April 5, 2010 | 30
Traditional Ayurvedic medicine could face an uncertain future as 93 percent of the wild plants used in the practice are threatened with extinction due to overexploitation, the Times of India reports.
The Botanical Survey of India recently prioritized 359 wild medicinal plant species and conducted an assessment throughout the country to determine their health. The news wasn’t good. Of the 359 species, 335 were categorized as critically endangered, endangered, vulnerable or near-threatened.
The survey used criteria and categories established by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) for its Red List of Threatened Species.
According to India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests, 95 percent of plants used in Ayurvedic medicine are collected from the wild, and about two-thirds of that harvest uses "destructive means" that can damage or kill the plants.
To help keep these plant species from going extinct, the Indian government in 2008 initiated a program (pdf) to relocate species from the wild, study how to domesticate them, and promote sustainable harvest protocols. This survey is the latest step in that program.
Aside from its historical and cultural significance, Ayurvedic medicines could bring profits to India’s coffers. The Department of Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy (AYUSH) is currently exploring export opportunities for Ayurvedic medicine through Indian Medicines Pharmaceutical Corporation Limited, a company owned by the Indian government. Already, Ayurvedic treatments, vacations and consultants are popular among some alternative health consumers in the U.S.
Of course, other traditional Asian medicines have been attacked for their use of parts from endangered animals, such as tiger bones and rhino horns, but Ayurveda has so far avoided such criticisms.
Image: Dhanvantari, the Hindu god of Ayurveda, via Wikipedia