Conservation Assessment of Medicinal Plants
Local Health Traditions
cannot be revitalised without ensuring the health of their medicinal plant resource
base. Given that the funds, human resources and efforts available for conserving
the resources are limited, it becomes necessary to spend these on priority items.
A methodological question raised here is how to prioritise what, where, and
how to conserve. This is being addressed worldwide by International Union for
Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) and its allies through rapid
and participatory appraisal of its threats. The prime purpose of these rapid
assessments include sending signals to the government & the user community
of the need for urgent action. Conservation Assessment Medicinal Plants (CAMP)
workshops are the best known amongst such appraisals promoted by FRLHT. These
are conducted at the level of state or states i.e. regions using the threat
criteria suggested by using IUCN guidelines. Lessons from six such workshops
in Peninsular India are summarised here in anticipation of its future development
and application in northern India. This will help in deepening the processes
in the areas covered so far.
are participatory rapid threat assessments that synthesise the first hand perceptions
of informed resource users. These workshops aim at detecting threat levels,
their causes and corrective management options with respect to sensitive species
and important localities. IUCN threat categories primarily assess the probability
of the species becoming globally extinct given its small population size to
high population decline rate. These estimates are based on the collective opinion
of concerned field biologists and managers, besides users such as folk “medicine
men” or plant collectors. The methodology has been frequently revised
by the Species Survival Commission/ Specialist Group (SSC/G) group of the IUCN
for application to several macroscopic organisms. This was popularised in India
initially through the CAMP (Conservation Assessment and Management Plan) pioneered
by the CBSG (Conservation Breeding Specialist Group) for several organisms ranging
from mammals and fish to insects. The methodology has now shifted its focus
from the global to the regional level, primarily due to demand from managers
for local applications-as often local information matters more than global perception.
For instance, a plant perceived to be endangered globally may be locally plentiful
and its continued usage at a domestic level may be crucial for sustaining LHTs,
even if its commercial harvest may not be sustainable. With this logic, FRLHT
has facilitated 6 workshops (during 1995 to 2001) in Peninsular India focussing
on medicinal plants. This was with initial guidance from the CBSG. These cover
the 5 states separately viz. Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and
Andhra Pradesh, besides a regional assessment for Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil
A CAMP workshop
is preceded by elaborate pre-Camp preparations for about two to three months.
To begin with, a list of about hundred species of conservation concern from
the focal region is drawn. These are shortlisted if these are known to have
narrow geographical distribution (e.g. Red Sanders- Pterocarpus santalinus,
confined to only a few S. Indian districts); and/or if the species are known
to be highly traded. This list of about a few hundred species of concern is
circulated to a few reputed field botanists from the region for trimming it
to around 50 species, which are, prima facie, perceived to be the most threatened.
They may even make a few additions to the initial list. This prioritised list
is then circulated to all invitees for their feedback regarding abundance, reduction
levels and causes of reduction of prioritised species in their study area. Their
feedback is tabulated in the form of a pre-workshop species summary, for discussion,
debate, approval and modifications.
One day before
the workshop, the workshop coordination team explains the methodology to the
potential group facilitators and plans for the managerial nitty-gritty. The
workshop begins by exposing all participants to the methodological nuances,
including model discussion of a well-known target species - this is by the whole
plenary. The participants then get divided in to 4 to 5 groups of about 10 discussant
each, and each group chooses as facilitator a participatory, time-conscious
and experienced field botanist. Each group would ideally comprise of participants
randomly drawn from all parts of the region- though sometimes a group may represent
botanists from a geographical unit for the sake of convenience.
Each group discusses
the status, threat level, causes and conservation recommendations for about
10 species, in 5 to 6 hours spanning 2 days. After each group completes its
species lot, the assessment sheets are circulated to other groups for review,
to be recorded in differently coloured ink by each group. The review of each
group's assessments by all other groups is completed in 3-4 hours - this may
highlight differences in geographical perceptions if the working groups are
geographically divided. The third day is spent in review of each species by
the whole gathering during the plenary to address such geographical variations.
