Prospects of Medicinal Plants in Bangladesh

The planned and systematic cultivation of medicinal plants can make an important contribution to the economy of Bangladesh. They have a simple production system, low production cost and can be grown throughout the year

April 13, 2022, 10:30 a.m.

Last modification: April 13, 2022, 1:31 PM

Helal Uddin Ahmed. Illustration: TBS

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Helal Uddin Ahmed. Illustration: TBS

A number of herbal medicine books from Bangladesh can be found. However, only two – one written by M Salar Khan and AM Huq (1975, Bangladesh National Herbarium) and the other by M. Yusuf et al (1994, BCSIR, Dhaka) explain their medical uses. But they contained no information about the chemical or active constituents of these plants, thus limiting their usefulness as references for medicinal and pharmaceutical purposes.

However, the book “Medicinal Plants of Bangladesh – Chemical Constituents and Uses” (1998) by Dr. Abdul Ghani (former Professor of Pharmacy at Jahangirnagar University and National Member of the Asian Society of Bangladesh) provided an elaborate list of 449 medicinal plants. from Bangladesh with their chemical constituents and medicinal uses along with other relevant information on their habits, habitats and pharmacological attributes. It has served as a guide for practitioners in modern, indigenous and traditional systems of medicine, as well as scientists involved in Phyto-chemical research to search for new active chemical substances from plants to develop new drugs.

Definition and use

Plants that have therapeutic properties and provide beneficial pharmacological effects to the animal body are categorized as “medicinal plants”.

The application of medicinal plants to fight diseases has its origins in the primitive past of mankind. Our ancestors turned to natural substances found in plants around settlements to ward off disease and death. In fact, in his relentless struggle to achieve mastery over the forces of nature, man has always turned to plants for help – not only for medicine, but also for food, nourishment, accommodation and clothing.

Medicinal plants constitute an important natural wealth of a country. They play an important role in providing primary health care services to rural populations. It also serves as important therapeutic agents as well as essential raw materials for manufacturing traditional and modern medicines.

Substantial amounts of foreign exchange can also be earned by exporting medicinal plants to other countries. Thanks to all these contributions, local medicinal plants can play an important role in the economy of a country like Bangladesh.

Historical context

Historical records show that the Babylonians (about 3000 BC) knew a large number of medicinal plants and their properties. As evidenced by Papyrus Ebers (1500 BC), the ancient Egyptians had a solid knowledge of the medicinal properties of hundreds of plants.

The oldest known Chinese pharmacopoeia, the “Pen Tsao”, appeared around 1122 BC. The first mention of the medicinal use of plants in the Indian subcontinent was found in the Rig Veda (4500-1600 BC).

The “Materia Medica” of the great Greek physician Hippocrates (460-370 BC) referred to some 300-400 medicinal plants. The far-reaching scientific work of Aristotle (384-322 BC) included an effort to catalog the properties of various medicinal herbs known at that time.

Bhringraj or “king of herbs”. These medicinal plants serve as important therapeutic agents as well as essential raw materials for the manufacture of traditional and modern medicines. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Bhringraj or

Bhringraj or “king of herbs”. These medicinal plants serve as important therapeutic agents as well as essential raw materials for the manufacture of traditional and modern medicines. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The encyclopedic work of Pedanius Dioscorides (1st century AD) – “De Materia Medica” – was the forerunner of all modern pharmacopoeias and an authoritative text on botanical medicine. Two of the 37 books written by Pliny the Elder (23-70 AD) dealt with medicinal botany.

Muslim physicians like Al-Razi and Ibne Sina (9th-12th centuries AD) revolutionized the history of medicine by incorporating new medicines of plant and mineral origin for general use.

The uses of medicinal plants in Europe in the 13th and 14th centuries were based on the doctrine of “signatures and the like” developed by the Swiss alchemist and physician Paracelsus (1490-1541 AD). Medicinal plants used by South American countries and Australian Aborigines centuries ago have greatly enriched the stock of medicinal plants around the world.

Bangladesh scenario

As a subtropical country, Bangladesh is quite rich in naturally available medicinal plants. Even in the early 1980s, the country’s herbal medicine companies (Ayurvedic and Unani) met 80 percent of their needs from natural forests within the country, and the remaining 20 percent were met through imports.

Since then, the situation has reversed. Currently, 80 percent of local demand is met by imports, while only 20 percent is made up of locally produced medicinal plants.

According to the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), there are 722 species of medicinal plants in Bangladesh. Against 4,000 in India, 700 plants are used in Bangladesh for medicinal purposes. Among them, 255 herbs are used by Ayurvedic and Unani medicine manufacturers.

The planned and systematic cultivation of medicinal plants can make an important contribution to the economy of Bangladesh. They have a simple production system, low production cost and can be grown throughout the year.

But, a majority of Bangladeshi farmers and value chain actors are still unaware of the profitability and sustainability of medicinal plants. In fact, commercial production of medicinal plants in Bangladesh only started in the 1990s, with the effort mainly concentrated in and around the Natore region.

Previously lacking any prescribed cultivation method, the Bangladesh Forest Research Institute (BFRI) has since initiated commercial production in hilly areas based on market demands by adopting good agricultural practices. If modern production methods and practices can be institutionalized alongside effective market linkages, then the golden past of herbal medicines can easily be revived in Bangladesh.

The government should play a proactive role in facilitating the rapid expansion of this lucrative sector through the adoption of institutional support policies for the production, processing, storage, grading, packaging, transport and sale of medicinal plants. .

The Agricultural Extension Department of the Ministry of Agriculture provides occasional advice to growers, but they need to broaden their efforts and focus on how specific producers and market segments can be served more productively and profitable. Relevant research institutes, non-governmental organizations and the private sector can also take initiatives to implement projects that will benefit all stakeholders.


Dr Helal Uddin Ahmed is a retired assistant secretary and former editor of the Bangladesh Quarterly. Email: [email protected]


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.

Alvin J. Chase