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Year : 2012  |  Volume : 32  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 1-2

Sustainable harvesting of medicinal plants: Some thoughts in search for solutions

Managing Editor, Ancient Science of Life, Director and CSO, AVP Research Foundation, Coimbatore, India

Date of Web Publication21-Jun-2013

Correspondence Address:
P Ram Manohar
Managing Editor, Ancient Science of Life, Director and CSO, AVP Research Foundation, Coimbatore
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0257-7941.113789

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How to cite this article:
Manohar P R. Sustainable harvesting of medicinal plants: Some thoughts in search for solutions. Ancient Sci Life 2012;32:1-2

How to cite this URL:
Manohar P R. Sustainable harvesting of medicinal plants: Some thoughts in search for solutions. Ancient Sci Life [serial online] 2012 [cited 2023 Mar 30];32:1-2. Available from: https://www.ancientscienceoflife.org/text.asp?2012/32/1/1/113789

With the visibility of Ayurveda growing globally, the number of products emerging in the market, derived from medicinal plants is on the rise. Needless to say, there is a great demand for raw materials even as medicinal plants are facing the threat of becoming extinct or endangered. It is a well-known fact that the harvesting of medicinal plants on such a scale is not sustainable. The current state of affairs puts severe restraints on the future prospects for the growth and development of Ayurvedic pharmaceuticals.

We can hardly believe that this problem can be tackled by large-scale cultivation that will make medicinal plants available in abundance for the Ayurvedic pharmacists to be. We need to look at the challenge from a different perspective altogether.

It is estimated that there are more than 8000 plants that are used for medicinal purposes by various communities and tribes in India. However the medicinal plants actively used by the Ayurvedic industry are less than 500.[1] This means that the demand for a fewer number of medicinal plants is increasing. Obviously, one of the ways to dissipate the demand on these plants would be to scatter the demand over a larger number of plants. Historically, such an approach was adopted in the tradition of Ayurveda. Substitutes were used and recommended in the ancient texts for plants that were scarce to obtain. In this way, different regions in the country have come to use different botanical sources for some of the classical plants. We need to also explore whether closely related species of the same genus can be used as substitutes. Suśruta encourages the physician in every nook and corner of the earth to search for new and alternative sources of medicine.[2]

Another approach to tackle the scarcity of medicinal plants would be to use different parts of the same plant. For example, if roots are not available, we must consider using other parts like stem, heartwood, leaves, fruits, flowers, and so on. At this juncture, a pertinent question that may arise is whether such measures would be in tune with the basic precepts of Ayurveda. A careful study of the classical Ayurvedic texts gives us ample evidence that such steps do indeed get sanction from the tradition.

In the later text books of Ayurveda like the Yogaratnākara, a separate section has been devoted to deal with substitutes.[3] The caveat is that the main drug of the formulation cannot be substituted.

Even the early text books of Ayurveda discuss about the possibility of using other parts of the same plant when the officinal part is not available. The method of use and the formulation and the processing itself may have to be modified in such cases.[4]

It is a basic tenet in Ayurveda that by default the different parts of a plant share the same properties. Some texts also point out that related species of a plant may possess similar properties.[5]

By careful study and observation, it should be possible to work out the substitutes of plants that are of disputed identity or unavailable in large quantities. So also, it would be possible to find out if other parts of the plant can be used, especially in instances where officinal parts like the roots cannot be harvested in large quantities in a sustainable manner.

In the context of pharmaceutical processing, the texts have clearly pointed out that flowers and even unripe fruits can be used in place of the ripe fruits of Randia dumetorum.[6] In the case of plants like Luffa echinata, the fruits and flowers in various stages of growth have been indicated for use in slightly different ways.[7] All these references from the classical texts point to the fact that it is quite legitimate to make use of alternate parts of the same plant depending on the availability.

Such an approach has actually been adopted in the actual practice of Ayurveda without formal acknowledgment. There are many plants for which the officinal part cannot be harvested in sufficient quantities and for which alternate parts are being used. The case of Daśamūla is a good example.

Daśamūla means 10 roots but for most of the plants in this group, roots are not available for large-scale manufacturing. For instance, in the case of Gokura, which comes in the minor pentad of roots, dried fruits are used. This is now an established practice albeit it is not clear when this practice was adopted. If the fruit of one of the plants is used instead of the root, then the name pentad of roots becomes a misnomer. In the case of Daśamūla or the group of 10 roots, when roots of the plants are not used, it does not make sense to use the name “ten roots” or “five roots.”

We need to identify and formalize the deviations that have become established in actual practice. It is meaningless to name a formulation as Daśamūla, when the root of even a single plant is not added. The nomenclature and listing of the ingredients of such formulations need to be amended to reflect the actual practices.

There are many classical formulations of which many ingredients are not available and, hence, are not added. However, this is not disclosed on the labels and the consumers are misled to believe that they are consuming the original classical formulation.

To bring transparency in these matters, it is imperative that a comprehensive survey of the existing practices is done and the deviations are documented for evaluation and appraisal by a group of experts. Based on the amendments suggested by the experts, appropriate changes in nomenclature and ingredients may be formalized.

While the above remedial measures get the sanction of tradition, we can also think of applying the advanced technologies available today to find solutions to these challenges. When roots of plants are difficult to harvest from the wild, we could think of generating the roots by tissue culture. If the physico-chemical characteristics match, then destructive harvesting of parts like the roots could be avoided. However, this calls for careful studies to not only check the validity of such an approach but also to assess the feasibility of such measures on a large scale for the industry.

Expansion of the Ayurvedic pharmacopoeia by addition of new plants, new formulations, discovering substitutes and alternate sources, exploring the possibility of using different parts of the same plant, and tissue culture seem to be relevant approaches to tackle the challenge of availability of medicinal plants even as we put in efforts to preserve medicinal plants in the wild and cultivate them on a large scale for commercial use.

  References Top

1.Ayurvedic Formulary of India, New Delhi: Government. of India, Ministry of Health and Family Planning, Department. of Health, 1978.  Back to cited text no. 1
2.Yadavji TA, editor. Sushruta Samhita. Varanasi: Chaukhambha Orientalia; 1980; p. 507.  Back to cited text no. 2
3.Sadasiva SJ, editor, Yogaratnakara, Varanasi: Jayakrishnadas Haridas Gupta; 1939. p. 130-1.  Back to cited text no. 3
4.Yadavji TA, editor. Caraka Samhita. Varanasi: Chaukhamba Subharati Prakashan; 2008. p. 659.  Back to cited text no. 4
5.Sharma PV, editor. Hrdaya Dipaka Nighantu and Siddhamantra, Chaukhambha Amarabharati Prakashan, Varanasi; 1977; p. 5.  Back to cited text no. 5
6.Harisastri PV, editor. Ashtanga Hridayam. Varanasi: Chaukhambha Orientalia; 2002; p. 737.  Back to cited text no. 6
7.Mitra J. Astanga Sangraha. Varanasi: Chaukhamba Sanskrit Series Office; 2012. p. 582.  Back to cited text no. 7

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