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Times of India
02 July 2010
By Neha Shukla
Lucknow, India

65 Herbs In Endangered Category Owing To Over–Exploitation: CIMAP
Medicinal Herbs Now On Sick Bed
Once popular home remedies, Indian herbs like ‘guggul’ and ‘talispatra’ have now become prone to genetic erosion. The overexploitation of medicinal plants is pushing them to the brink of extinction.

This is yet another outcome of depleting biodiversity. Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (CIMAP) has identified medicinal plant varieties which are threatened."These medicinal plants have high genetic variability because they grow in wild, if they go extinct it will be a genetic erosion", says senior scientist, CIMAP, Janardan Singh, who has co–authored a publication on threatened medicinal plants.

The herbs differ in their biochemical constituents from place to place. This also affects their therapeutic properties and make them useful for treating even the deadly diseases.

CIMAP has identified 65 species of medicinal and aromatic plants under various categories of threatened species viz endangered, vulnerable, rare, insufficiently known, indeterminate and endemic.

The list of threatened varieties includes popular herbs like ‘guggul’, ‘kutki’, ‘Indian atis’, ‘ratanjot’, ‘tejpat’ and ‘chirata’. The medicinal herbs have their traditional uses in treatment of several disorders. Guggul (Commiphora wightii) is used to lower cholesterol besides treating several other ailments. Similarly, kutki (Picrorhiza kurroa) is used to cure asthma.

The medicinal herbs were also used in combination traditionally for treatment of several deadly diseases in unani, ayurveda, homeopathy and modern medicine. Many of these herbs like ‘talispatra’ (Taxus wallichiana) are source of anti–cancer drugs ‘taxol’.

But, now these varieties are threatened and reasons are several. "Medicinal plants are more threatened because they have been over–exploited," says a senior scientist. Habitat loss, fragmentation of forest land (as most of these varieties grow in wild), threat from exotic species, soil, water and air pollution, changing weather patterns and inappropriate management of water resources are other reasons.

CIMAP scientists have based their final list on their own field observations and consultations with other scientific entities.

A team of scientists are now trying to salvage the herbs. An effort is being made to bring these varieties under cultivation. The institute has also developed a gene–bank to prevent loss of genetic variability of medicinal and aromatic plants.

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