In the concluding session, the state government officials respond to suggestions
by the participants .
include the circulation of the draft report to all participants as well as to
non-participants such as government officials - this is for their feedback which
is used in revising and finalising the report. The CAMP report can lead to at
least two kinds of conservation actions:
new conservation areas for threatened species in and around their key populations
- especially those that are left out of the existing network of conservation
areas e.g. establishment of a conservation area for Janakia arayalpathra, a
Western Ghats endemic with very restricted distribution (at Annamalai, Tamil
Recovery research and efforts at key population/conservation areas for a few
threatened species e.g. wild Nutmeg (Myristica malabarica) around Silent Valley,
Kerala. Other likely outputs from a CAMP report may take time and include:
Publicity to threatened
medicinal plants highlighting the need for targeted trade vigilance.
identification guide to traded parts of threatened species to help enhanced
action programmes amongst or between research institutions, industries and farmers
regarding pilot commercial plantations of key threatened species.
The aforesaid 6
workshops covering 5 states were held at Bangalore, Pune, Hyderabad, in the
winter season (January to March) during 1995-2001. Over 200 experts contributed
their wisdom; 75% of them being field botanists including some college or university
teachers, a tenth of the total being forest officials, while industry/ market
sources, folk botanists and vaidyas (Ayurvedic physicians) were just 5% each.
These workshops assessed about 50 species each, totalling 164 species, as many
species were repeated across workshops. Species endemic to Peninsular India
(72) accounted for 40% of species assessed while the majority of the species
had less than 5% of their global population occurring in the region. A quarter
of the species assessed were herbs and climbers each, while trees accounted
for a little less than half the total. While 3 species appear to have gone extinct,
a tenth are Critically Endangered, while a third each are Endangered and Vulnerable.
A quarter of the assessed species is Near-Threatened while a tenth of the species
are at Low Extinction risk, despite heavy losses. Causal analysis of threat
reveals habitat loss alone affecting a third of the species while habitat loss
and harvests together affect a little less than half the assessed species. A
quarter of the assessed species are threatened due to very narrow natural distribution
coupled to ongoing, human aided habitat fragmentation.
Two thirds of the
assessed species are recorded from at least one Medicinal Plants Conservation
Area (MPCA) established in the Southern Indian forests by FRLHT and the state
forest departments. However, the mere record of a species from an MPCA does
not guarantee the presence of its viable population in the MPCA, but only indicates
such a possibility in and around an MPCA for future surveys and conservation
efforts. 40% of assessed species are not recorded in the MPCA network and have
a bleak future in the wild; a third of the species recorded from MPCAs are confined
to just one MPCA each, indicating the low scope of their conservation through
MPCA networks. Only a quarter of the species are recorded from over 5 MPCAs
but these have a strong conservation potential. Thus, the conservation of wild
germplasm of about three quarters of the assessed species is an uphill task
far exceeding the scope of the current MPCA network.
for the assessed species include a trade or harvest ban for just a tenth of
the species facing immediate local extinction. Ex situ conservation is recommended
for over two thirds of the species. Cultivation practices exist for only a tenth
of the species the rest being entirely harvested from the wild and for which
there is neither much cultivation know-how nor much commercial scope today.
Only half of the species recommended for cultivation are thus prescribed at
a commercial scale - many are being prescribed for just experimental or educational
purposes. The level of difficulty in cultivation is expected to be low and medium
each for about a third of the species, while it is high and indeterminate each
for about a sixth of the species.
wealth of herbs goes untapped
The herb-based product industry has been indentified under the Third
Agricultural Policy as having the potential to be developed into a
major industry. YONG TIAM KUI takes a look at the successes the
industry it has had in R&D and the challenges it faces.
THE Malaysian market for herb-based products, including health
supplements, traditional herbals, cosmetics and fragrances is
estimated to be worth about RM4.55 billion a year, but the irony is
that 95 per cent of it is imported.
Why the irony?
is the world’s 12th top mega diversity country, which means the raw
material is available, and there is also the expertise to turn the
raw material in products for consumers.
Forest Research Industry of Malaysia director-general Datuk Dr Abdul
Razak Mohd Ali said there is a lot of potential for growth because
the global market for herb-based products is estimated to be worth a
staggering US$80 billion (RM303 billion).
"Since the Government is promoting Malaysia as a halal hub, we can
also go into this market. It’s big and growing (the herbal market),
especially in the Middle East.
