The booming global market for herbal drugs, pushed more than 100 medicinal plant species in Kerala to the verge of extinction. Unsustainable extraction from the wild and unscientific methods of cultivation are endangering more species. Scientists feel that the threat to medicinal plants would impact on the rich biodiversity of Kerala. “India, having two out of the 34 biodiversity hotspots of the world, is perhaps the largest producer of medicinal plants in the world. Of the 43000 plant species recorded in India, 3000 are known to possess medicinal properties”, says Dr.S.Rajasekharan, Head, Department of Ethnomedicine, Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute (JNTBGRI) at Palode near here. The vast resource of medicinal plants has been widely used in various traditional systems of medicine like Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani & Amchi. There are more than 800 licensed units in kerala manufacturing traditional medicines. It is estimated that 85 to 90 per cent of the medicinal plants used by these units are collected from the wild. “In Kerala more than 900 medicinal plants are used in both classical and oral health tradition including tribal medicines. Out of these 200 medicinal plants are largely extracted for the preparation of diverse medicinal and food products” observes Dr.Rajasekharan. He feels that it is time to introduce good conservation, collection, cultivation, harvesting, storage and marketing practices to deal with the situation. “Medicinal plants are renewable natural resources and therefore, their conservation and sustainable utilization must necessarily involve a long term, integrated, scientifically- oriented holistic action programme”, he says. JNTBGRI has proposed up a pilot project for conservation and sustainable use of medicinal and aromatic plants. To be implemented in Thiruvananthapuram and Kollam districts under the World Bank- aided Kerala Forestry Programme, it seeks to conserve 10 selected species of medicinal plants that are location specific, rare, endangered and possess high therapeutic values. Some of the conservation sites recommended are ‘Harichandana’ (Maramanhal) site for conservation of Cocinum fenistratum and ‘Mritasanjeevani’ site for conservation of Pittosporum nilghirensis (Analivegam) at Upper Pampinkuzhi area of Kanayar range of Achenkovil divison, ‘Varahi’ site for conservation of Trichopus zeylanicus ssp. Travancoricus, popularly known as Arogyapacha at Kottaramvacha para and Attayar of Peppara wild sanctuary and Meenmutty, Mungavila near Kallar of Neyyar wild life sanctuary of Thiruvananthapuram division. Agasthayarkoodam in the Peppara/Neyyar wild life sanctuary of Thiruvananthapuram division has been identified as Agasthya site for conservation of Heracleum candolleanum (Vathamparathi). Dr.Rajasekharan feels that inventorisation, documentation and evaluation of medicinal plants should be given top priority. “It is necessary to document local indigenous knowledge on the use of plants for health care. Selected high value medicinal plants should be chemically prospected for identification and isolation of potential biodynamic molecules of pharmaceutical interest. Efforts are to be made for the domestication and genetic upgradation of the medicinal plant wealth”. According to him, the large scale cultivation of rubber in the plains and harvesting from the forest and forest fringe areas are the major threats to medicinal plants in Kerala. The indiscriminate destruction of plants in public places by workers engaged under the employment guarantee scheme is a major cause for concern, he adds.
Source : The Hindu