Medicinal herbs in India and their conservation

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 30 Aug 2018 10:41:41



By Anshuman Bhargava

From time immemorial, India has been home to a rich variety of herbs and medicinal plants. Despite rapid spread of urban infrastructure, which has led to large scale depletion of natural vegetation, India still boasts of around 7,400 exclusive species of medicinal herbs and plants spread across its length and breadth, which is only second to China. 

But given India’s geographical area is much smaller than China, the ratio is even better than China. At least one-sixth of all plants found in India have medicinal properties and can be exploited commercially. Unfortunately, due to ignorance and neglect many of these plant species are in danger and may extinct in near future if proper steps for their cultivation and preservation are not taken soon. 

According to WHO, close to 70 per cent of patients across the globe prefer traditional/alternative medicines prescribed by Ayurveda, Unani etc. In the US, at least 118 of top 150 prescription drugs are based on
natural sources. 

But due to lack of legalities and proper certifications etc, India manages to corner just 0.5 per cent of global trade share pegged at around $65 m. Only 22 of Indian medicinal plants are certified, against China’s 200.
Surprisingly, India’s Wildlife Protection Act, even after 45 years of its existence, covers only 6 medicinal plants.
Only 15 per cent of Indian medicinal plants are formally cultivated, while rest are facing destruction due to over cultivation or other forms of human interference like infrastructure development, resultant deforestation etc. Thus, the Indian ecosystem is not at all conducive to growth and flourishing of medicinal plants. 

Several recommendations have been made from time to time but none has been rightly implemented.
Globally many countries have established natural reserves, wild nurseries, botanical gardens and seed banks to conserve plant species but in India there has been no such decisive effort or targeted approach. 

Over 12,800 such protected areas are there in the world.
Very deep knowledge of geographical distribution, climatic requirements and biological characteristics of medicinal herbs and plants is needed to guide conservation activities but here too we lack adequate expertise and workforce. Sometimes cost factor also plays a hurdle. 
However, India still has time to get the acts together. Development of genetic engineering has opened up possibilities of large-scale biosynthesis of natural products. 

Advancements in tissue culture and fermentation of medicinal plants have also opened new avenues for large-scale and highly efficient production of desirable bioactive compounds. India has to look at these opportunities to restore its priceless natural assets. 

There is ample scope of promoting organised farming of medicinal plants and tribals and forest dwellers can be easily trained and involved in this profitable venture, which will notonly bolster conservation efforts but also make India a leader in export and manufacture of traditional medicines.