Today over 50% of prescription drugs are derived from chemicals first identified in plants.
Aspirin was one of the first drugs produced from plants that came into common usage.
Aspirin is an analgesic – used to relieve minor aches and pains. It is also used as an antipyretic, to reduce fever, and as an anti-inflammatory medication.
But how was this wonder drug discovered?
The origins of aspirin can be traced to Ancient Egypt.
The Egyptians would chew on willow bark to relieve fevers and headaches.
Willow trees and many other plants contain chemicals called salicylates.
These help the plant to fight off its own infections.
In 1763, British Reverend Edward Stone made the same connection, finding that willow bark relieved pain, swelling and fever.
Reverend Edward Stone
He wrote to the Royal Society in London informing them of his discovery.
But it would be more than 130 years later that German chemist Felix Hoffman refined the willow bark's salicylates into acetylsalicylic acid.
Felix Hoffman, 1897
And in the 1900s Hoffman put acetylsalicylic acid on the market in tablet form and named it aspirin.
Today aspirin remains one of the most commonly used medications.
Approximately 35,000 metric tonnes are produced and consumed annually, enough to make over 100 billion standard aspirin tablets every year.
And all from an ancient plant remedy first identified more than 2500 years ago.