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The traditional system of medicine in India dates back to the age of the Rigveda (2500 to 1600 B.C.). Ayurveda is the Indian indigenous system of medicine dating back to the Vedic period. The term Ayurveda means Science of Life (Ayur = life, veda = knowledge). The entire system of ancient Indian medicine is based on the relationship between man and Nature. Ayurveda sunk in India to the status of the poor man’s medicine. Though the knowledge survived it had no prestige. At the present moment Ayurveda is enjoying yet another revival, because of the side effects or long term health hazards of Allopathic medicine.

Plants are always considered as a primary source of drugs in traditional and alternative system of medicine in various forms such as crude form, juice, decoction, and crude extracts. About 80% people of the world, particularly in the rural areas of developing countries, continue using traditional resources in healthcare.

With the increased realization that many species are collected from wild sources and being over-exploited, agencies (private/public) are recommending bringing the important medicinal plants into cultivation systems. Cultivation of medicinal plant can decrease the amount to which wild populations are harvested, it will also help to preserve plant species from extinction and will promote socio-economic growth.

India is a gold mine of medicinal plants and a rich repository of traditional medicinal knowledge. Demand for the medicinal plant is increasing with expansion in human needs, numbers and trade purpose and India’s supply chain of medicinal plants is un-organized and relies on the collection from wild which has resulted in adulteration of the raw material and over-exploitation of its resources.

India took a major policy initiative in addressing these challenges by launching “Mission on Medicinal Plants” in 2008 under the aegis of National Medicinal Plants Board (NMPB), Department of Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy (AYUSH), Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. The mission promotes cultivation and provides an opportunity for value addition through processing and trade through market initiatives.

Herbal medicine received a worldwide boost when the World Health Organization encouraged developing countries to use traditional plant-based medicine to fulfill needs unmet by modern systems. Herbal medicine is used by 75–80% of the world population, mainly in developing countries for primary health care. Moreover, the herbal drugs are believed to have no side-effects, cheap, and locally available.The most primitive recorded evidence of the use of herbal medicine in Indian, Chinese, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and Syrian texts dates back to about 5000 years.

In India, herbal therapeutics constitutes a major share of all the officially recognized Indian systems of medicine such as Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, and Homeopathy (AYUSH).

In India, 17,000–18,000 species of flowering plants are found of which 6000–7000 are estimated to have medicinal properties. The usage of these medicinal plants is found in many Indian cultures and is documented in Indian systems of medicine. An estimated 960 species of medicinal plants are in trade of which 178 species have annual consumption levels more than 100 metric tons. These medicinal plants not only constitute a major resource base for the traditional medicine and herbal industry but also provide livelihood and health security to a large section of Indian population.

The market size and overall international trade in medicinal plants and their products alone is expected to be increased from the current 4.2 billion to 14 billion in 2026. And expected to  grow Five trillion US dollars by the year 2050.

Important Medicinal plants List with pictures and their uses

The market for medicinal plants had been growing in a fast pace. So we have to be equipped for meeting the demand. Some of the raw materials are herbs and shrubs, which can be grown and harvested in a period of one year. But we have to improve cultivation of huge medicinal trees, which will take more than 10 years to get ready for harvesting.

And there is a huge gap between supply and demand for medicinal plants for manufacturing of Ayurveda medicines in the country and the National Medicinal Plants Board (NMPB) is exploring many ways to augment their cultivation . The NMPB, which comes under the Union Ministry of AYUSH, is doing the conservation, cultivation, research, and development of medicinal plants.

The development of the sector was only possible with two factors:

“About 80% of the raw materials is collected from forests. Sustainable livelihood management of the entire supply chain — from the tribal people who collect them from the forests to the traders, processors, and the industry — is key to ensuring sufficient supply of raw materials.

