Medicinal plants and their recognition

A.Y. 2020/2021
Overall hours
Learning objectives
The aim of this course is the identification and the classification of medicinal plants through the acquiring of tools and their application.
Furthermore, the course provides precious knowledge for the identification and the description of selected medicinal species, belonging to several botanic families, with a focus on the diagnostic features, and of a selection of herbal drugs or parts of medicinal plants.
Several practical lessons are planned throughout the entire course, aimed at the identification of the selected species by means of herbarium specimens, traditional dichotomous keys, and digital tools.
Visits at the Città Studi Botanic Garden (Milan) and G.E. Ghirardi Botanic Garden (Toscolano Maderno, BS) and outdoor lessons, dedicated to the live observations, botanic drawings, and sketching techniques, allow the students to complete the study of this subject.
Expected learning outcomes
Both frontal and practical lessons, help the students obtain knowledge and insights on the abovementioned topics, thus they will be able to:
- describe the basics, the tools and their use for the identification and the classification of medicinal plants;
- describe medicinal plants through freehand drawing;
- identify species, genus, and family of selected medicinal plants;
- describe diagnostic features of species and their belonging families through the realization of ad hoc sheets;
- realize herbarium specimens and describe their importance and usefulness;
- use traditional dichotomous keys and online tools;
- identify and describe selected herbal drugs and different parts of medicinal plants.
All the abilities gained during the course will be evaluated observing the results of the practical exercises at the Botanic Gardens, as well as in classroom. These practical exercises are aimed at achieving solutions to questions concerning the tools and topics mentioned in the Educational Goals paragraph.
Course syllabus and organization

Single session

Lesson period
Second semester
The course will take place during the second semester. It will be held synchronously on Microsoft Teams, if lessons in attendance are not possible due to the ongoing pandemic emergency, with the same schedule given at the beginning of the semester..
Didactic material (slides used during the lessons) will be uploaded on Ariel, the learning platform of the University. The teaching program, as well as the didactic material, will not change. If not possible in attendance, final tests will be conducted on Teams, upon prior communication.
Course syllabus
· Name of the course: what a 'medicinal plant' is and what 'identification' means.
· Definition of 'systematics', 'taxonomy', and 'chemotaxonomy'.
· Definition of 'drug', 'balsamic period', and 'active compound'.
· At the Botanic Garden, Part I (Città Studi Botanic Garden and G.E. Ghirardi Botanic Garden): direct observation of unknown plant species, selected for their flowering stage and their presence in the Garden, and their description through drawing techniques. From scientific description to identification.
· Realization of ad hoc sheets useful for the description of families and species, with a focus on the disgnostic characters.
· Identification by means of traditional dichotomous keys.
· Herbarium specimens: realization and usefulness.
· At the Botanic Garden, Part II: Project G.E. Ghirardi Botanic Garden, factory of molecules. The Garden, place of exposition and conservation of medicinal plants, is presented to the public in a new and fascinating guise, as potential source of novel bioactive compounds. The identification is carried out through several complementary study levels: macro and micro morphologic description, focusing on the secretory structures responsible for the production of secondary metabolites, characterization of phytochemical profiles, and study of their biological activity.
Particular attention is paid to the following target species:

Camptotheca acuminata Decne. (Cornaceae)
Cinnamomum camphora (L.) J.Presl (Lauraceae)
Lavandula angustifolia Mill., Lavandula dentata L., species belonging to the genus Scutellaria L. (Lamiaceae)
Myrtus communis L. (Myrtaceae)
Olea europaea L. (Oleaceae).
· Identification of botanical drugs and different parts of medicinal plants, from macro to microscopic observation, in two phases: 1. Display of drugs/plant parts without labels with subsequent request for identification; 2. Description of the drugs.
Prerequisites for admission
No propaedeutic courses are required. However, basic notions on Plant Biology and Pharmaceutical Botany acquired during first year are essential for a full understanding of the treated topics.
Teaching methods
Both indoor and outdoor frontal and practical lessons are planned for the macro and microscopic identification of plants by means of dichotomous keys, digital tools, and herbarium specimens. Outdoor lessons will be performed at the Città Studi Botanic Garden (Milan) and the G.E. Ghirardi Botanic Garden (Toscolano Maderno, BS), both belonging to the University of Milan. This kind of lessons are focused on the live observations of plants, the realization of botanic drawings, and the sketching techniques. The educational method used is the 'hands-on learning' (learning by doing): the students become responsible for the lesson, by researching, observing, perceiving with all their five senses, drawing, identifying, proposing, and projecting. These activities may also result in lessons taught by the students themselves.
Every year, on the international 'Fascination of Plant Day', two days of study and research are planned at the G.E. Ghirardi Botanic Garden, which is entirely dedicated to medicinal plants.
Attendance is highly recommended because every practical activity is a precious element for a better understanding the treated topics.
Teaching Resources
On the Ariel website reported hereafter, the students will find all the slides used during the frontal lessons: link not activated yet.
A textbook is not mandatory, for this class is based mainly on the direct observation of plants. Further support material for the preparation of the exam is developed during the lessons or provided by the professor.
However, the following textbook is recommended: Botanica Farmaceutica (Maugini, Maleci Bini, Mariotti Lippi, 2014 - Piccin Editore, Padova).
Assessment methods and Criteria
The verification of learning takes place through an oral test concerning the topics of the course. The final exam will include identification tests on medicinal plants and herbal drugs treated during the lessons. Autonomy of judgment and communication abilities will be assessed as well.
The final examination, providing an assessment of 30, is passed with a mark equal of greater than 18/30.
BIO/15 - PHARMACEUTICAL BIOLOGY - University credits: 3
Lessons: 24 hours
Professor: Milani Fabrizia
By prior telephone or e-mail appointment
Currently only on Teams or Skype calls