Advancing Medicinal Plant Research at the Herbal Drugs Research Unit


Documenting the safety, efficacy and quality of herbal medicines


A vibrant hub for training the next generation of natural product scientists

previous arrow
next arrow

Advancing Herbal Medicine Research & Education

Pioneering herbal medicine research, ensuring safety, efficacy, and quality, while training future natural product scientists. Join us in shaping healthcare’s future.

Medicinal Plant Research
and Phytomedicine

Alvaro Viljoen

My passion for natural history and biology led me to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree in 1988. Following the successful completion of my BSc (Hons) and MSc (both cum laude) degrees, focusing on aspects of phytochemistry at the University of Stellenbosch, I pursued a PhD on the secondary metabolites of the genus Aloe at the University of Johannesburg, which was completed in 1999. With a growing interest in medicinal plants, I joined the School of Pharmacy at the University of the Witwatersrand (WITS) in 1999, assuming the role of a lecturer in pharmaceutical chemistry.


At WITS, I played a pivotal role in reintroducing pharmacognosy into the undergraduate Bachelor of Pharmacy curriculum, resulting in a large cohort of postgraduate students. Recognising the potential research opportunity in medicinal aromatic plants, particularly in South Africa, a global epicentre for such flora, I systematically collaborated with postgraduate students to document the pharmacological properties and chemical composition of the indigenous flora. Our efforts culminated in publishing the inaugural special issue of the Journal of Essential Oil Research (2006) dedicated to the South African aromatic flora.

Acknowledging my significant contribution to the field, I was elected on the editorial board of the Journal of Essential Oils Research (Francis and Taylor). My affiliation as a permanent member of the scientific committee of the annual International Symposium of Essential Oils (ISEO) confirms my dedication, and I presented three plenary lectures at the symposium. Recognising my research achievements, WITS awarded me the prestigious Vice Chancellor’s Friedel Sellschop Award for Outstanding Young Scientist in 2001.


Progressing through the ranks of academia, I departed from WITS as an associate professor in 2005, taking up a position as a full professor and research fellow at the newly established Tshwane University of Technology (TUT). At TUT, I continued my efforts to enhance research capacity in medicinal plant research and initiated a successful research program within the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences.


Driven by a commitment to contribute to evidence-based medicinal plant research, I emphasised the integration of best-practice pharmaceutical studies, particularly in the quality, safety, and efficacy of herbal medicines. Prioritising key species, my group developed quality assurance guidelines for commercially important South African herbal medicines.

Prof. A. Viljoen with Tulips in Netherland

I have disseminated scientific knowledge throughout my career, with over 300 peer-reviewed papers, predominantly on medicinal plant research (Scopus h-index = 53, Google Scholar h-index = 68). I have actively engaged in the dissemination of scientific research in our field through the presentation of >64 invited lectures at international and national meetings, advocating for medicinal plant research and promoting South Africa’s botanical diversity and indigenous knowledge systems.

Beyond publications, I have contributed to the scientific community by serving as an editor for seven journals, including editor-in-chief of the Journal of Ethnopharmacology (Elsevier) and reviews editor for Phytochemistry Letters (Elsevier). I have been the guest editor of five special issues published in high-impact journals in our field.

Acknowledging the collaborative nature of my achievements, I attribute my success to supervising over 90 postgraduate students and hosting more than 26 postdoctoral fellows in my laboratory. The pinnacle of my academic career came with the nomination for a National Research Chair in Phytomedicine in 2013, awarded by the DSI-NRF, a position I concurrently hold as the Director of the SAMRC Herbal Drugs Research Unit in South Africa, awarded in 2015.

Scholarly Output and Impact Infographic

“Increasing the number of black women in research and academia is critical for promoting the participation of young women in STEM fields.”
- Dr Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education (SA), Sept 2022

“Increasing the number of black women in research and academia is critical
for promoting the participation of young women in STEM fields.”
- Dr Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education (SA), Sept 2022

A Journey from Fundamental Sciences in Natural History to Chemotaxonomy, Phytochemistry, Bioinformatics

Academic Milestones

My academic journey began with a BSc in Botany & Zoology in 1990 at the University of Stellenbosch, followed by distinctions in both Honors (1991) and a Master’s (1993) degrees, where I focused on the essential oil composition of Pelargonium capitatum. In 1999, I completed my PhD at the University of Johannesburg with a chemotaxonomic study of the genus Aloe. This academic path reflects my passion for natural-products research, allowing for impactful contributions to medicinal plant research and phytomedicine.

Leading Medicinal Plant Research

Employment History 

I have led a rewarding career in medicinal plant research. Starting as a research assistant and lecturer, to appointment as a research professor, and since 2013, I have held the position of a National Research Chair in Phytomedicine (DSI-NRF). Concurrently, I direct the SAMRC Herbal Drugs Research Unit, showcasing my continued commitment to advancing evidence-based herbal medicine research.

Gratitude for Research Funding from:

Our Funders

A leading expert in medicinal plant research, focusing on South African aromatic flora.

Get In Touch

Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Tshwane University of Technology, Private Bag X680, Pretoria 0001, South Africa

© 2024 All Rights Reserved. Alvaro Viljoen. ORCID: 0000-0002-6810-2981.
Created by The Profile Lab.