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India's Foundation for the Revitalization of Local Health Traditions
India’s Foundation for the Revitalization of Local Health Traditions

Ancient temple located in the Medicinal Plant Conservation Area at Savandurga, Karnataka. Photo ©2004 Sarah Khan.

India’s Foundation for the Revitalization of Local Health Traditions Pioneering In Situ Conservation Strategies for Medicinal Plants and Local Cultures

by Sarah K. Khan, N. Mohan Karnat, and Darshan Shankar

As medicinal plant use has become more popular worldwide, concern about plant conservation and sustainability has increased. According to the Medicinal Plant Specialist Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), more than 20,000 plant species are used medicinally worldwide. Nearly half of these species are potentially threatened by either over-harvest or loss of habitat.1

Biological diversity includes a wide spectrum of types and levels of biological variation. This spectrum ranges from genetic variability within a species, to the plant life of some selected region in the world, to the number of evolutionary lineages and the distinctness among them, to the diversity of ecosystems and biomes on the earth.2 Southwest American native culture and botanical expert Gary P. Nabhan argues that most biodiversity on Earth today occurs in areas where cultural diversity also persists.3 This principle is also recognized in the Declaration of Belem produced at the International Congress of Ethnobiology in Belem, Brazil, in 1988.4 Nabhan states that 60% of the world’s remaining 6,500 languages are spoken in 9 countries. Of the 9 countries, 6 of them are centers of mega-diversity for flora and fauna: Mexico, Brazil, Indonesia, India, Zaire, and Australia. In short, where many cultures have coexisted within the same region, biodiversity has also survived.3

India is among the most important countries regarding ancient healing traditions. Its rich array of medicinal plants is used both in commerce and by local populations. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of these medicinal plants are cultivated. The rest are often destructively collected from the wild with little attention to conservation. This short-term plant collection strategy poses a serious threat to the viability of already threatened Indian medicinal plant species. One leading scientist in the field of medicinal plant conservation, Peter Raven, PhD, Director of the Missouri Botanical Garden, concludes that in situ (natural habitat) conservation of medicinal plants is the conservation method of choice.5

India has responded with a solution that may serve as a model for other countries. The Foundation for the Revitalization of Local Health Traditions (FRLHT), founded and directed by the third author of this paper (Darshan Shankar), is engaged in the field of in situ conservation of India’s medicinal plants with a multi-faceted, innovative approach. Against the backdrop of increasing world attention on the need for sustainability of medicinal plants, the authors present the story of FRLHT’s pioneering in situ conservation project to promote the future of India’s rich biodiversity.

Rishi grinding/preparing herbs at the Medicinal Plant Conservation Area entrance. Photo ©2004 Sarah Khan.

Chiang Mai and Bangalore Declarations

In March 1988 in Chiang Mai, Thailand, the World Health Organization (WHO), the IUCN, World Conservation Union (WCU), and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) convened the First International Consultation on the Conservation of Medicinal Plants. They produced a set of conservation guidelines and a consensus statement—“Saving Lives by Saving Plants” —known as the Chiang Mai Declaration.6

Ten years later in February 1998, a larger coalition of agencies organized the Second International Consultation on Medicinal Plants in Bangalore, India. This group produced the Bangalore Declaration (participants listed in Table 1 on page 42).7 In the Bangalore Declaration, the coalition affirmed the use of medicinal plants in primary healthcare since 80% of the population in developing countries depends on plant medicines.8 The coalition also expressed concern about the following challenges to sustaining biodiversity:

(1) Loss of plant biodiversity and its consequences,

(2) Threat of habitat destruction and non-sustainable harvest practices to medicinal plant conservation,

(3) Loss of potential new drugs,

(4) Loss of indigenous cultures, and

(5) Urgent need for international cooperation in this field.

Furthermore, the coalition identified priorities for the conservation and sustainable utilization of medicinal plants. These priorities included the following guidelines:

(1) Increase ethnobotanical studies that identify and inventory medicinal plants and their traditional uses;

(2) Promote the sustainable utilization of medicinal plants through cultivation, regulated harvest from the wild, and verification of sustainable harvesting methods;

(3) Increase both in situ (natural habitat) and ex situ (artificial habitat) conservation of medicinal plants; and

(4) Increase public support for conservation of medicinal plants through communication, education, and cooperation.9

Table 1. Participants in the Second International Consultation on Medicinal Plants in Bangalore, India (1998)
ATREEAshoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, India
BCN Biodiversity Conservation Network, Philippines
BGCI Botanical Gardens Conservation International, UK
FAOFood and Agricultural Organization, Rome, Italy
FRLHT Foundation for the Revitalization of Local Health Traditions, India
GIFTS Global Initiative for Traditional Systems of Health, Oxford, UK
ICIMOD International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, Nepal
IDRC International Development Research Centre, UK
IISc Indian Institute of Science, India
IUCN International Union for the Conservation of Nature
MPSG Medicinal Plants Specialist Group
MSSRF MS Swaminathan Research Foundation, India
RHRCRichard and Hinda Rosenthal Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Columbia University, NY, USA
WWFWorld Wide Fund, UK

Left: FRLHT entrance, Bangalore, Karnataka. Right: FRLHT dried plant specimens ready for testing. Photos ©2004 Sarah Khan.