“About 20-25% is cultivated by farmers. Sustainable cultivation and harvesting should be promoted. Farmers should be ensured sufficient income to encourage them to cultivate medicinal plants. The NMPB is promoting integrated cultivation. The board is also promoting in situ cultivation and conservation of trees.

The country had been importing 10%-15 % of the raw materials such as asafoetida, manjishta, and gulgul, from countries such as Afghanistan.

According to the Botanical Survey of India, India has a rich history of traditional healing systems, many of which list the use of these plants. For instance, the oldest printed book on Indian medicinal plants, Hortus Malabaricus (a 12-volume treatise on the medicinal plants of the Malabar region along India’s west coast), dates back to 1678.

Even in current times, research on medicinal plants and their use across India documents how local communities, especially indigenous ones, still use them in their daily lives. In the Andaman and Nicobar islands, four indigenous communities including the Jarawas use 39 endemic edicinal plants for their health needs; 17 of these are used to cure multiple ailments, finds a 2018 study. Of the 83 plant species used by the semi-pastoral Gujjar community in Himachal Pradesh, 32 are used as medicine alone.

Indeed, many communities – especially indigenous ones – still rely almost entirely on traditional systems of medicine for their health needs, said N. Anil Kumar, senior director and head of the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation’s Community Agro biodiversity Centre at Kerala’s Wayanad.

The National Medicinal Plant Board lists 72 ‘medicinal plants conservation and development areas’ covering 10,935 hectares that have been set up across 13 states to conserve medicinal plants in their natural habitats

The Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) model – is what the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), a 1993 multilateral treaty that India is also a signatory to, focuses on. With the Biological Diversity Act of 2002, India became the first country to take the lead in passing a law to uphold the CBD nationally.

The Biological Diversity Act appointed the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) to implement the conservation of biodiversity, its sustainable use and equitable sharing of benefits across all states through state biodiversity boards and at the grassroots (at the levels of panchayats) through biodiversity management committees. Currently, there are 29 state biodiversity boards and more than 155,868 biodiversity management committees. On paper, the latter is responsible for the preparation of the people’s biodiversity register (PBR) at the local level which documents biodiversity in their area and associated traditional knowledge. The state of Kerala, for instance, has prepared registers for all its 1,034 local bodies – 941 grama panchayats, 87 municipalities and 6 corporations.

A month-old ‘warning’ paper endorsed by more than 20 scientists worldwide suggests that climate change is likely to affect peoples’ access to medicinal plants. Small taxa such as herbaceous plants, especially in temperate areas, would be some of the first to be affected by climate change, points out K. Haridasan, retired joint director of Foundation for Revitalization of  Local Health Traditions (now The University of Trans-Disciplinary Health Sciences and Technology), who has extensively studied medicinal plants and floristics in the western Himalayas and north-east India.

Medicinal plants are one of the most “famous” examples of overharvesting by collection, declares a summary by the Harvard Medical School. While cultivating medicinal plants could reduce pressures on wild plants, it comes with many challenges.

The Fact Sheet on Indian Medicinal Plants:

  • India one of 17 mega biodiversity countries
  • Contribute about 7% of world biodiversity
  • India has 15 Agro-climatic zones
  • Medicinal plants found from Himalayan to marine & desert to rain forest ecosystems
  • More than 7000 plants species have known used as medicinal plants out of 17000-18000 flowering plants species in India
  • Ayurveda – more than 3000 years old system of medicine has widespread acceptance
  • Ayurveda, Siddha and Unani systems of medicine have more than 90% formulations which are plant based
  • Domestic demand of medicinal plants has been estimated 1,95,000 MT for the year of 2014-15
  • Total consumption of herbal raw drug in the country for the year 2014-15 has been estimated 5,12,000 MT
  • About 22% of the production sourced through cultivation
  • 1178 species used in trade of which 242 species traded in excess of 100 MT / year
  • The export demand of medicinal plants estimated about 1, 34,500 MT with export value of 3211 Crore during 2014-15

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