal plant” to identify a heterogeneous group of plant species belonging to three main categories: medicinal, aromatic and scented.
In ancient medical treatments, the knowledge of plants, their properties, processing techniques and uses, was an important virtue, making it possible to cure diseases. “Officinal” plants were used to create medicinal remedies, perfumes and cosmetics.
Nowadays, the terms “officinal” and “medicinal” are often considered synonymous.
In actual fact, “officinal” is a procedural term used mainly in Italy. It comes from the medieval Latin “officina”, used to identify a pharmaceutical laboratory. This term identifies plants that can be processed in a pharmaceutical laboratory, regardless of whether or not the plant has medicinal properties.
Consequently, the term “officinal” is used broadly to include all medicinal, aromatic and essential species that have a part (leaves, flowers, seeds, bark, roots), referred to as a drug, endowed with biological activity, with active ingredients, that can be consumed directly, processed or distilled.
In each officinal plant we seek the active ingredient, the biological activity, which characterises the plant, that can be used for each particular purpose.
The term “medicinal” refers specifically to those plants that contain substances that can be used for therapeutic purposes or as precursors of active substances.
The W.H.O. (World Health Organisation) defines a medicinal plant as a plant organism that contains substances that can be used for therapeutic purposes in the creation of pharmacologically active preparations.