An Unconventional Indian Educational Institution

Located in the south Indian city of Bangalore in the state of Karnataka, FRLHT promotes the conservation of Indian medicinal plant diversity in collaboration with state forest departments (SFDs), environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs), research institutions, and local communities. As an unconventional educational institution, FRLHT engages in many activities to promote diversity of plants and cultures, but its main pioneering effort is the establishment of the world’s first in situ gene bank network of 55 conservation sites. The focus of these in situ sites is the conservation of wild medicinal plant germplasm (seed) resources.

FRLHT has a multi-disciplinary staff drawn from forestry, botany, agriculture, ecology, chemistry, traditional medicine, management, media, and computer science. The mission of FRLHT is 3-fold: (1) conserving and sustaining the utilization of medicinal plants, which includes promoting medicinal plant enterprises for income generation and employment in rural communities; (2) strengthening local health traditions in rural and urban communities; and (3) promoting research on medical, sociological, and epistemological aspects of the Indian medical heritage.

Left: FRLHT grounds. Right: FRLHT plant specimens in storage. Photos ©2004 Sarah Khan.

FRLHT has also participated in a form of research called “action research.” By implementing projects of scale and size that have a social impact, FRLHT members gain first-hand experience in the field. The foundation focuses on in situ and ex situ medicinal plant conservation. In the ex situ program, FRLHT demonstrates at a taluka (district) level how local institutions create community conservation educational centers that serve as a repository for the region’s medicinal plant resources and local health knowledge. For the first time in India, FRLHT has assessed the status of threatened medicinal plants based on the IUCN’s criteria for categorizing the “red-listed” plants. (See Table 2 on page 43 for IUCN red list categories and definitions; see Table 3 on page 45 for red-listed medicinal plants). These threat assessments have assigned global red-list status for species endemic to the region. With respect to non-endemic species, the assessments reflect local concerns about the depletion of their wild populations and do not necessarily reflect the risk of extinction for individual plant taxa. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species is a comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status for plant and animal species. Using a set of strong scientific criteria to evaluate the extinction risk of thousands of species and subspecies, the IUCN Red List is recognized as the most authoritative guide to the status of biological diversity at the species level and below. The taxa assessed for the IUCN Red List represent the genetic diversity and ecosystem building blocks. The overall aim of the IUCN Red List is to convey the urgency and scale of conservation problems to the public and policymakers, and to motivate the global community to help reduce species extinctions.10

Table 2: Definitions of the Red List Categories according to IUCN

Extinct (EX) A taxon is Extinct when there is no reasonable doubt that the last individual has died. A taxon is presumed Extinct when exhaustive surveys in known and/or expected habitat, at appropriate times (diurnal, seasonal, annual), throughout its historic range have failed to record an individual. Surveys should be over a time frame appropriate to the taxon’s life cycle and life form.

Extinct in the Wild (EW) A taxon is Extinct in the Wild when it is known only to survive in cultivation, in captivity, or as a naturalized population (or populations) well outside the past range. A taxon is presumed Extinct in the Wild when exhaustive surveys in known and/or expected habitat, at appropriate times (diurnal, seasonal, annual), throughout its historic range have failed to record an individual. Surveys should be over a time frame appropriate to the taxon’s life cycle and life form.

Critically Endangered (CR) A taxon is Critically Endangered when the best available evidence indicates that it meets any of criteria A to E for Critically Endangered (see the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria booklet for details at It is therefore considered to be facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild.

Endangered (EN) A taxon is Endangered when the best available evidence indicates that it meets any of criteria A to E for Endangered (see the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria booklet for details.) It is therefore considered to be facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild.

Vulnerable (VU) A taxon is Vulnerable when the best available evidence indicates that it meets any of the criteria A to E for Vulnerable (see the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria booklet for details.) It is therefore considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the wild.

Near Threatened (NT) A taxon is Near Threatened when it has been evaluated against the criteria but does not currently qualify for Critically Endangered, Endangered, or Vulnerable, but is close to qualifying or is likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future.

Least Concern (LC) A taxon is Least Concern when it has been evaluated against the criteria and does not qualify for Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable, or Near Threatened. Widespread and abundant taxa are included in this category.

Data Deficient (DD) A taxon is Data Deficient when there is inadequate information to make a direct or indirect assessment of its risk of extinction based on its distribution and/or population status. A taxon in this category may be well studied and its biology well known, but appropriate data on abundance and/or distribution are lacking. Data Deficient is therefore not a category of threat. Listing of taxa in this category indicates that more information is required and acknowledges the possibility that future research will show that threatened classification is appropriate. It is important to make positive use of whatever data are available. In many cases great care should be exercised in choosing between DD and a threatened status. If the range of a taxon is suspected to be relatively circumscribed, and a considerable period of time has elapsed since the last record of the taxon, threatened status may well be justified.

Not Evaluated (NE) A taxon is Not Evaluated when it is has not yet been evaluated against the criteria.

Source: 2004 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Available at: Accessed June 17, 2005.

