The word pharmacognosy is derived from two Greek words, 'pharmakon' meaning 'drug' and 'gnosis' meaning 'knowledge'. So, pharmacognosy literally means knowledge of drugs. Pharmacognosy is one of the important branches of pharmacy. It deals with "the study of structural, physical, chemical and sensory characters of crude drugs of animal, vegetable and mineral origin and includes their history, cultivation, collection, storage and use". From a layman's point of view pharmacognosy is nothing but medicinal botany.

The chief functions of a pharmacognosist are to ascertain the identity/authenticity of crude drug samples and to check adulteration/substitution; to study the active constituents of the drug plants/crude drugs and to investigate their chemical reactions; to devise methods for cultivation of suitable plants for commercial exploitation and so on.

Though the term pharmacognosy is a modern one, the knowledge of medicinal plants and their uses are as old as mankind. It has developed from ancient civilizations, where plants or plant parts have been used to cure human diseases/ disorders. The healing power of certain herbs and plant pacts such as leaves, barks, roots etc. were undoubtedly discovered by accident, but once discovered, knowledge of drugs was passed on from generation to generation.

Now-a-days, people are increasingly turning to indigenous systems of medicine which are holistic and not only treat diseases but also prevent them. Further, they are free from side effects. With the rising popularity of traditional systems of medicine, there is a growing demand for professionals in this field. In order to become a medical practitioner in Indian system of medicine, a formal education is mandatory. Further, some of the Indian systems of medicine offer specialization in pharmacognosy at postgraduate level e.g. M.D. Ayurveda in Dravyaguna (pharmacognosy) and also offer research programmes in pharmacognosy. One can take up pharmacognosy as a career also in Indian systems of medicine. Aspirants can log on to: for more information on Indian systems of medicine.

To have a good career in pharmacognosy, as aspirant should hold a doctorate degree (Ph.D.) in Pharmacognosy or at least a Master's in Pharmacy (M. Pharm.) with specialization in pharmacognosy. A Bachelor's degree in Pharmacy (B. Pharm.) is the minimum qualification for a career in pharmacognosy. Further, one can enter this field by first studying a Diploma in Pharmacy (D. Pharm.), which is a basic course in Pharmacy. After completing D. Pharm lateral entry into B. Pharm. course is also available.

There are about 150 institutions across the country that offer pharmacy courses, especially undergraduate courses. Some of these institutions also offer Postgraduate courses. Those who have passed 10 + 2 with physics, chemistry' and biology or mathematics subjects are eligible to study pharmacy courses, either D. Pharm. (a 2 year course) or B.Pharm. (a 4 year course). Admissions to these courses are done through an entrance exam conducted by state or central government or universities.
Though pharmacognosy is taught in D. Pharm. and B. Pharm. as one of the subjects, one can get specialized in pharmacognosy only in the postgraduate level, M. Pharm. (a 2 year course) and thereafter in doctoral/post-doctoral studies. About eight specializations are offered in M. Pharm., of which pharmacognosy is one. Many of the pharmacy/ pharmaceutical related institutions in India have a separate department for pharmacognosy with laboratory facilities.
Some of the universities and institutes imparting Pharmacy/ Pharmacognosy courses are :
Al-Ameen College of Pharmacy, Bangalore;
Birla Institute of Technology, Ranchi;
Bombay College of Pharmacy, Mumbai;
B.V. Patel Pharmaceutical Education & Research Development Centre, Ahmedabad;
Chennai Medical College, Chennai;
Cheran College of Pharmacy, Coimbatore;
Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Dr. H.S. Gour Vishwavidyalaya, Sagar (M.P.);
Department of Pharmaceutical Technology, Jadavpur University, Kolkata;
Government College of Pharmacy, Bangalore;
Hemchandracharya North Gujarat University, Patan, Gujarat;
Faculty of Pharmacy, Jamia Hamdard, New Delhi;
K.L.E Society's College of Pharmacy, Hubli;
MAEER's Maharashtra Institute of Pharmacy, Pune;
Mahatma Gandhi College of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Jaipur;
National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research (NIPER), Mohali, Punjab;
Poona College of Pharmacy, Pune; Sinhgad College of Pharmacy, Pune;
University Institute of Pharmaceutical Technology Annamalai University, Annamalainagar;
University Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Panjab University, Chandigarh;
University Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Mumbai
Visveswarapura institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences- Bangalore and so on.

This list is not a exhaustive. One can log on to : for a detailed list of institutions and courses/ specializations offered.

With undergraduate qualification (B. Pharm.), one can easily enter into pharmacy or pharmaceutical related jobs. However, one can take up teaching/research as a career only with postgraduate (M. Pharm.) and/or doctorate (Ph.D.) qualification. A wide range of employment opportunities are available for pharmacy/pharmacognosy professionals in hospitals, pharmaceutical industries, teaching/research institutions depending upon their qualifications and experience.

Some of the common job profiles are as pharmacists in hospitals and medical stores, as sales/medical representatives in pharmaceutical companies, as technicians in bichemical and pathological laboratories, as analysts in chemical/drug analysis laboratories, as drug inspectors, instructors, demonstrators, lecturers, readers or professors in teaching institutions, as scientists in research institutions and so on. Career opportunities in pharmacognosy are plentiful in developed countries like United States, United Kingdom etc.

Ever since the popularization of pharmaceutical education, in addition to students of pharmacy, students of botany are also increasingly interested in pharmacognostic research programs leading to doctoral and postdoctoral degrees.

(The author "A.B.D. Selvam" is a scientist in the Pharmacognosy Unit, Botanical Survey of India, Howrah)