What is the exact difference between the words "medicine" and "medicinal"?

For medicinal, Free Dictionary states:

"A preparation or product having the properties of a medicine."

But the fact is that a "medicine" is itself a "preparation" or "product" which has curative properties. Is there any particular reason for making a noun out of this adjective?

  • The OED gives a usage of "medicinal" as a noun, as early as 1382. I suspect that any reason for the coining of this noun may be lost in the mists of time. – user16269 Jun 20 '12 at 7:56
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    Medicine is a noun, while medicinal is an adjective. – Noah Jun 20 '12 at 8:04
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    ...and while both can be used in each other's contexts (took a medicinal, medicine man), one is primarily a noun, the other primarily adjective. – SF. Jun 20 '12 at 8:09
  • I would understand the use of "medicinal" as a noun when referring to a product accepted by alternative medical practices, but not by mainstream medicine. – Irene Jun 20 '12 at 8:13
  • Sure. This would be the case in jurisdictions where there is legislation governing what may be labelled a "medicine". – user16269 Jun 20 '12 at 8:16

Aside from the noun/adjective difference already mentioned, I would say the main difference (in modern usage) between a medicine and a medicinal is that a medicine's primary, inherent use is as a curative. A medicinal, on the other hand, is a substance that is being pressed into service as a curative - it may not normally be viewed as a medicine.

For instance:

  • an antibiotic is a medicine
  • a shot of brandy could be a medicinal, if given to treat shock, etc. (not that that's necessarily a good idea!)

That's the main difference in my mind, but feel free to disagree!

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