In search of conservation of endangered medicinal plants

The Kashmir Himalayas are home to various species of valuable medicinal plants with over 600 species finding their use in the traditional medicine system in one form or another.

These plants include Sassurea costus (Kuth or Putchuk), Picrorhiza kurroa, (Kutki), Artemisia species (mugwort, woodworm), Pyrethrum (Chrysanthemum), Hypericum perforatum (St. John’s wort), Trillium govanianum (Nag Chhatri) etc.

Experts say that the decoction and extracts obtained from these plants have been used for the treatment of various diseases. “These medicinal plants have been used for coughs, colds, wounds and cuts and respiratory infections in Kashmir for centuries. Some have anti-helminthic, antispasmodic, antipyretic and analgesic properties,” they say.

Due to their phytochemical properties and bioactivity, these plants are now also used in the modern pharmaceutical and therapeutic industry.

More than 20 different species of Artemisia are found in the Kashmir Himalayas. “All Artemisia species have one or another medicinal properties. Artemisinin, derived from Artemisia absntium, is used for the production of an antimalarial drug,” the experts explain.

Artemisia herba-alba, a species of Artemisia, is used for coughs, stomach and intestinal problems, colds, measles, diabetes, jaundice, anxiety, irregular heartbeats and muscle weakness. It is also used as an insect repellent.

Similarly, costus oil obtained from the roots of Saussurea costus is used in leprosy. The roots of Saussurea costus are also used in traditional medicines to treat medical conditions such as chronic gastritis, stomach ulcers, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma and bronchitis.

Picrorhiza is used for the treatment of liver and upper respiratory tract problems. It is also used to reduce fevers and to treat dyspepsia and chronic diarrhea. Podophyllum hexandrum is used in the treatment of prostate cancer.

However, the wild crafting of these plant species has threatened their existence in their natural habitats and many of these high altitude Kashmir medicinal plants have been listed as endangered species by the Red Book of the International Union for Nature Conservation (IUCN), which is the world’s most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of biological species.

Researchers say that activities such as overgrazing, grass cutting, soil erosion, unplanned development, flooding, overharvesting, cement dust, quarrying, land changes land use, invasion by alien species, unregulated research, smuggling and tourism are operational threats to Kashmir’s medicinal plants. Himalayas.

“The decline in the number of medicinal plant species is a serious concern because the extinction of these prized species will affect the livelihoods of many people as well as the ecological balance of nature,” the researchers say.

“These rare high-altitude plants have enormous demand in the local market, in the pharmaceutical and therapeutic industry, where they are subjected to processing in their raw form to obtain useful medicines and high-value products. Medicinal plants are an important source of income for many people in Kashmir,” said Dr. Shahid Rasool, senior researcher in genetic resources and agrotechnology.

He is Scientist in Charge, Field Station, CSIR (Council of Scientific and Industrial Research), IIIM (Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine), Bonera, Pulwama.

Dr Shahid said that people are resorting to wild extraction of these plant species inside the forests which pose a serious threat to the sustainability of the precious biodiversity.

“If a parallel conservation program is not executed for these precious plant species, they will be threatened with extinction,” he said, adding that there is a need for a contingent plan to conserve these plants. and maintaining germplasm in captive culture.

He informed that the field station of CSIR, IIIM, Bonera, Pulwama serves as a unique facility where they pursue the conservation of these medicinal plants for further scientific explorations in the drug discovery programs of the Institute.

“We are bringing these rare plant species from different ecological niches in the Himalayas from Kashmir and consolidating them here on the farm, we are carrying out a parallel domestication program,” he said.

The lead scientist said they were also bringing in new plants that are listed in the IUCN Red Book as endangered and are on the brink of extinction. They plan to work closely with the Forest Department of Jammu and Kashmir for a joint endangered plant species conservation programme. of Kashmir.

“We are planning to develop a Himalayan Biodiversity Park at this station in an area of ​​about 2 hectares where we will bring in rare and endangered plants, about 50 species, from wild ecological niches across Jammu and Cashmere and introduce them here to this research station, we will explore ways to domesticate them and continue bio-prospecting these species for screening new bioactive molecules,” he said.

He further stated that the CSIR III facility is a huge bio-resource due to the geographical area it possesses.

“The activity undertaken at this field station is unique. This is exceptional as no activity of such magnitude is carried out in all of North India including Haryana, Himachal, Punjab and even UP,” he said .

He said they were working on various aromatic and medicinal plants including the domestication of Saussurea costus, Picrorhiza, Artemisia species, Hypericum perforatum and Podophyllum hexandrum. They are also working on the development of technologies for the use of these plant species.

Alvin J. Chase