Role of Indigenous People in Conservation of Biodiversity of Medicinal Plants: An Indian Case Study

  • Pooja JoshiEmail author
  • Nilanjana Rao
Part of the Environmental Earth Sciences book series (EESCI)


Medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs) have become a part of traditional system of medicines and have gained importance, more so in today’s world. According to the estimate of World Health Organization (WHO), about 80% of the population of developing world are making use of traditional medicines. The medicinal plants have been used for widespread purposes since ancient times in countries particularly India, China, Greece, Persia etc. In India, according to a report of AICEP, Anthropological Survey of India, 1994, it is estimated that over 7,500 species of medicinal plants are used for therapeutic uses. The major floral species which are widely used as medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs) include Ephedra gerardiana Wall., Rauvolfia serpentina, Swertia chirata, Aconitum heterophyllum Wall. ex Royle, Rhododendron anthopogon D. Dun., Peganum harmala L. etc. The widespread use of these medicinal plants for both internal consumption and export purposes have led to their large-scale exploitation, resulting in loss of biological diversity (both at genetic and species level). Most of the medicinal plants like Rauvolfia serpentina, Gentiana kurro, Alpinia galanga, Saussurea lappa have become endangered and threatened. Overexploitation along with lack of initiatives from government bodies, absence of proper management systems and loss of traditional knowledge are some of the factors responsible for rapid biodiversity loss. Indigenous people and biodiversity complement each other and the former has played an important role in conservation of biodiversity since time immemorial. The rural communities over the period of time have gathered a pool of indigenous knowledge/know-how for cultivation of the medicinal plants and their propagation. In the meantime, the importance of local knowledge systems in conservation and preservation of the germplasm of medicinal plants have also attained global significance. In India, various programmes on medicinal plants and their conservation based on traditional knowledge are being carried out by the local people, Non Government Organizations (NGOs), Community Based Organizations (CBOs) at various grass root levels such as the districts and villages. Though an unorganized sector, the local people are playing their role in the propagation as well as conservation of the medicinal plants through the application of the concepts of herbal gardens and local “mandis” (markets). There is a need to strengthen these linkages and build upon the indigenous knowledge base of the local people through proper documentation and building of a strong database. This paper deliberates upon the importance (therapeutic, ecological and economic) of medicinal plants and threats to their biodiversity. The communication also describes the details of some of the local efforts, which are being carried out at local levels in India for conservation of medicinal plants through the use of indigenous knowledge of traditional medicines. The paper also highlights the need to integrate indigenous knowledge into national policies and strengthen the participation of the indigenous communities in order to harness maximum potential of medicinal plant biodiversity along with sustainable management of these resources.


Aromatic plants Biodiversity Medical plants 


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Energy Resource InstituteNew DelhiIndia
  2. 2.Environmental ConsultantNew DelhiIndia

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