JUNE 2001- Contents
Travel & Adventure
the-south-asian.com June 2001
Page 2 of 2
EXTINCTION THREAT STALKS MEDICINAL PLANTS
Healing in Ayurveda is based on the principle of Tridosha (three faults) that afflict people---Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Practitioners reconstruct body imbalances by introducing herbs appropriate to the body's dosha (fault). For the same disease, two people could be recommended different herbs depending upon whether the dominant dosha is Vata, Pitta or Kapha.
For example, chronic coughs in a Kapha personality is treated with dry, hot and spicy herbs whereas for the same problem a Vata personality is given soothing herbs that moisten the lungs. Tying herbs in a medicinal pouch around the neck is usually the treatment for jaundice. As the herb diminishes in size, the jaundice is said to disappear.
In ancient times, traditional healers needed to travel deep into the forests or high up into the mountains to source these valuable herbs, which explains why Lord Hanumana had to take a long flight to the Himalayas to bring back the sanjivini booti that was used by Vaid Sulukshana to revive Lakshman who was felled by an arrow fired by Ravana’s son Meghnath.
Cultivation of these endangered herbs is now being attempted in greenhouses. TRAFFIC India's three-year project, Motivating Actions to Sustain Medicinal Plant Resource of the Indian Sub-continent is also encouraging experts to enter into partnership with communities that live in the agro-climatic zones where these herbs grow in a natural environment.
Herbal practitioners are known to use almost all segments of the plant in preparation of their medicines. Flowers, seeds, pollen, spores, tissue cultures, fruits, stem joints, wood veneers and wood chips, flowers and chemical by-products.
Long processes are often used to extract the derivative which then finds its way into the medicine satchel. Knowledge of the method of extraction has however, been shrouded in secrecy and traditionally remained vested in the Vaid.
Besides Vaids, the modern pharmaceutical industry too now uses nearly 400 plant species in the production of medicines. However, unchecked consumption can cause scarcity, tempting the use of synthetic substitutes and adulterants as replacements of the original.
That is one of the main reasons why TRAFFIC India has started to ring the alarm bells. Actively engaged in promoting conservation and environmental protection of endangered species, it is functioning as a regulatory body, seeking to create a body of sensitive citizens, to be a part of an informer network within the country to sustain India's medicinal resources.
Environmentalists, health specialists, cultivators, traders, cooperatives, industries and NGO groups have been used to highlight the issues of concern and evolve a common action agenda for preservation of herbs in India.
Good industrial practices, enhancing availability of medicinal plants through development of cultivation technology, silviculture, formation of cooperatives for collection and value addition to the trade, crop insurance, watching over movement of material within the region, effective testing and patenting procedures, are some suggested measures to avoid over exploitation of these resources.
Messages are proposed to be incorporated into school textbooks in order to create awareness among children. The Akhil Bharatiya Ayurveda Mahasammellan has begun to compel the industry to use medicinal herbs in a sustainable manner.
For countless centuries, the practice of herbal medicine has dominated the Indian subcontinent and provided health care to a majority of people. It is once more back in vogue. Herbal cosmetic products are in great demand both within India and globally.
The US pharmaceutical giants are vying for patents of plants and herbs like neem, turmeric, amla, tulsi, as these provide cures to a range of health problems. Plants are medicinal powerhouses known to cure even far advanced diseases.
The sudden rise in demand and depletion of these life-giving herbs is causing great concern to environmentalists who are urging the government to frame clear policy rules for exploitation and re-cultivation of these life-giving medicinal plants.
Some experts like Dr. B.L.Dua of the Medicinal Plants Research Division claim that there is also a cure for AIDS and cancer hidden in these plants and herbs. But, he warns, " They are living resources, exhaustible if overused. They can only become sustainable if used with care and wisdom."
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