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Nandita Vijay, Bengaluru January 12 , 2021
Indian medicinal plants now encounter sustainability threats. This is a major concern as a sizable number of medicinal plants falls under the endangered category. Technically, sustainability threats are classified as rare, endangered, threatened & vulnerable (RETV).  

If the plant is already classified as endangered, the shortfall will persist. Cultivation of the same has its own challenges. In such a tough scenario, India needs to develop a strategy to devise ways to substitute. Yet another challenge is the traceability of the plant source.

According to Dr N B Brindavanam, consultant, natural resource management, biodiversity-medicinal substitution is seen as an alternative to manage the existing medicinal plants like Katukarohini (Picrorhiza kurroa) and Jatamansi (Nardostachys jatamansi), etc.  

India needs to work out a systematic plan to reduce the pressure of the endangered medicinal plants. Once the plant falls under the endangered category, substitution could be a better option as it is an acceptable norm and practice in Ayurveda but not leveraged adequately.  Categories like threatened and vulnerable plants can be managed by cultivation, modifying harvesting practices and by resource augmentation activities, he said.

On the one hand, there is an increased demand and on the other there are many regulatory checks in the global markets.  Plant traceability too is the crux of all the problems today. If we know the source of the plant, then a lot of interventions can happen. If one understands its quality, then good collection practices can be introduced, he added.

Going forward, there is going be considerable need to furnish the source of the plant. Consumers are discerning, and insist on a quality source as only then it could be standardized for value addition and are willing to pay. Industry is mandated to label the details of the particular plant that is standardized to a particular quality, noted Dr Brindavanam.

The Covid-19 is a case in point as it has widened the basket of offerings for immunomodulators like the Samshamani Vati Prepared from Guduchi (Giloy) which is backed by exemplary scientific evidence. Further, the ongoing pandemic too has brought some more products into the limelight like curcumin or turmeric, tulsi or the Indian basil, Phyllanthus emblica or gooseberry to name a few. While this is one side of the story, the other side is the paucity of well researched and credible medicines available in the market, he noted.

This is where sustainability and traceability of medicinal plants will help to link the final product made to the place of origin, specie of origin, method of harvesting, harvester, processor and producer. Even as India faces the challenge of endangered species as supply overshoots demand, said Dr Brindavanam.

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