Medicinal plants of the Russian Far East.
Abstract: The flora of the Russian Far East is rich and diverse. This region of Russia has considerable resources of valuable varieties of medicinal plants. The official Russian medicine uses 35 to 40 varieties of raw materials which are harvested from Far Eastern wild plants. Having the biggest commercial importance are the following plants: spiny eleutherococcus (Eleutherococcus senticosus Rupr et Maxim), Manchurian aralia (Aralia mandshurica Rupr et Maxim = A. elata Miq Seem), Chinese magnolia vine (Schisandra chinensis Turcz Baill), cowberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea L, Rhodococcum vitis-idaea Avror), marsh tea (Ledum palustre L) and hagi (Lespedeza bicolor Turcz). Despite considerable harvest volumes, the raw material reserves are many times greater than the actual harvest. Popular and empirical medicines use almost half of all the species that grow in the Far East. They represent a huge potential of modern pharmacy and medicine. An interesting and promising group is comprised of vicarious species of medicinal plants which number at least 70 in the Russian Far East.

The article gives examples of using some of these Far Eastern plant species. Publications on the main commercial plant species of the Russian Far East are planned in the future.
Authors: Stepanova, T.A.
Stusenko, O.V.
Pub Date: 12/22/2008
Publication: Name: Australian Journal of Medical Herbalism Publisher: National Herbalists Association of Australia Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2008 National Herbalists Association of Australia ISSN: 1033-8330
Issue: Date: Winter, 2008 Source Volume: 20 Source Issue: 4
Accession Number: 200247351
Full Text: The flora of the Russian Far East is very rich and is attractive for both practical use and detailed study. There are around 4000 species of plants growing in the Russian Far East including cosmopolites and endemic species, relic species of the preglacial period and relatively young species, including the alien ones. In the Far Eastern taiga the southern species grow alongside the northern species: it is quite natural to see a leafy kolomikta vine Actinidia kolomicta (Maxim)Maxim entwining a great Korean cedar Pinus koraiensis Siebold et Zucc (Cherepanov 1995).

The richness of the Russian Far Eastern flora is not only in its species diversity but also in the considerable reserve of valuable medicinal plants. The latter fact is of great importance since Russia has been traditionally using wild plants alongside the cultivated plants for obtaining raw materials for medicinal purposes, with wild plants constituting at least half of all the officinal kinds of medicinal plants. (Officinal species of medicinal plants are the plant species that are allowed to be used in the official medical practice of Russia. They are included in the State Register of Drugs of the Russian Federation. All the officinal types of raw materials and all the drugs that are made from them are regulated by the corresponding state quality standards: Pharmacopoeial Clauses).

Of all the officinal plants included in the State Register of Drugs of the Russian Federation, over 60 species are found in the Far East. They belong to various genera and families, are characterised by different pharmacological properties and have different resource characteristics and, correspondingly, different purveyance importance.

In reality there are 35 to 40 species of Far Eastern plants which can be purveyed for the needs of official medicine of Russia. Having the biggest commercial importance are the following medicinal plants: spiny eleutherococcus (Eleutherococcus senticosus) Rupr et Maxim, Manchurian aralia (Aralia mandshurica) Rupr et Maxim (= A. elata Miq Seem), Chinese magnolia vine (Schisandra chinensis) (Turcz) Baill, cowberry (Vaccinium vitisidaea) L. (Rhodococcum vitis-idaea (L) Avror), marsh tea (Ledum palustre) L, hagi (Lespedeza bicolor) Turcz., various kinds of wild rose Rosa L. and other plants.


Despite considerable procurement volumes of the above species, ranging from tens to hundreds of tons, the natural reserves are many times bigger than annual procurements. Thus the procurement volumes of underground parts of eleutherococcus, which is the main commercial leader of the Russian Far East, are 300 to 500 tons per year (Sukhomirov 2007). The reserves of this raw material are estimated at 83,200 tons and it is possible to harvest up to 2,900 tons a year without causing damage to the shrub.