FRLHT has created computerized databases on the botany, distribution, agriculture, trade aspects, and indigenous knowledge of Indian medicinal plants. (For more details, see the sidebar on page 38 “FRLHT Efforts go Beyond Conservation.” The botanical and vernacular nomenclature, distribution, and threat status are available on the FRLHT Web site at

Table 3. Threatened Medicinal Plants in Southern India* Part A: Endemic Medicinal Plants
Latin Binomial, Authority & Family Global Status
Adhatoda beddomei C. B. Clarke (Acanthaceae) CR
Aerva wightii Hook.f. (Acanthaceae) EX
Amorphophallus commutatus (Schott) Engl.(Araceae) VU
Ampelocissus araneosa (Dalz. & Gibson) Planch.(Vitaceae) VU
Artocarpus hirsutus Lam. (Moraceae) VU
Asparagus rottleri Baker (Lilliaceae) EX
Calophyllum apetalum Willd. (Guttiferae) VU
Cayratia pedata (Lam.) Juss. var. glabra Gamble (Vitaceae) EN
Cinnamomum macrocarpum Hook.f (Lauraceae). VU
Cinnamomum sulphuratum Nees (Lauraceae) VU
Cinnamomum wightii Meisn. (Lauraceae) EN
Curcuma pseudomontana Grah. (Zingiberaceae) VU
Decalepis hamiltonii Wight & Arn. (Asclepiadaceae) EN
Diospyros candolleana Wight (Ebenaceae) VU
Diospyros paniculata Dalz. (Ebenaceae) VU
Dipterocarpus indicus Bedd. (Dipterocarpaceae) EN
Dysoxylum malabaricum Bedd. ex Hiern (Meliaceae) EN
Eulophia cullenii (Wight) Blume (Orchidaceae) CR
Eulophia ramentacea Wight (Orchidaceae) DD
Garcinia gummi-gutta (L.) Robson (Clusiaceae) LRnt
Garcinia indica (Thouars) Choisy (Clusiaceae) VU
Garcinia travancorica Bedd. (Clusiaceae) EN
Gardenia gummifera L.f. (Rubiaceae) VU
Glycosmis macrocarpa Wight (Rutaceae) VU
Gymnema khandalense Santapau (Asclepiadaceae) EN
Gymnema montanum (Roxb.) Hook.f. (Asclepiadaceae) EN
Heliotropium keralense Sivar. & Manilal (Boraginaceae) CR
Heracleum candolleanum (Wight & Arn.) Gamble (Apiaceae) VU
Humboldtia vahliana Wight (Orchidadeae) EN
Hydnocarpus alpina Wight (Flacourtiaceae) VU
Hydnocarpus macrocarpa (Bedd.) Warb. (Flacourtiaceae) EN
Hydnocarpus pentandra (Buch.-Ham.) Oken (Flacourtiaceae) VU
Janakia arayalpathra J. Joseph & V. Chandras. (Periplocaceae) CR
Kingiodendron pinnatum (Roxb. ex DC.) Harms (Fabaceae) VU
Knema attenuata (Hook.f. & Thoms.) Warb. (Myristicaceae) LRnt
Lamprachaenium microcephalum Benth. (Asteraceae) DD
Madhuca diplostemon (C.B.Clarke) Royen (Sapotaceae) DD
Madhuca insignis (Radlk.) H.J.Lam (Sapotaceae) EX
Michelia nilagirica Zenk. (Magnoliaceae) VU
Myristica malabarica Lam. (Myristaceae) VU
Nilgirianthus ciliatus (Nees) Bremek. (Acanthaceae) EN
Ochreinauclea missionis (Wall. ex G. Don) Ridsdale (Rubiaceae) VU
Paphiopedilum druryi (Bedd.) Pfitz. (Orchidaceae) CR
Piper barberi Gamble (Piperaceae) CR
Plectranthus nilgherricus Benth. (Lamiaceae) EN
Pterocarpus santalinus L.f. (Fabaceae) EN
Semecarpus travancorica Bedd. (Anacardiaceae) EN
Shorea tumbuggaia Roxb. (Dipterocarpaceae) CR
Strychnos aenea A. W. Hill (Strychnaceae) EN
Swertia corymbosa (Griseb.) Wight ex C.B.Clarke (Gentianaceae) VU
Swertia lawii (C.B.Clarke) Burkill (Gentianaceae) EN
Syzygium travancoricum Gamble (Myrtaceae) CR
Tragia bicolor Miq. (Euphorbiaceae) VU
Trichopus zeylanicus Gaertn.subsp. travancoricus (Bedd.) Burkill (Trichopodaceae) EN
Utleria salicifolia Bedd.(Periplocaceae) CR
Valeriana leschenaultii DC. (Valerianaceae) CR
Vateria indica L (Dipterocarpaceae) VU
Vateria macrocarpa B. L. Gupta (Dipterocarpaceae) CR

* Plants are categorized according to the IUCN Red List criteria.

Also see Table E1 Threatened Medicinal Plants in North India and Table E2 Threatened High-Altitude Medicinal Plants of the North-West Himalayas below.

Key: EX = Extinct; EW = Extinct in the wild; CR = Critically endangered; EN = Endangered; VU = Vulnerable; LRNT = Lower risk, Near threatened; LRLC = Lower risk, least concern; DD = Data deficient; NE = Not evaluated

Source: Data compiled based on 4 Conservation Assessment and Management Plan (CAMP) Workshops.


