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Medicinal Plants and Climate Change

By: Staff Reporter

More than 19,000 flowering plant species have been identified and catalogued in the Indian flora. Out of these over 6000 plant species have been reported in the Indian systems of medicine. Varied study of India’s biogeographic zones shows that the largest number of medicinal plants in the country may be found along the Himalayas. As each section of the Himalayas has specific characteristics in terms of soil and humidity the Himalayas are broadly divided into ‘Trans Himalayan’ and ‘Himalayan Biogeographic Zones’. The Himalayan zone is further sub divided into Northwest, West, Central and East Himalayan biotic provinces.

Despite conservation efforts, experts fear that endangered herbs may not survive beyond two to four decades . Globally, about 10 per cent of the known flowering plants are threatened with extinction. Similar estimates have been made for India too.

  • An estimated 881 species are currently used in industry for production of herbal products.
  • Around 60 species are imported, about the same number of species are cultivated and more than 760 species are harvested
    from the wild.
  • Around 90 per cent of medicinal plants used by the Indian industry are still collected from the wild. This poses a severe threat to the genetic stock and to the diversity of medicinal plants.

The Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, in 1992 prepared a Negative List of 56 species and banned their export. In 2000, the list was appended with a list of 114 species for regulating their wild harvest by requiring legal procurement certificate from the concerned forest officer to accompany the export consignment. In India 335 wild medicinal plant species have already been assessed as threatened or near-threatened in one or more of the 17 states of the country for which rapid assessment of conservation status of prioritised species has been coordinated by the Foundation for Revitalisation of Local Health Traditions (FRLHT), Bangalore, so far. In light of the vulnerability, it is important for us to survey, inventorise and characterise our diversity in medicinal plants and to have repositories with characterised planting materials. A nation wide network on conservation of medicinal plants on a common format is urgently needed. Also a responsible herbal medicine industry that values environmental and ecological concerns, instead of unscrupulously plundering nature for commercial benefits
is required.

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