Endangered Medicinal Plants In India And Their Conservation

Owing to the increasing demand for the conservation of plants and animals, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) declared Red List of the species according to different categories which would give an analysis of species risk of extinction. As per the classification, species are assigned into various categories like Extinct (EX), Extinct in wild (EW), Critically Endangered (CR), Endangered (EN), Vulnerable (VU), Near Threatened (NT), Least concern (LC) and Data Deficient (DD).


A type of organism which is threatened by extinction owing to the loss of habitat and the loss of genetic variation is known as an endangered species.


Though medicinal plants have been used since ages ago, their natural habitat was majorly the wild resources i.e forests. These resources have been threatened by human exploitation for the overuse of herbs for various medicinal purposes, for treating various health ailments.


India is a highly valuable resource of medicinal plants. The wildly collected medicinal herbs have a very big industry of pharma and Ayurveda companies who use these materials for their medicine production.


There is a great demand for the key medicinal plants leading to an increase in procurement of these herbs for the needs of the Indian and global markets. These herbs are used in traditional medicinal practices like Ayurveda, Unani, Sidha etc.


The flora of India is one of the richest in the world due to the wide range of climate, topology, biodiversity and environment. Many of these plants are being destroyed due to their continuous removal from their habitat.


Most of these herbs are used as their whole plants or their plant parts like roots, flowers, seeds etc. This in turn removes the plant from their natural habitat making it difficult to replace the fauna. Some of these are trees used for their bark and hardwood. This takes years to form, cutting them down and procuring the wild resources creates a loss of the species from their natural habitat.


Many of these endangered herbs like Kutki (Picrorhiza kurroa) and Ateesh (Aconitum heterophyllum) are high-value herbs owing to their use and their less availability.


The current scenario of the endangered medicinal plants


A wide range of medicinal plants in India have got global acceptance due to their unique advantages like health benefits, low side effects. Most of these herbs are indigenous to certain areas of the country.


The recent global pandemic has also proven the health benefits of these herbal medicines in building immunity either directly or indirectly. There is a growing concern as these herbs are limited in number, on the verge of extinction if the over-exploitation continues.


As for these medicinal plants, there is limited literature available regarding their lists, their presence in national and international levels. Parts of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Nepal has a huge resource of these endangered medicinal plants like Kutki and Chirayta.


Few of the medicinal plants have been prohibited for exports including the Talispatra (Taxus wallichiana), Chirata (Swertia chirata), Sarpgandha(Rauwolfia serpentina), and Jatamansi (Nardostachys grandiflora).


Way forward


Owing to the increasing demand for these medicinal plants in the domestic and International Markets, there is a necessity for an increase in the production of these herbs which can only be achieved through the cultivation of these herbs and sustainable procurement along with the conservation of these plants for the future.


Biological conservation has been gaining attention in this matter even though faced various challenges from social, political, and scientific fronts. Considering the vast majority of herbs, there has to be a systemic approach to these conservation methods in terms of prioritizing the species, and the methods of conservation whether in situ or ex situ.


Re introduction of the threatened species into those areas suitable for their growth or from their local habitat where it became threatened. Methods like micro and macro propagation are also gaining importance for production in large numbers. This approach to the sustainable conservation of medicinal plants will ensure the population of those species.