Table 3. Threatened Medicinal Plants in Southern India Part B: Non-Endemic Medicinal Plants
Botanical Name
Regional Status
KarnatakaKeralaTamil Nadu
Acorus calamus L. (Acoraceae) DDENVU
Adenia hondala (Gaertn.) Wilde (Passifloraceae) VUVUEN
Aegle marmelos (L.) Corr. (Rutaceae)VUNEVU
Amorphophallus paeoniifolius (Dennst.) Nicolson (Araceae) DDLRntVU
Ampelocissus indica (L.) Planch. (Vitaceae)ENENEN
Aphanamixis polystachya (Wall.) Parker (Meliaceae)VUVUDD
Aristolochia tagala Cham (Aristolochiaceae) VULRlcDD
Baliospermum montanum (Willd.) Mull.Arg.(Euphorbiaceae) VUVUDD
Canarium strictum Roxb. (Burseraceae) VUVUVU
Celastrus paniculatus Willd. (Celastraceae) LRntVULRnt
Chonemorpha fragrans (Moon) Alston (Apocynaceae) ENVUDD
Commiphora wightii (Arn.) Bhandari (Buseraceae)NENENE
Coscinium fenestratum (Gaertn.) Coleb. (Minispermaceae) CRCRCR
Cycas circinalis L. (Cycadaceae) CRVUCR
Drosera indica L. (Droseraceae) ENLRlcLRlc
Drosera peltata J.E.Sm. ex Willd. (Droseraceae)ENVUEN
Embelia ribes Burm.f. (Myrsinaceae) VULRntVU
Embelia tsjeriam-cottam (Roem. & Schult.) DC. (Myrsinaceae) VUVUVU
Garcinia morella (Gaertn.) Desr. (Clusiaceae) VULRntVU
Gloriosa superba L. (Colchicaceae) VUVULRlc
Hedychium coronarium Koenig (Zingiberaceae) LRntLRntLRlc
Helminthostachys zeylanica (L.) Hook. (Ophioglossaceae) DDVUCR
Holostemma ada-kodien Schultes (asclepiadaceae) VUENLRnt
Kaempferia galanga L. (Zingiberaceae)NENENE
Madhuca longifolia (Koen.) Macbr. (Sapotaceae) VUNELRlc
Madhuca neriifolia (Moon) H.J.Lam (Sapotaceae) VULRlcLRlc
Michelia champaca L. (Magnoliaceae) ENLRntVU
Moringa concanensis Nimmo ex Dalz. & Gibson (Moringaceae) NENELRlc
Myristica dactyloides Gaertner (Myristicaceae) VUVULRlc
Nervilia aragoana Gaud. (Orchidaceae) LRntVUEN
Nothapodytes nimmoniana (Graham) Mabber. (Icacinaceae) ENVUVU
Operculina turpethum (L.) Silva Manso (Convolvulaceae) VUENLRnt
Oroxylum indicum (L.) Benth. ex Kurz (Bignoniaceae VUENDD
Persea macrantha (Nees) Kosterm. (Lauraceae) ENVUEN
Piper longum L. (Piperaceae) NELRntEN
Piper mullesua Buch.-Ham. ex D.Don (Piperaceae) CRLRntVU
Piper nigrum L. (Piperaceae) LRntLRlcLRnt
Plectranthus vettiveroides (Jacob) Singh & Sharma (Lamiaceae) NENECR
Pseudarthria viscida (L.) Wight & Arn. (Fabaceae) VUVULRnt
Pueraria tuberosa (Roxb. ex Willd.) DC. (Fabaceae) CRNEVU
Rauvolfia serpentina (L.) Benth. ex Kurz (Apocynaceae)ENENEN
Rhaphidophora pertusa (Roxb.) Schott (Araceae) VULRlcLRnt
Salacia oblonga Wall. ex Wight & Arn. (Celastraceae) CRENLRnt
Salacia reticulata Wight (Celastraceae) CRDDNE
Santalum album L. (Santalaceae) VUENEN
Saraca asoca (Roxb.) Wilde (Caesalpiniaceae) ENDDDD
Schrebera swietenioides Roxb. (Oleaceae) DDVUNEDD
Smilax zeylanica L. (Smilacaceae) LRntVULRlc
Symplocos cochinchinensis (Lour.) Moore ssp. laurina (Retz.) Nooteb (Symplocaceae) LRntLRlcLRlc
Symplocos racemosa Roxb. (Symplocaceae) VUDDLRnt
Terminalia arjuna (Roxb. ex DC.) Wight & Arn. (Combretaceae) LRntLRntLRlc
Tinospora sinensis (Lour.) Merr. (Menispermaceae) VULRntNE

Key: EX = Extinct; EW = Extinct in the wild; CR = Critically endangered; EN = Endangered; VU = Vulnerable; LRNT = Lower risk, Near threatened; LRLC = Lower risk, least concern; DD = Data deficient; NE = Not evaluated

Source: Data compiled based on 4 Conservation Assessment and Management Plan (CAMP) Workshops.