The yield of aralia root is estimated at 11,600 tons, possible annual harvest volume is 400 tons while the actual procurement volume is 10 times less. The average annual harvest of cowberry leaves is 6 tons with 6 thousand tons of berries while the possible production stock is 24,000 tons for leaves and 72,000 tons for berries with the actual reserves in the territory of the Far East being 1,200,000 tons of leaves and 600,000 tons of berries (Nechaev 2006).

The procured raw herbal materials are used primarily for preparing drugs. Provided below are several examples.

The marsh tea (Ledum palustre) is recommended as an expectorant, anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial agent for treatment of bronchopulmonary diseases. In Russia the offshoots of the marsh tea are used to produce Ledin tablets which are recommended for treatment of diseases of upper and lower air passages with frequent, primarily dry cough. The main active substance of Ledin is ledol, a tricyclic sesquiterpenoid, its amount determining the quality of the marsh tea raw material. The quantity of ledol in offshoots is determined by the gas-liquid chromatography method (GLCh).


Russia's official medicine considers cowberries (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) to be diuretic. Used as the drug raw material are the leaves, their quality being determined by the quantity of the main pharmacologically active substance, arbutin. The cowberry leaves have a diuretic, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and capillary strengthening effect and regulate nitrogenous and mineral metabolism. The cowberry leaves are dispensed in packages for making decoctions, and used as ingredients of teas including two original formulae developed at the Far-Eastern State Medical University.

In the official medical practice of Russia, hagi (Lespedeza bicolour) is used in much the same way as the North-American species of round-headed bush-clover (Lespedeza capitata). The flowering offshoots of hagi are used to make Lespeflan, a liquid medication possessing hypoazotemic, anti-inflammatory and diuretic effect. Another preparation licensed in Russia is Lespenephryl made by UCB SA Health Care, Pliva d.d, Laboratoires Freice (France), produced from round-headed bush-clover. Lespeflan is recommended for treatment of chronic renal insufficiency of various origins. The quality of the raw hagi plant and medicinal preparation is assessed by the amount of flavonoids they contain.


Some medicinal plants are also used as food plants. This mainly applies to wild fruits such as those from Schisandra chinensis, snowball-tree Viburnum sargentii Koehne, wild ash (Sorbus amurensis Koehne S. discolor auct), bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus), wild rose (Rosa spp), bird cherry (Padus asiatica Kom), and hawthorn (Crataegus spp). The local population uses them to make juices, stewed fruits, jellies and home preserves for future use. These and other kinds of wild fruit are used in the food industry and for production of biologically active supplements.

Other popular plants include blueberries, cranberries (Oxycoccus palustris) (= Vaccinium oxycoccos) and honeysuckle (Lonicera edulis Turcz. ex Freyn) which, although belonging to the food plant category, are also widely used as medicinal plants. In 2002 there was 570 tons of wild berries harvested in Khabarovsk and Primorsky territories, not including the stocks of the local population for their own consumption (Gerasimenko 2003). The main types of berry plants of the Russian Far East are cowberry, blueberry and cranberry. Berry harvesting is based on 16 main varieties though there are 43 varieties which are harvested to one extent or another.


It should be noted that there is about 120,000 tons of wild berries in the production stock of the Far East; the estimated annual harvest being 70,000 tons (Sukhomirov 2007).

The range of the harvested raw materials has somewhat expanded over the past decade due to Russia's official recognition of biologically active nutritional supplements. Despite the fact that the assortment of biologically active nutritional supplements produced from far-eastern raw materials compares well with the assortment of medicinal preparations, there have been no substantial changes in the range of the harvested products since the plant-based nutritional supplements are produced mainly from the long popular and well-studied medicinal plants belonging to officinal varieties while the medicinal plants from empirical medicines are used only occasionally.

It should be noted that about half of the Far Eastern plant species are used in popular and traditional medicine. The information about various methods of plant usage relates to at least 1,100 species (Shreter 1975). These species are of extraordinary interest for both the modern medical science and practice.

Among the other popular plants of ethno-medicine of the Russian Far East are the peonies: Paeonia lactiflora Pall. (P. albiflora Pall.) and Paeonia obovata Maxim. (P. japonica Makino). Both plants are used in Chinese, Tibetan and popular medicine of various peoples.