But he laments that the local herbal production industry is
handicapped as most of it is carried out on a very small scale.
"There are hardly any big players in Malaysia. There are 4,000 small
set-ups and only five medium-sized enterprises.
"Most of these people lack the resources and expertise to carry out
large scale cultivation, research, marketing, investment in
machinery, business expansion and improved packaging.
Because of this, the industry faces a number of major problems,
including the shortage of quality raw materials and lack of
standards and quality assurance, technological mechanisation,
skilled human resources and scientific evidence for health related
Owing to the shortage of raw materials, much of the ingredients used
in the production of herbal products such as tumeric, ginger, serai
wangi and sirih have to imported even though they can be easily
grown in the country.
Razak said the "mismatch" between growers and companies that produce
herbal products is another problem.
"Felda has plenty of land and a lot of people are growing herbs in
the kampung but how do you get the herbs to the manufacturers who
need them as raw ingredients?
"If a company needs a consistent supply of turmeric, it would be
forced to import the product from India because there is no way to
source for it locally."
Razak said that effective marketing was also something that was very
lacking in the local herbal industry.
"It is not enough to just come up with products. The marketing has
to be there. We also need to have packaging that looks classy.
"But the people who are involved in the industry lack the know-how
and resources to market their products."
He noted that it is difficult to market local herbal products
because very few Malaysians are familiar with local herbs.
Malaysians, he added, have a preference for imported products.
"If you ask Malaysians about echinacea, they will probably know what
you are talking about.
"But they don’t know about selasih, senduduk and other local herbs
used by our forefathers. At the most, they only know about tongkat
"Our people have been using mengkudu for a very long time. Then
these white people brought in noni juice which is the same thing and
everybody got so excited.
Malaysians must be willing to accept our products."
Razak said there was a need for greater collaboration between the
industry and government agencies.
He stressed that the Government is committed to developing the
herbal industry and points to the fact that the Women’s Health and
Asian Traditional Medicine Conference and Exhibition at the Putra
World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur on July 28-30 is being supported
by eight ministries.
These include the Health Ministry, Science, Technology and
Innovation Ministry, Women, Family and Community Development
Ministry, Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Ministry,
Entrepreneurial and Co-operative Development Ministry and Rural and
Regional Development Ministry.
Asam gelugor — the weight buster
MOST of us know asam gelugor or asam keping as a sour relish in asam
laksa and asam pedas.
But the kampung folk have another use for it. They have been using
it as a weight loss remedy.
Yes, our kampung folk are really on to something, confirm
researchers at the Forest Research Institute Malaysia.
Despite its extreme acidity, asam gelugor has been found to be an
effective appetite suppressant.
Dr Rasadah Mat Ali, director of FRIM’s Medicinal Plants Programme,
said hydroxycitric acid, the active ingredient in asam gelugor,
increases fatty acid oxidation in the pancreas, liver and skeletal
muscle cells which results in a decrease in appetite.
It also stimulates glycogen synthesis in the liver and inhibits the
uptake of serotonin in the brain, leading to further appetite
suppression and feelings of satiety.
In addition, hydroxycitric acid also inhibits lipogenesis, the
metabolic process that changes carbohydrate into fat. It has been
shown to lower blood lipid levels.
Known by the scientific name Fructus garcinia atroviridis, asam
gelugor trees are endemic to the northern region of the peninsula
and grow up to 20 metres in height.
So, forget about all those expensive weight loss products that could
be harmful to your health. Just buy some asam gelugor.
"We have done toxicology studies," said Rasadah. "It’s very safe. It
is plant-based and there are no harmful appetite suppressant
steroids. The only people who shouldn’t take it are pregnant women."
Those who do not fancy the sour taste of asam gelugor will soon be
able to purchase asam gelugor tablets.
FRIM has licensed a local company to produce a standardised extract
of asam gelugor containing 15 per cent hydroxycitric acid.
For its research work in asam gelugor extract, FRIM received an
Innovative Product Award at the recent 17th International Invention,
Innovation, Industrial Design and Technology Exhibition.
The exhibition, organised by the Malaysian Invention and Design
Society, was held at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre from May 19
It’s not just asam gelugor that is exciting news in FRIM.
