Systems of medicine
Utilization of medicinal plants
Introduction to Medicinal plants
- Conservation of natural resources and the
capability to utilize them in sustained manner are essential for
the well being and continued survival of man.
- Under the duress of over exploration and
habitat degradation a number of wild plants are essentially facing
a constant threat of extinction.
- Out of the 60,000 plant species that are
listed as threatened of extinction, over 20,000 (or more) are
from India alone.
- The botanical survey of India has prepared
a provisional list of threatened plants which includes a large
number wild (or) wild relatives of food, horticultural, medicinal
and aromatic plants.
- India is endowed with a unique wealth of
biota which inlcude a large number of medicinal and aromatic plants.
- Many of these plants are rare and endemic
and found only in wild sources.
- The population explosion coupled with the
improved standard of living led to ruthless exploitation, resulting
in the imminent danger of extinction of these plants.
- Most of these wild medicinal and aromatic
plants are highly habitual specific, found only in forests and
occupying highly specialized ecological niche with restricted
- There are neither biological informations
nor adequate knowledge of casual factors that led to their rarity
in the habital.
- There is however, now an urgent need to
evolve a sound strategy for the management and conservation of
these plants on a long term basis.
- To evolve suitable strategies for conservation
(or) the domestication/cultivation of medicinal plants, it is
very essential to study the complete biological and ecological
back ground of these species.
- Under domestication outside their normal
ecological range (or) under the distributed eco-system conditions
may of the wild medicinal and aromatic plants tend to behave differently.
- In some cases it becomes difficult to grow
them (or) it may not even survive.
- In certain other cases if survives and
grows but may not be producing the desired traits.
- A through understanding on their reproductive
and growth biology as well as identification of the biological
and ecological constraints leading to their reduced fitness, restricted
distribution (or) even extinction etc., is therefore, necessary.
- An understanding of the biological and
ecological back ground of the species in their normal habitat
is also essential to understand their conservation biology as
well as to predict their behaviour under artificial cultivation.
Strategies for conservation of medicinal plants:
- The conservation of the wild medicinal plants
or any other such threatened species can be tackled by scientific
techniques as well as social actions.
- There are basically two scientific techniques
of conservation of genetic diversity of these plants.
- They are the in situ and ex situ method
In Situ conservation:
- It is only in nature that plant diversity
at the genetic, species and eco-system level can be conserved
on long-term basis.
- Unless plant populations are conserved
in the wild, that is in natural habitats, in viable breeding populations,
they run the risk of extinction.
- It is necessary to conserve in distinct,
representative biogeographic zones inter and intraspecific genetic
- In Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil nadu and more
recently in Maharashtra the forest department in collaboration
with FRUHT (Foundation for Rural Revitalization of Local Health
Tradition) have established a network of 33 "Medicinal Plants
Conservation Areas" (MPCAs) across the entire altitudinal
range of south India.
- Each of these reserves is around 200 ha
Regulation and wild collection:
- Regulating the harvest of medicinal plants
from the wild for commercial purposes.
- Particularly those species whose harvest
inevitably involves destructive collection.
- Local communities can develop a stake in
sustainable harvesting of medicinal plants from the forest and
village, district and state level co-operative are set up to manage
collection, storage and marketing.
- LAMP societies as they function at present
neither benefit the primary tribal collectors nor provides adequate
powers (or) accountability of the LAMPs with regard to protection
and management of forests.
- The marketing function of LAMPs is also
weak, so that collectors do not get remunerative prices through
EX situ conservation
A. Ethno-medicinal plant gardens:
- Creation of a network of regional and sub-regional
ethno-medicinal plant gardens which should contain accessions
of all the medicinal plants known to the various ethnic communities
in different regions of India.
- This chain of gardens will act as regional
repositories of our cultural and ethno-medicinal history and embody
the living traditions of our socity's knowledge of medicinal plants.
- There are estimated to be around 50 such
gardens in the country ranging from acre to 40 acres some of them
were set up by an All India Health Network.
- More recently a network of 15 such gardens
have been set up in 3 states of South India with the initiative
of FRLHT. One of the gardens is located in TBGRI, (Tropical botanical
garden research institute) Palode at Thiruvananthapuram.
