(NaturalNews) Ninety-three percent of the wild plants used in traditional Indian (ayurvedic) medicine are threatened with extinction, according to an assessment carried out by the Botanical Survey of India.
In November 2000, the Indian government formed a National Medicinal Plants Board to promote the development and conservation of local medicinal plants. As the threat to many species from overharvesting and habitat loss became clear, the board launched the "Central Sector Scheme for Conservation, Development and Sustainable Management of Medicinal Plants" in 2008. The scheme's mission includes identifying threats to native medicinal plants, promoting their sustainable harvest and finding ways to domesticate them and produce them out of the wild.
Ninety-five percent of all medicinal herbs used in ayurvedic medicine are wild harvested, mostly from forests.
Using the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources' (IUCN's) Red List Categories, the government assessed the status of 359 wild medicinal plants. It found that 335 of them -- 93 percent -- are near-threatened, vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered.
The government has already taken action to relocate some of the threatened plants, including Utleria Salicifolia and Hydnocarpus Pentandra in Western Ghats, Gymnocladus Assamicus and Begonia Tessaricarpa from Arunachal Pradesh and Agapetes Smithiana in Sikkim. Plans to set up 29 separate Medicinal Plants Conservation Areas are also underway.
The primary threat to the wild plants is overharvesting for the herbal supplements industry. As alternative medical therapies such as ayurvedic herbalism grow in popularity worldwide, unforeseen consequences can emerge.
In 2008, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 20 percent of Indian herbal supplements purchased online were contaminated with lead, mercury or arsenic. Some ayurvedic practitioners have claimed that this contamination is the result of the processing techniques used in modern factories and is not a characteristic of traditional Indian medicine.
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