Rasadah said researchers from FRIM, in collaboration with Sirim,
have also extracted a standardised citronella oil from the leaves of
serai wangi — Cymbopogon nardus (L.) rendle.
This citronella oil has anti-dandruff, anti-microbial and insect
repellent properties. Because it has a pleasant lemony smell, the
oil can also be used for aromatherapy.
Serai wangi is used traditionally for stomach complaints (the
essential oil is rubbed topically), insect repellent (dried or
injured leaves are used) and as a childbirth wash in a decoction
containing other herbs.
Other efforts by the FRIM-Sirim team:
• A standardised extract of pink guava (Psidium guajava) leaves
which contains natural antioxidants that have skin whitening and
• An oxidant-rich skin whitener from the skin of the mangosteen (Garcinia
mangostana) fruit. It works by inhibiting biosynthesis of melanin.
Mangosteen has been used traditionally to control fever and ward of
• Skin whitening properties in antioxidant-rich extract of kadok
(Piper sarmentosum) leaves.
The leaves are used by kampung folk to treat malaria, cough and
cold, backache, joint pain, toothache and getting rid the body of
• Anti-rheumatic properties of the leaves of Vitex negundo, known by
a number of common names including legundi, lemuning, dangla, lipuk
These leaves provide the characteristic flavour and purplish
colouring of nasi kerabu.
Village folk use the leaves to treat a wide range of conditions,
including flu, cough, dysentery, malaria, arthritis, asthma,
digestive problems and headache.
Knowing that research alone is not enough, FRIM has licensed several
local companies to exploit its research.
The Malaysian products, using local technology and ingredients, will
be marketed soon.
Zimbabwe: Sustainable Use of Medicinal Plants Vital
Jul 11 2006
MADANGURE, a 59-year-old farmer and herbalist based in Mhondoro,
together with other women and men in her community, tirelessly work
everyday in protecting and conserving existing medicinal plants and
traditional medicine, simultaneously enhancing their sustainable
In attempting to achieve this, they have embarked on a livable
utilisation of forests through a community-based programme.
Madangure and her colleagues, aware of the demands of the task at
hand, realise that one hectare of forest when sustainably used for
harvesting medicinal plants and traditional medicine, logging and
fuel wood to a smaller extent, yields more income than clearing it
for crop cultivation or animal husbandry.
Environmentalists note that it is indeed a slice of business worth
going for, as long as the plants are not plucked wantonly and
Traditional healers and herbalists point out that most medicinal
plants which can be harvested for their leaves, pods, seeds flowers,
bark, without killing them can be harvested sustainably and in a
Animals may also be a source of medicines; insects, frogs and toads,
spiders and snakes produce venom that may be curative or toxic
depending on the dose and form in which preparations are
However, Madangure and her colleagues are not into animal protection
and conservation for medicinal purposes. But consciously or
unconsciously, the community efforts and activities are directed
towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which set
clear targets for improving livelihoods by 2015.
Away from Madangure and her colleagues, Zimbabwe is among 189 Heads
of State and Governments, which agreed to the MDGs at the United
Nations summit in 2000.
In an effort to bolster such agreements and perhaps bring in efforts
and activities like Madangure and her team's to spotlight, in 2001
every African Head of State declared 2001-2010 as the Decade of
Traditional Medicine in Africa.
This declaration stipulates that any action that makes the goal of
health for all in Africa easier to achieve also helps to reduce
According to experts in biodiversity; medicinal plants and knowledge
of their use are an integral part of the daily lives of people in
Women like Madangure and her colleagues, especially, play a major
role in the sustainable collection, vending and use of medicinal
herbs in the home.
However, despite such commendable efforts, the loss of natural
resources is a constant complaint of rural communities.
In view of such concerns, development critics have noted that for
the past four to five years, governments, donors and civil society
organisations have arguably not directed their work and activities
towards achieving MDGs.
Goals such as eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, combating
HIV and Aids, malaria and other diseases, ensuring environmental
sustainability and developing a global partnership for development,
have not been effectively linked to programme activities.
If such linkages have existed, it is because they have been minimal,
and therefore insignificant. Some efforts by some local
non-governmental organisations have been linked effectively with
programmes and yet isolated collectively with similar government and
civil society efforts.