B. Gene banks:
- While it is known that the largest proportion
of local bio-diversity in all our eco-system is used for medicinal
purposes, very little is known about their conservation status
in the wild.
- What is likely is that a large number of
medicinal plant species are under various degrees of threat.
- The precautionary principles would suggest
that an immediate and country-wide exercise be taken up to deposit
seeds of wild medicinal plants with a first priority to known
Red listed species and endemic species.
- The department of bio-technology, Government
of India has recently taken the initiative to establish 3 gene
banks in the country.
- One is with ICAR at the NBPGR (National
Bureau of plant genetic Resources) Campus, the second is with
CIMAPs, (Cental Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic plants) Lucknow
and the third with TBFRI in Thiruvananthapuram.
C. Nursery network:
- The most urgent and primary task in order
to ensure immediate availability of plants and planting materials
to various user groups is to promote a nation wide network of
medicinal plant nurseries, which will multiply all the regional
specific plants that are used in the current practice of traditional
- These nurseries should become the primary
sources of supply of plants and seed material that can be subsequently
multiplied by the various users.
- Planting material for 40 odd species of medicinal
and aromatic plants is reportedly available in the ICAR and CSIR
- In South India FRLHT has recently set up
a network of 55 supply nurseries.
- Figures projecting demand and trade in
medicinal plant species globally indicate a step upward trend
in the near future.
- One estimate puts the figure of world trade
in medicinal plants and related products at US $ 5 trillion by
A.D. 2050 (world bank report , 1996).
- The demand so far has been met mainly from
- This can't go on for much longer; policy
intervention is urgently needed to encourage and facilitate investments
into commercial cultivation of medicinal plants.
- Cultivation of medicinal plants however,
is inversely linked to prevalence of easy and cheap collection
from the wild, lack of regulation in trade, cornering of the profits
from wild collection by a vast network of traders and middlemen
and absence of industry's interest in providing buy-back guarantees
- In the Govt. sector agro-technology of 40 odd
species has been developed by ICAR - Agricultural University System
and CSIR (CIMAOs & RRL, Jammu and Jorhat).
- In recent years industries like Dabur, Zandu,
Indian Herbs, Arya Vaidya Shala, and Arya Vaidya Pharmacy and
others have made some symbolic efforts to initiate cultivation.
- Since 1984 NABARD (National Bank of Agricultural
and Rural Development) has formulated schemes for financing cultivation
and processing of medicinal plants.
E. Community based enterprises:
- The income generated by the traditional
medicine industry benefits small section of the socity.
- A strong case exists for promotion of community
level enterprises for value addition to medicinal plants through
simple, on site techniques like drying, cleaning, crushing, powdering,
grading, packaging etc.
- This will also increase the stake of rural
communities in conservation and change the skewed nature of income
distribution of the industry.
- Three community based enterprises are known
in south India, one in Gandhigram Trust, (Dindigul), Preemade
development Society (Peermade) Kerala and the third by VGKK in
Importance of Medicinal plants
Important Medicinal Plants and their active
Medicinal Plants used as Crude Extracts / Tinctures
Important Plant Products having great potential
Some important medicinal plants suggested for
Systems of Medicine
- There are mainly 3 systems of medicine practised
in the world today. They are :
Modern System or Allopathy
- This system was developed in the Western countries.
In this system drugs (tablets, capsules, injections, tonics etc.)
are manufactured using synthetic chemicals and / or chemicals
derived from natural products like plants, animals, minerals etc.
This system also uses modern equipment for diagnosis, analysis,
- Medicines or drugs of this system is often
criticised for its treatment of the symptoms rather than the cause
of the disease, harmful side effects of certain drugs and for
being out of reach of common / poor people due to the high cost
of drugs and treatment.
- This system is used in all the countries
of the world today.
Alternative Medicine or Traditional System
- Different countries of the world developed
independently their own traditional systems of medicine using
locally available materials like minerals and products of plants
- The World Health Organisation is giving
considerable importance to these alternate medicine (as they act
as alternative to allopathy) systems to provide Primary Health
Care to millions of people in the developing countries.
