The history of medicine can be traced to prehistoric times. Among the earliest sources of medicines were herbs and various plant parts such as roots, flowers, etc. Across several regions of the world, medicinal plants are in use even today. In fact, research seems to suggest that the demand for these plants could be increasing with people wanting to embrace what are seen as "natural" remedies for ailments. But, how are the populations of medicinal plants faring? Come, let's find out.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), "between 65% and 80% of the populations of developing countries currently use medicinal plants as remedies". Apparently, among the few lakh plant species in the world today, "only 15% have been evaluated to determine their pharmacological potential" So, researchers are at work for "demonstrating the efficacy and importance of medicinal plants”. But the truth is that medicinal plants across the globe are facing extinction. An expert has said that "Earth is losing one potential medicinal plant every two years at an extinction rate that is hundred times faster than the natural process." The situation is no different in our country.
India is among the many countries with known use of medicinal plants. Our country is home to nearly 45,000 plant species, and at least 7,000 of them are medicinal aromatic plants. However, a recent piece of news from experts has become a cause for concern- as much as 10% of 900 major medicinal plant species found in the country fall under the “threatened” category, and "are facing the threat of extinction" What is causing this? The usual suspects – overexploitation, habitat destruction, urbanisation, etc. Another worrisome aspect is that "only 15 per cent of medicinal plants are cultivated while the remaining 85 per cent are collected by the industry from forest ecosystems and other natural habitats"
Conservation strategies such as “field studies, proper documentation, mitigation measures, enactment of special laws…" and recovery programmes are suggested to save the medicinal plants. This is vital because such plants play a crucial role not just in traditional practices but also in treating illnesses such as cancer. It is important to note that "cancer has a long history of depending on natural products for drugs" When medicinal plants disappear, along with them could disappear several chances to better human life.
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