Paeonia lactiflora is used in treatment of gynaecological diseases and diseases of the gastrointestinal tract; it is known for its sedative, spasmolytic, anti-inflammatory and expectorative action. Paeonia obovata is used for conditions such as diseases of the gastrointestinal tract, headaches, epilepsy and cough. The local population of the Russian Far East nicknamed this variety of peony 'a little dashing flower'; it is an adaptogen, tonic and immunostimulant (Shreter 1975).

Another remedy of ethno and empirical medicine which is still very popular is yellow sophora (Sophora flavescens Soland, S. angustifolia Siebold et Zucc, S. flavescens subsp. angustifolia Yakovl). Sophora flavescens is used in the treatment of disorders of the gastrointestinal tract, upper air passages, wound healing, as well as having diuretic and febrifuge action. Yellow sophora is used in the modern popular phytotherapy of the Russian Far East as a remedy for diseases of gastrointestinal tract, mainly the stomach ulcer (Shreter 1975).


Vicarious species (closely kindred to officinal ones) comprise a special group of medicinal plants of the Russian Far East. There are 70 such varieties. For example narrow-leaved nettle (Urtica angustifolia Fisch. ex Hornem) is widespread in the Far East, where the great nettle (Urtica dioica L) is widespread in Europe; northern tansy (Tanacetum boreale Fisch) is widespread instead of the common tansy (Tanacetum vulgare L), Far-East wild strawberry (Fragaria orientalis Losinsk) instead of European wood strawberry (Fragaria vesca L), Keiskei lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria keiskei Miq) instead of lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis).

Despite their unofficial status, the species that are closely kindred to officinal species are often as good as the latter, and sometimes even have certain advantages (Stepanova 2006). This group of medicinal plants is of scientific and practical interest due to the more severe vegetation conditions proving more stable and adaptable than their next of kin which grow in more favourable conditions. As a result their properties can be more useful than those of their kindred species.



The study of vicarious species of the Far East medicinal plants has been the leading area of research of the Chair of Pharmacognosy and Botany of the Far-Eastern State Medical University for 20 years.

In our next publications we would like to concentrate on some of the most popular medicinal plants of the Russian Far East.


Cherepanov SK, Semya M. 1995. Vascular Plants of Russia and Adjoining States. Petersburg. *

* NOTE: Latin names of plants in the article are provided according to this report.

Gerasimenko NM, Korol AN, Pikhanova SA, Gochachko SE. 2003. Marketing Evaluation of Non-Wood Products of Far Eastern South Forests. Practical Marketing, 2003, No. 3--http://

Nechaev AA. 2006. Cowberry Forests of Khabarovsk Territory (natural development features, productivity, rational development). Abstract of the Ph.D. Thesis (Biology). Vladivostok.

Shreter AI, Meditsina M. 1975. Medicinal Flora of the Soviet Far East.

Stepanova TA. 2006. Practice and Prospects of Using Vicarious Species of Far-Eastern Medicinal Plants in Stepanova TA, Mechikova GA, Budo AE et al. Science and Nature of the Far East 2;65-76.

Sukhomirov GI. 2007. Taiga Management in the Russian Far East in Sukhomirov GI. Russian Academy of Sciences, Far-Eastern Department, Institute for Economic Research; World Wildlife Fund (WWF)--Russia, Amur Branch. Khabarovsk: RIOTIP 384.

Tatyana Alexeyevna Stepanova is Deputy Head of the Chair of Pharmacognosy and Botany of the Far-Eastern State Medical University, Ph.D. in Pharmaceutical Sciences, Professor. Areas of scientific interest: pharmacognostic study of medicinal plants, especially vicarious species; comparative chemical, pharmacological and botanic study of closely kindred species; development of plant-based preparations, standardisation of medicinal plant raw materials and phytopreparations.

Oleg Vladimirovich Stusenko is General Director of the Far Eastern Centre for Biological and Pharmaceutical Research Phytoplan, member of the Board of Directors of Khabarovskaya Farmatsiya company, General Director of Samar Pharmaceutical Company. Sphere of activity: pharmaceutical marketing, project management.
Gale Copyright: Copyright 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.