In many ways, development scholars assert that governments, donors
and civil society organisations should have been collectively
providing local communities like Madangure's with the tools and
materials as well as the training to manage these resource
investments which could help restore these communities' resource
According to a commissioned study by the World Bank on the
multi-purpose herbal and traditional medicinal plants, this is
especially true for their sustainable harvesting and cultivation
which can help rehabilitate drylands, generate household income,
provide affordable healthcare and help fulfil the demands of a
rapidly, expanding global market for natural health products.
The World Bank again noted that local advantages can have greater
multiple bio-economic benefits if the plants can be shown to have a
global market comparative advantage.
These natural products, asserts the World Bank, have an estimated
global market value of US$650 billion. At present, there is no
information to indicate Africa's percentage of that market.
However, the bank observes that a market share of one percent
(US$650 million) would be a major boon to
dry-land poor, provided mechanisms could be put in place to ensure
equitable sharing of such benefits.
`Export council must for medicinal herbs'
Jul 14 2006
Chamber of Commerce and Industries has urged the Union Ministry of
Commerce to set up a special export promotion council to give a
boost to export of medicinal herbs to foreign countries.
In a letter addressed to the Union Minister of State for Commerce,
Mr Jairam Ramesh, the chamber Secretary, Mr P.T.K.A. Balasubramanian,
said the move would help purchase of herbs from farmers directly.
New exporters also would emerge on the scene.
is lagging behind China in the export of medicinally valued herbs.
While China exports herbal medicines worth $10 billion a year, India
exports hardly Rs 700 crore.
stands first in the wealth of medicinal plants. Of these, even 5 per
cent of the plants are not going to export. The valuable medicinal
plants will cure many diseases such as diabetes, cancer etc, he
Medicinal plants for cancer cure found in Karnataka forests
Jul 15 2006
could be good news for those suffering from ovarian and colon
cancer, a team of forestry scientists have found ‘mappia foetida’
species in Uttara Kannada district with high content of camptothecin
(CPT), used in the treatment of the killer diseases.
The rare medicinal tree has been identified to be the richest source
of CPT and its derivatives, the world’s most sought after
plant-based bio-molecules to treat cancer, said team leader Dr R
Vasudeva, a faculty in the College of Forestry here.
Earlier, it was derived from a Chinese tree called ‘camptotheca’.
However, as the percentage of CPT content was too low, it became
necessary to identify an alternative and rich source of the group of
Alkaloids, he said.
Dr Vasudeva said that scientists from the College of Forestry and
University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore, had jointly
conducted a survey and chemical profiling of different population of
‘mappia foetida’ in the entire western ghats and concluded that
natural plants found in Uttara Kannada had the highest content of
CPT (0.7 per cent which was several times more than the other known
Besides, analysis of different tissue samples proved that the stem
and bark of the tree have the highest concentration of CPT. He
lamented that the tree, commonly known as ‘stinking tree’ due to the
bad smell during flowering season, was being over exploited.
As the active ingredient was present in the wood, essentially the
entire tree was chopped off. Export of dry wood chips from Mumbai
Port alone had recorded a sharp increase from 54 tonnes in 1994 to
760 tonnes in recent years.
Holding the increasing demand for the tree’s twigs and extracts
responsible for the dwindling of the species natural population, he
said, citing a world bank survey, that while the twigs fetched Rs
15-20 per kg, the processed extract was sold by multinational
pharmaceutical companies for US $15,000 per kg in the global market.
Fearing the destruction of more than 25 per cent of the natural
population in recent years, scientists have evolved protocols to
make CPT harvest sustainable Dr Vasudeva opined that once the high-CPT-yielding
trees were identified from the natural population, it could be grown
as captive plantations using standardised growing techniques in the
wastelands of the Malnad region.
It could be a perennial component of agro-forestry systems, as it
was neither fit for grazing nor for use as timber or firewood
because of its bad odour. Its good sprouting ability could help
farmers harvest periodically once in two years, besides earning them
He said that along with collaborators from UAS, Dr R Uma Shankar and
Dr K N Ganeshaiah, he had been working on the project for the last