Table E1. Threatened Medicinal Plants in North India*
Latin Binomial, Authority & Family North India Region
Aconitum balfourii Stapf (Ranunculaceae) Northwest
Aconitum deinorrhizum Stapf (Ranunculaceae) Northwest
Aconitum falconeri Stapf (Ranunculaceae) Northwest
Aconitum ferox Wall. (Ranunculaceae) Northwest
Aconitum heterophyllum Wall. (Ranunculaceae) Northwest
Aconitum violaceum Jacquem. ex Stapf (Ranunculaceae) Northwest
Acorus calamus L. (Acoraceae) Northeast
Angelica glauca Edgew. (Apiaceae) Northwest
Aquilaria malaccensis Benth. (Thymelaeaceae) Northeast
Arnebia benthami (Wall. ex G.Don) Johnst. (Boraginaceae) Northwest
Atropa acuminata Royle. (Solanaceae) Northwest
Berberis kashmirana Ahrendt. (Berberidaceae) Northwest
Craterostigma plantagineum Hochst. (Scrophulariaceae) Central
Curcuma caesia Roxb. (Zingiberaceae) Central
Dactylorhiza hatagirea (D.Don) Soo (Orchidaceae) Northwest
Delphinium denudatum Wall. (Ranunculaceae) Northwest
Dioscorea deltoidea Wall. (Dioscoreaceae) Northwest
Fritillaria roylei Hook. (Liliaceae) Northwest
Gentiana kurroo Royle (Gentianaceae) Northwest
Inula racemosa Hook.f. (Asteraceae) Northwest
Ilex khasiana Purkay. (Aquifoliaceae) Northwest
Luvunga scandens Thwaites (Rutaceae) Northeast
Meconopsis aculeata Royle (Papaveraceae) Northeast
Nardostachys jatamansi DC. (Valerianaceae) Northwest
Nepenthes khasiana Hook.f. (Nepenthaceae) Northeast
Podophyllum hexandrum Royle (Berberidaceae) Northeast & Northwest
Przewalskia tangutica Maxim. (Solanaceae) Northeast
Saussurea costus (Falc.) Lipsch. (Asteraceae) Northwest
Taxus wallichiana Zucc. (Taxaceae) Northeast
Valeriana jatamansi Wall. (Valerianaceae) Northeast
Berberis aristata DC. (Berberidaceae) Northwest
Berberis lycium Royle (Berberidaceae) Northwest
Bunium persicum B.Fedtsch. (Apiaceae) Northwest
Gastrochilus longiflora Wall. (Zingiberaceae) Northeast
Gloriosa superba L. (Euphorbiaceae) Central
Heracleum candicans Wall. ex DC. (Apiaceae) Northwest
Hydnocarpus kurzii Warb. (Flacourtiaceae) Northeast
Hedychium coronarium Koen. (Scitamineae) Central
Lavatera kashmiriana Mast. (Malvaceae) Northwest
Panax pseudoginseng Wall. var. Notoginseng (Burkill) G. Hoo & C.J. Tseng (Araliaceae) Northeast
Picrorhiza kurroa Royle ex Benth. (Scrophulariaceae) Northeast & Northwest
Polygonatum verticillatum All. (Liliaceae) Northwest
Rauvolfia serpentina (L.) Kurz (Apocynaceae) Central
Rheum nobile Hook.f. & Thomson (Polygonaceae) Northeast
Saussurea gossypiphora Wall. (Asteraceae) Northwest
Saussurea obvallata Wall. (Asteraceae) Northwest
Saussurea simpsoniana (Field. & Gardn.) Lipsch. Asteraceae Northwest
Swertia angustifolia Buch.-Ham. ex D.Don (Gentianaceae) Central
Berberis chitria D.Don (Berberidaceae) Northwest
Bergenia ligulata (Wall.) Engl. (Saxifragaceae) Northwest
Clerodendrum colebrookianum Walp. (Verbenaceae) Northeast
Clerodendrum serratum (Linn.) Moon (Verbenaceae) Central
Coptis teeta Wall. (Ranunculaceae) Northeast
Curculigo orchioides Gaertn. (Hypoxidaceae) Central
Curcuma angustifolia Roxb. (Zingiberaceae) Central
Gymnema sylvestre (Retz.) Schult. (Asclepiadaceae) Central
Hedychium spicatum Lodd. (Zingiberaceae) Northwest
Ipomoea turpethum (L.) R.Br. (Convolvulaceae) Central
Paeonia emodi Royle (Paeoniaceae) Northwest
Rheum australe D.Don (Polygonaceae) Northwest
Rhododendron anthopogon D.Don (Ericaceae) Northeast
Rhus semialata Murr. (Anacardiaceae) Northeast
Thalictrum foliolosum DC. (Ranunculaceae) Northwest
Tylophora indica Merr. (Asclepiadaceae) Central
Urginea indica Kunth (Hyacinthaceae) Central
Low Risk, Near Threatened
Baliospermum montanum Mull.Arg. (Euphorbiaceae) Central
Celastrus paniculatus Willd. (Celastraceae) Central
Cinnamomum tamala T.Nees & Eberm. (Lauraceae) Northwest
Cordia rothii Roem. & Schult. (Boraginaceae) Central
Jurinea dolomiaea Boiss. (Asteraceae) Northwest
Low Risk, Least Concern
Evolvulus alsinodes Kuntze (Convolvulaceae) Central
* Plants are categorized according to the IUCN Red List Criteria as part of the Biodiversity Conservation Prioritization Project. Source: Data assessed by a Conservation Assessment and Management Plan (CAMP) Workshop Process WWF, India, ZOO/CBSG, India, U.P. Forest Department January 21-25, 1997, Kukrail Park, Lucknow, India.


