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Herbal Products: Current Status, Vision and Action Plan

India is one of the eight important Vavilovian centers of origin and crop plant diversity. It is immensely rich in medicinal and aromatic plants occurring in diverse ecosystems. Like all other old cultures, India uses the plant medicines both for primary health care as also remedies. The traditional Indian Systems of Medicine consist of four sub-systems: Ayurveda, Unani, Siddha and Yoga & Naturopathy.

Globally, the early part of the 20th century brought an evolution of the pharmaceutical industry.
With the progress in chemical techniques, crude drugs came to be replaced by pure chemical drugs and the developed countries witnessed a decline in popularity of medicinal plant therapy.
However, during the recent past, the pendulum has swung again and there is a resurgence of interest in study and use of medicinal plants.

Many traditional plant based remedies are back in use and find increasing applications as (i) source of direct therapeutic agents, (ii) as a raw material base for the elaboration of more complex semi-synthetic chemical compounds, (iii) as models for new synthetic compounds, and (iv) as taxonomic markers for the discovery of new compounds. The production, consumption and international trade in medicinal plants, and phytomedicines, therefore, are growing and expected to grow in future quite significantly.

With this growth in global demand for medicinal plants and a large base of local demand for plant based traditional medicines, the pressure on the existing population of medicinal plants has increased tremendously during the last few decades.

Historically, most of these plants grow in wild as a natural component of vegetation of a particular region.
The necessary plant material (roots, barks, leaves, etc.) is collected and sold by the local people to the traders and the industry and exporters purchase them from traders.
Since there is no scientific system of collecting or regenerating these plants, several plants have either been completely lost or have become endangered.

Such plants are banned for export but, sometimes, still exported under other nomenclature. The trade is also completely unorganized and often manipulative and exploitative. The industry is engaged in primary processing of plants, manufacturing intermediates, final processing and manufacturing branded drugs, OTC products, food supplements, tonics and cosmetics. It constantly faces the problems of raw material supply.
There is also limited industrial research and clinical trials, latter due to prohibition to medical practitioners in prescribing drugs from other disciplines. However, the developed countries are showing rising interest in Indian herbal products in food supplements (Neutraceuticals), cosmetics and intermediates. Several ingredients in Indian plants are being investigated abroad and have found application in many allopathic drugs (Phytopharmaceuticals) manufactured for treatments on cancer, AIDS, blood pressure, heart diseases, diabetes, etc.

In order to position the medicinal plants sector on its growth path, an all-out, plant based action in cultivation, post harvest technology, processing, manufacturing, research, patenting and marketing is necessary.
In view of a very large number of medicinal plants in India, it is recommended that an action on few short listed plants should be initiated.
The exercise of short listing such plants was carried out, taking into account the endemic nature of plants, volume of domestic and export demand, the


endangered nature of the plant and documented use in traditional systems of medicines.
This exercise brought out 45 medicinal plants.
It is recommended that more focussed attention should be given to them and a long term action plan be Aloe vera (Ghrita Kumari)implemented for them upto year 2020.
For the next 5 years (2001-2005), following seven plants (out of these 45 plants) require concentrated attention:Aloe vera (Ghrita Kumari)

Aloe vera (Ghrita Kumari)
Bacopa monnieri (Brahmi)
Centella asiatica (Mandookparni, Gotu Kola)
Rauwolfia serpentina (Sarpagandha)
Catharanthus roseus (Periwinkle)
Taxus baccata / Taxus wallichiana (Himalayan Yew)
Artemisia annua


It is suggested that for each of these 7 plants, "Model Activities" which include preparation of plant specific CD ROM, cultivation protocols, post harvest protocols, clinical trials, and formation of National level Association should be initiated.
Further, action is proposed in several key areas. They include selecting locations for plantations, research in high yielding and short duration varieties, development of nurseries, training and extension to farmers, introducing and encouraging new technologies like tissue culture, community level processing, marketing through regulated markets, standardization and grading, training to traders and customs officers, infrastructure, finance, provision of fiscal incentives, research and development on various scientific aspect, and in clinical trials.
The involvement of NGOs, the newly established Medicinal Plants Board and the Industry Associations in all these activities is also emphasized.