Pharmacognosy is the study of medicinal drugs derived from plants or other natural sources. The American Society of Pharmacognosy defines pharmacognosy as "the study of the physical, chemical, biochemical and biological properties of drugs, drug substances or potential drugs or drug substances of natural origin as well as the search for new drugs from natural sources
The word "pharmacognosy" is derivedfrom two Greek words pharmakon (drug), and gnosis (knowledge). Originally—during the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century—"pharmacognosy" was used to define the branch of medicine or commodity sciences which deals with drugs in their crude, or unprepared, form. Crude drugs are the dried, unprepared material of plant, animal or mineral origin, used for medicine.
As late as the beginning of the 20th century, the subject had developed mainly on the botanical side, being particularly concerned with the description and identification of drugs both in their whole state and in powder form. Such branches of pharmacognosy are still of fundamental importance, particularly for pharmacopoeial identification and quality control purposes, but rapid development in other areas has enormously expanded the subject. The advent of the 21st century brought a renaissance of pharmacognosy and its conventional botanical approach has been broadened up to molecular and metabolomic level.
Although most pharmacognostic studies focus on plants and medicines derived from plants, other types of organisms are also regarded as pharmacognostically interesting, in particular, various types of microbes (bacteria, fungi, etc.), and, recently, various marine organisms.