China developed the Chinese system of medicine, which is practised
in China, Singapore, Taiwan, Japan and other countries.
- In Indonesia, Jamu and in South Africa,
Zulu systems of herbal medicine are practised. The Unani or Tibb
system was developed in the Middle Eastern Arab countries and
is practised in India and in many countries.
- In India, Ayurveda (developed in North
India), Siddha (developed in Tamil Nadu) and Nagarjuna (developed
in Andhra Pradesh) systems of medicine were developed. Ayurveda
is practised in Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh also. Herbo-mineral
is another traditional system used in India and other neighbouring
- Drugs (balms, oils, pills, tonics, paste
etc) are manufactured and marketed in these systems. The major
advantage of these systems is that they are within the reach of
the people, particularly rural poor.
- These systems are claimed to be pollution
free, eco-freindly and have minimal or no harmful side effects.
Ayurveda claims to cure the cause of the disease rather than the
symptoms and is wholistic in its approach.
- In this system a disease is conceived as
an imbalance in the systems of the body and the treatment aims
at restoring the balance in the various systems of the body.
- The medicinal systems followed by various tribals
/ aborigins of different countries is popularly known as folk
or tribal medicine.
- In the system, the "medicine man" or
the "doctor" of the tribe who has the knowledge of treating
diseases, keeps this knowledge as a closely guarded secret and
passes it to the next generation by word of mouth.
- No written texts on these systems are available
and different tribes follow different time tested methods. The
treatment is often associated with lengthy and mystic rituals,
in addition to prescription of drugs (decoctions, pastes, powders,
oils, ashed materials etc.).
- Mostly locally available natural materials are
used for the preparation of drugs, which are not commercially
made and marketed. Generally speaking, folk medicine can also
be regarded as a traditional system of medicine.
- The basic aim of all the above systems of medicine
is to alleviate the sufferings of human beings and their domesticated
- The knowledge of the traditional systems
is undergoing close scientific scrutiny and is being increasingly
incorporated into the modern system.
- Yoga, Acupressure, Acupuncture, Reiki,
Magneto therepy, Pyramid therapy, Flower therapy, Homeopathy,
Nature Cure or Naturopathy etc. are some of the other systems
of medicine practised in different parts of the world today.
Utilization of Medicinal Plants
Plants-parts, extracts and galenicals
- The direct utilisation of plant material
is not only a feature of ISM in the developing world but also
in developed countries like USA, UK, Germany etc., the various
herbal formulations are sold on health food shops.
Preparation of decoctions, tinctures, galenicals and total extracts
of plants also form a part of many pharmacopoeias of the world.
- The current trend of medicinal plants based
drug industry is to procedure standard extracts of plants as raw
Essential Oils from plants
- The essential oil industry was traditionally
a cottage industry in India. Since 1947, a number of industrial
companies have been established for large scale production of
essential oils, oleoresins and perfumes.
- The essential oil from plants includes
Ajowan oil, Eucalyptus oil, Geranium oil, Lavender oil, Palmarosa
oil, Patchouli oil, Rose oil, Sandalwood oil, Turpentine oil and
- During the past decades, bulk production
of plant based drugs has become an important segment of Indian
- Some of the phyto-pharmaceuticals which
are produced in India at present include
- papaverine (Papaver somniferum),
- cinchonine and cinchonidine (Cinchona
sp., C. calisaya, C. ledgeriana, C. officinais and C. succirubra);
- hyoscyamine (Hyocyamus niger and H.
- colchicine (Gloriosa superbad, Colchicum
luteum and Iphigenia stellata),
- cephaeline and emetin (Cephalis ipacacuanha),
- sennosides A & B (Cassia angustifolia
and C. acutifolia),
- ajmalicine and ajmaline (Rauvolfia
- vinblastine and vincristine,
- ajmalicine (raubacine) (Catharanthus
- guggul lipid (Commiphora wightii);
- taxol (Taxus baccata);
- artemisinin (Artemisai annua) etc.
- For all these segments of drug, perfumery, flavouring
and cosmetic industries, mostly the higher plants are one of the
raw materials and comes from the natural resources i.e. forests
through forest contractors employing local or tribal people or
from the drug farms maintained by the growers of aromatic and