Table E2. Threatened High-Altitude Medicinal Plants Of The North-West Himalayas*
Jammu & Kashmir Regions
Critically Endangered
Aconitum chasmanthum Stapf ex Holmes (Ranunculaceae)
Arnebia benthami (Wall. ex G.Don) I.M.Johnst. (Boraginaceae)
Dactylorhiza hatagirea (D.Don) Soo (Orchidaceae)
Fritillaria roylei Hook. (Liliaceae)
Gentiana kurroo Royle (Gentianaceae)
Saussurea costus (Falc.) Lipsch Compositae
Aconitum deinorrhizum Stapf (Ranunculaceae)
Aconitum heterophyllum Wall. ex Royle (Ranunculaceae)
Angelica glauca Edgew. (Apiaceae )
Arnebia euchroma (Royle) I.M.Johnst. (Boraginaceae)
Artemisia maritima L. (Asteraceae)
Betula utilis D.Don (Betulaceae)
Ephedra gerardiana Wall. (Ephedraceae)
Jurinea dolomiaea Boiss. (Asteraceae)
Meconopsis aculeata Royle (Papaveraceae)
Picrorhiza kurrooa Royle ex Benth. (Scrophulariaceae)
Podophyllum hexandrum Royle (Berberidaceae)
Aconitum violaceum Jacq. ex Stapf (Ranunculaceae)
Allium stracheyi Baker (Alliaceae)
Bergenia stracheyi (Hook.f. & Thoms.) Engl. (Saxifragaceae)
Ferula jaeschkeana Vatke (Apiaceae)
Heracleum lanatum Michx. (Apiaceae)
Malaxis muscifera (Lindley) Kuntze (Orchidaceae)
Physochlaina praealta (Walp.) Miers (Solanaceae)
Polygonatum multiflorum (L.) All. (Liliaceae)
Polygonatum verticillatum (L.) All. (Liliaceae)
Rheum australe D. Don (Polygonaceae)
Rheum moorcroftianum Royle (Polygonaceae)
Rheum spiciforme Royle (Polygonaceae)
Rheum webbiana Royle (Polygonaceae)
Rhododendron lepidotum Wall. ex D. Don (Ericaceae)
Saussurea gossypiphora D.Don (Asteraceae)
Saussurea obvallata (DC.) Edgew. Asteraceae
Lower Risk -- Near Threatened
Hippophae rhamnoides L. (Elaeagnaceae)
Hyoscyamus niger L. (Solanaceae)
Lower Risk -- Least Concern
Selinum tenuifolium Wall. ex DC. Apiaceae
Selinum vaginatum (Edgew.) C.B. Clarke Apiaceae
Data Deficient
Ferula narthex Boiss. (Apiaceae)
Not Evaluated
Inula racemosa Hook.f. (Asteraceae)
Nardostachys grandiflora DC. (Valerianaceae)
Himachal Pradesh Region
Critically Endangered
Arnebia benthami (Wall. ex G.Don) Johnst. (Boraginaceae)
Dactylorhiza hatagirea (D.Don) Soo (Orchidaceae)
Aconitum deinorrhizum Stapf (Ranunculaceae)
Aconitum heterophyllum Wall. ex Royle (Ranunculaceae)
Angelica glauca Edgew. (Umbelliferae)
Arnebia euchroma I.M.Johnst. (Boraginaceae )
Betula utilis D.Don (Betulaceae)
Fritillaria roylei Hook (Liliaceae)
Gentiana kurroo Royle (Gentianaceae)
Nardostachys grandiflora DC. (Valerianaceae)
Picrorhiza kurrooa Benth. (Scrophulariaceae)
Podophyllum hexandrum Royle (Berberidaceae)
Saussurea gossypiphora D.Don (Compositae)
Aconitum violaceum Jacq. ex Stapf (Ranunculaceae)
Allium stracheyi Baker (Alliaceae)
Artemisia maritima L. (Asteraceae)
Bergenia stracheyi (Hook.f. & Thoms.) Engl. (Saxifragaceae)
Ephedra gerardiana Wall. ex Stapf (Ephedraceae)
Ferula jaeschkeana Vatke (Apiaceae)
Heracleum lanatum Michx. (Apiaceae)
Malaxis muscifera (Lindley) Kuntze (Orchidaceae)
Meconopsis aculeata Royle (Papaveraceae)
Physochlaena praealta (Walp.) Miers (Solanaceae)
Polygonatum multiflorum (L.) All. (Liliaceae)
Polygonatum verticillatum (L.) All. (Liliaceae)
Rheum australe D. Don (Polygonaceae)
Rheum moorcroftianum Royle (Polygonaceae)
Rheum spiciforme Royle (Polygonaceae)
Rheum webbianum Royle (Polygonaceae)
Rhododendron anthopogon D.Don (Ericaceae)
Rhododendron campanulatum D.Don (Ericaceae)
Rhododendron lepidotum Wall. ex D. Don (Ericaceae)
Saussurea obvallata (DC.) Edgew. (Asteraceae)
Lower Risk-near Threatened
Hippophae rhamnoides L. (Elaeagnaceae)
Hyoscyamus niger L. (Solanaceae)
Lower Risk-least Concern
Selinum tenuifolium Wall. ex DC. (Apiaceae)
Selinum vaginatum (Edgew.) C.B. Clarke (Apiaceae)
Data Deficient
Aconitum chasmanthum Stapf ex Holmes (Ranunculaceae)
Not Evaluated
Ferula narthex Boiss. (Apiaceae)
Inula racemosa Hook.f. (Asteraceae)
Saussurea costus (Falc.)Lipsch (Asteraceae)
* Plants are categorized according to the IUCN Red List Criteria as part of the Biodiversity Conservation Prioritization Project.

