Medicinal plants have always been considered a healthy source of life for the people. Therapeutical properties of medicinal plants are very useful in healing various diseases.
There are more than 8000 medicinal plants listed in different classical and modern texts on medicinal plants. Around 960 medicinal plants are in active use in all India trade and around 2000 species are documented in Indian Systems of Medicine like Ayurveda, Unani and Siddha. Similarly, around 4000 species are used by rural communities in local health practices. The All India Ethno-biology Survey estimated that over 7,500 plant species are used by 4,635 ethnic communities for human and veterinary health care across the country. In 1993, the Government estimated that between 60-80% of India’s population rely on medicinal plants for health care. Medicinal plants are particularly important to the rural poor, who are able to harvest these from the wild to meet their primary health care needs. The Botanical Survey states some of the common medicinal herbs as Brahmi, Babul gum, Bail, Satawar, Neem, Tesu/Gul Palash, Dalchini, Bhringraj, Amla, Jatropha, Nagkesar, Jaiphal, Ratanjot, Isabgo, Reetha, Kuth (Bitter), Chiraita, Jamun, Arjun, Behera, Harad (Choti), Harad (Pili) etc
Nodal Agency on Medicinal Plants
The National Medicinal Plants Board is the designated nodal agency on all issues related to medicinal plants. It works under the Department of AYUSH, the Ministry of Health and Family welfare. Besides number of organizations and departments, Viz., ICMR, CIMAP, DBT, DST, NBPGR, and Ministry of Commerce are also engaged in handling the subject of medicinal plants but each one has a specific mandate. While it is research for the first three organisations, it is ex-situ conservation for NBPGR, and marketing for the Ministry of Commerce. Similarly, research on cultivation of medicinal plants, especially pertaining to standardization of agro-technology & breeding techniques is managed by the Ministry of Agriculture.
Genetic Conservation of Medicinal Plants
The Department of Biotechnology has already set up three national gene banks on medicinal and aromatic plants at the Central Institute of Medicinal & Aromatic Plants (CIMAP), Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR), New Delhi and Tropical Botanic Garden & Research Institute (TBGRI), Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. They are engaged in collection, conservation and characterization of the precious wealth of medicinal and aromatic herbs which are rare/threatened/endangered or are being used in traditional system, or those which are commercially exploited. The Regional Research Laboratory (RRL), Jammu, Jammu & Kashmir, is the forth gene bank which covers the North-Western Himalayan region. A germ-plasma repository for medicinal plants used in Ayurveda has also been established at Arya Vaidya Sala, Kottakkal, Kerala. More than 9,000 accessions of important medicinal and aromatic plant species are being maintained as live material in field gene banks, in the form of seed, in vitro material and DNA. For long-term conservation, the accessions are stored under cryogenic conditions.
Thrust on National Afforestation Programme
The Ministry of Environment and Forests has taken various measures for conservation and proliferation of rare medicinal herbs. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Project entitled ‘National Programme on Promoting Conservation of Medicinal Plants & Traditional Knowledge for Enhancing Health & Livelihood Security’ is in operation. It is being implemented in nine States-Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Orissa, West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh. The project is being coordinated by Foundation for Revitalizing of Local Health Traditions (FRLHT) **, Banglore. These states are of two categories – one, with five States (Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra & Tamil Nadu) wherein medicinal plants conservation activities have been initiated and the second, with remaining four States in which the conservation activities are to be initiated under this project for the first time.
The main aims are to establish a system for Rapid threat assessment and trade regulation; establish a Network of Medicinal Plants Conservation Areas (MPCAs); establish a state level medicinal plants seed center; establish Home Herbal Gardens (HHGs) and prepare Community Knowledge Registers (CKKs); capacity building on community owned medicinal plants enterprises programmes; communication and advocacy programmes for outreach and a multi-lingual website programme on Home Doctor.
Another UNDP-GEP project, “Mainstreaming Conservation and Sustainable use of Medicinal Plant Diversity” covers three Indian States – Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand. The National Medicinal Plant Board, Department of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy (AYUSH), State Medicinal Plant Boards and FRLHT, Banglore are executing partners in this project. The main objective of the project is to mainstream the conservation and sustainable use of medicinal plants with particular reference to globally significant medicinal plants.
A Centre of Excellence on ‘Medicinal Plants & Traditional Knowledge’ at FRLHT, Banglore also supports this activity which is recognized .
Implementation of the National Afforestation Programme (NAP) Scheme include models such as ‘Mixed Plantation of Trees having Minor Forest Produce and Medicinal Value’ and Regeneration of Perennial Herbs and Shrubs of Medicinal Value’ that relate to promotion of medicinal plants through afforestation and regeneration. The States have been advised to give requisite thrust on plantation of medicinal plants and bamboos on degraded forest lands and contiguous areas in addition to other species of local ecological and economic importance in the afforestation activities. This is intended to contribute towards poverty alleviation and also to ensure livelihood security of forest fringe dwellers besides ameliorating soil conditions and improving/increasing forest cover. The States have been also advised to consider setting aside 10% of the project area for plantation of bamboos and medicinal plants under the NAP.
Conserving and protecting medicinal plants is being carried out through enforcement of the Indian Forests Act, 1927; Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972; Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980; Environment (Protection) Act, 1986; Biological Diversity Act, 2002 and the rules under these Acts.
Biological Diversity Act, 2002
The Government has enacted the Biological Diversity Act in 2002 and notified the Biological Diversity Rules in 2004, with the aim of conserving and sustainably using biological diversity, and regulating the biological resources (including the medicinal plants) and associated traditional knowledge of country with the purpose of securing equitable sharing of benefits arising out of these resources and associated knowledge.
Harvest of Medicinal Plants
Over Ninety-five percent of India’s medicinal plants are harvested from the wild. Over 200 medicinal plant species in southern and northern India are classified as rare, endangered or threatened. The true number of threatened species are, including globally significant species, is likely to be far higher, but the status of many species is insufficiently unknown.
Banned for Export
About 29 species of medicinal plants have so far been identified and notified by Director General of Foreign Trade, Ministry of Commerce, New Delhi. Export of these 29 plants, plant portions and their derivatives and extracts as such obtained from the wild except the formulations made there from is prohibited as these species required protection against over-exploitation.