Threatened Species of Medicinal Plants of India

India is one of the richest reservoirs of biological diversity in the world. It is home to a great variety of ethno-medicinally important plant species, and is ranked 6th (sixth) among 12 mega diversity countries of the world.

However, several factors are putting India’s medicinal plants at risk of extinction: the increasing demand for herbal raw-material & products, the reliance of pharmaceutical companies on plants for drugs, the encroachment of civilization into plant habitat (including timber and mining operations, shopping malls and housing developments), and the innate sensitivity or rareness of certain species.

The total number of flowering plant species although only 17,000, the intraspecific variability found in them make it one of the highest in the world. Out of 17,000 plants, the classic systems of medicines like Ayurveda, Siddha and Unani make use of only about 2000 plants in various formulations.

However, a survey conducted by the All India Coordinated Research Project on Ethnobiology (AICRPE) during the last decade recorded over 8000 species of wild plants used by the tribals and other traditional communities in India for treating various health problems.

30% of medicinal preparations are derived from roots, 14% bark, 16% whole plants, 5% flowers, 10% fruits, 6% leaves, 7% seeds, 3% wood, 4% rhizomes 6% stems and only less than 20% of the species used are cultivated.

The forests have been the source of invaluable medicinal plants since the time man realized the preventive and curative properties of plants and started using them for human heath care. But today forest degradation processes adversely affect the resource base of medicinal plants.

The problems are compounded by market-demand driven harvesting without any concern for representation and conservation. In the process essential regenerative components of a plant like roots, tubers, fruits, seeds, flowers and bark are indiscriminately collected, leading to degradation and depletion and even extinction of particular species. Due to this ruthless exploitation, many important medicinal plants species are becoming rare and some of them are critically endangered !