Rishi documenting traditional healing system practices at FRLHT grounds. Photo ©2004 Sarah Khan.

India’s Medical Heritage: A Story of Promise and Erosion

Based on ancient practices, contemporary Indian healing traditions are accessible to most households because they rely upon locally available plant material and are deeply rooted in local and traditional culture. The indigenous Indian medical heritage comprises 2 streams of knowledge. One stream is based on written traditions (codified) such as Ayurveda, Siddha, Swa-rigpa (Tibetan), and Unani medical systems (see Table 4 on page 47). The second stream is based on oral traditions (non-codified) passed down from generation to generation within a family or tribal community. Both of these streams are found throughout India and together constitute the Indian health traditions. Although in recent times these rich medical traditions have eroded and become marginalized because of internal and external social, economic, and political factors, this does not mean the traditions are medically inefficient or ineffectual.

Table 4. Medicinal Plants Utilized in India’s Medical Systems
System Estimated number of plant species utilized Tradition
Ayurveda 1769Codified
Unani (Greco-Arabic)751Codified
Source: Research, Database, and Survey Department, FRLHT. The Key Role of Forestry Sector in Conserving India’s Medicinal Plants: Conceptual and Operational Features. Bangalore, India: FRLHT; 1999:1.

FRLHT laboratory plant specimens. Photo ©2004 Sarah Khan.

The Codified Systems


The foundations of contemporary Ayurveda (the science of life) are based on the classical Sanskrit texts of Charaka and Susruta Samhitas from around the first centuries CE. These and later texts contain detailed information on all aspects of health and disease. The basic theories of Ayurvedic medicine are related to the Hindu Sankhya philosophical system. The Ayurvedic codified stream of medical knowledge covers 8 broad areas: Kaaya chikitsa (general medicine), Bala chikitsa (pediatrics), Gruha chikitsa (psychiatry), Oordhwanga chikitsa (ear, nose, throat, and eye), Salya chikitsa (surgery), Damshtra chikitsa (toxicology), Jara chikitsa (rejuvenation), and Vajeekarana chikitsa (virilification).

According to Ayurveda, all matter is a combination of the 5 elements. Like the universe, all matter consists of earth (prithvi), water (jala), fire (agni), air (vayu), and space (akasha) in different proportions. Combinations of the 5 elements condense into the 3 doshas (Tridosha): vata (air and space), pitta (fire and water), and kapha (water and earth). A dosha is any fault or error, any transgression against the rhythm of life that promotes imbalance. The 3 doshas regulate different functions in the body. For example, vata represents all motion in the body and mind; pitta represents any type of transformation; and kapha represents stability. Life is inconceivable without these 3 activities and any imbalance may result in disease.

FRLHT laboratory with dried specimens. Photo ©2004 Sarah Khan.


Dravidian culture is the source of Siddha medical arts (originally, a siddhar was a devotee of the god Shiva; a siddhi is one who has achieved extraordinary power). Much of the early medical classics such as Agathiya Vaidhya Rathina Churukkam and Agashtiya Vaidya Kaviyam have been attributed to sage Agasthiya, the patron saint of the southern area of Tamil. Agasthiya is said to have communed with the Gods and to have been gifted with profound knowledge. He is said to have set down the rules of the Tamil language and of Siddha medicine. According to tradition between the 10th and 12th centuries CE, 18 additional Siddhas contributed to the growth of Siddha medicine. Sharma states that the basic concepts of Siddha medicine and Ayurveda are similar; however, differences arise due to local and aboriginal traditions that are based on Dravidian culture.11


In the seventh century, King Songtsen Gampo facilitated the flowering of Tibetan medicine. Eager to develop relations with neighboring countries, the monarch invited physicians from India, China, and Iran to the Tibetan court. Translations of these different medical traditions into the new Tibetan language occurred at this time and continued under the patronage of later kings. Later, physicians from Kashmir, Nepal, and Turkic regions of Central Asia also contributed to the evolving Tibetan healing arts.12 Modern day Tibetan medicine is therefore an amalgam of Asian and Near Eastern medical traditions in addition to Tibetan aboriginal traditions.13


Unani medicine originated in Greece. The Unani theoretical framework is based on the teachings of Hippocrates (460-377 BCE). The Greco-Roman physician Galen (131-210 CE) also greatly developed Greek medical philosophy and practice. Later noted Arab physicians Rhazes (850-925 CE) and Avicenna (aka Ibn Sina 980-1037 CE) further developed Unani medicine. Like Tibetan medicine, Unani was influenced by contemporary systems of traditional medicine in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Persia, India, China, and other Near, Middle, and Far East countries.

In the South Asian subcontinent, Arabs introduced the Unani system. When Mongols invaded Persia and Central Asia in the early 13th century,14 Unani scholars and physicians found refuge in South Asia because India had good relations with Persia where economic and political conditions proved more favorable.15 The Delhi Sultan, the Khiljis, the Tughlaqs, and the Mughal (aka Moguls, a word derived from Mongol who invaded India after settling in Persia) Emperors provided state patronage to the scholars and even enrolled some as state employees and court physicians. From the 13th to 17th centuries Unani medicine flourished. Practitioners and scholars who have made valuable contributions to Unani are Abu Bakr Bin Ali Usman Ksahani, Sadruddin Damashqui, Bahwa bin Khwas Khan, Ali Geelani, Akbal Arzani, and Mohammad Hashim Alvi Khan.

Traditionally, transmission of classical knowledge was mainly non-institutional from physician to chosen student. Colleges for traditional medicine were not established until the end of the British colonial period (circa late 1940s). Today, however, there are over 300 poorly-funded traditional medical colleges imparting education in various systems of medicine through a five-and-a-half year program similar in structure to Western biomedicine programs. At present only a graduate of a recognized medical school is legally entitled to practice traditional (i.e., Ayurveda, Unani, Siddha) medicine.

Non-Codified Systems

On the other hand, the transmission of non-codified healing traditions occurs mainly through family or community traditions. This exchange is a people-to-people process, from guru (teacher) to shishya (student), guided by local, cultural, and ethical codes. Today, people in villages, towns, and cities across the country depend upon local Indian traditional medical systems. It is estimated that there are more than 600,000 licensed practitioners of contemporary Indian systems of medicine throughout India.16 In rural communities alone, there are an estimated one million traditional village-based practitioners of indigenous medicine. This includes traditional birth attendants, bonesetters, herbal healers, and wandering monks. In addition to these specialized folk carriers, there are millions of women and elders who possess traditional knowledge of herbal home remedies and nutrition. The culture also supports specialized carriers with no legal status but who possess a definite social legitimacy in their own localities. Other specialized healers whose resources are greatly under-researched are those of the indigenous veterinarians who treat a wide range of animal ailments using local resources.

There are numerous examples of these traditional healers. Every village in India has a few traditional birth attendants (TBA). The TBA is able to deliver a stillborn fetus, a breach fetus, a fetus in the lateral position, and a fetus with the umbilical chord around the neck.16 Another type of practitioner is the bare-foot orthopedic healer or bonesetter. Every cluster of 20 to 25 villages has a bonesetter. Bonesetters treat sprains, simple fractures, and in some areas treat compound fractures with open wounds. In rural India it is estimated that traditional bonesetters treat 50% of broken bones. For the treatment of snakebites, the traditional visha (poison) healers are able to distinguish a poisonous snakebite from a non-poisonous one and between the bite of a krait, pit-scaled viper, Russell’s viper, or cobra. For all of these types of bites, the visha healers are able to provide treatments. In some regions, visha healers are known to treat the bite of rabid dogs to prevent rabies. The treatments vary from region to region, however, and no systematic evaluation about efficacy has been conducted.

Throughout India, surveys of contemporary specialized folk practitioners indicate a rapid decline in the practice and transmission of oral healing traditions to the younger generations. Across all categories of healers, the average age group of the practitioner is above age 45.17 To offset this decline, FRLHT works to organize the many specialized contemporary local healers in India. According to FRLHT, it is essential to utilize these healers and their knowledge for several reasons. First, the local healers are inexpensive or free compared to the cost of modern conventional treatments. Second, the specialized healers live in the communities they serve and are part of the local culture. Third, they utilize locally available resources. And finally, the local healers represent a large resourceful group already trained to various degrees to serve their individual communities. To permit their decline will further diminish Indian ethnomedical, cultural, and biological diversity.

Crisis of Resources—Medicinal Plants under Threat

Around 70% of India’s medicinal plants are found in the tropical areas, mostly in the various forest types spread across the Western and Eastern Ghats, Vindhyas, Chotta Nagpur plateau, Aravalis, the Terai region in the foothills of the Himalayas, and the northeast. Less than 30% of the medicinal plants are found in the temperate and alpine areas, although many important medicinal plant species come from alpine regions. A small number of medicinal plants are also found in aquatic habitats and mangroves.18

Today, there is an urgency to conserve India’s medicinal plants. An estimated 800 species are currently used in industry for large-scale production of herbal products. But less than 20 species are under commercial cultivation; that is, more than 95% of medicinal plants used by the Indian industry are collected from the wild. More than 70% of the collections involve destructive harvesting from the wild because of the removal of parts like roots, bark, wood, stem, and the whole plant.18 The level of impact and destruction from these practices depends on which methods are used in harvesting, the rate of regeneration of the different types of plants, and other variables. This poses a definite threat to the genetic stocks and to the diversity of medicinal plants.

Due to rapid degradation and loss of natural habitats and the over-harvesting of some species, much of the biological wealth that is intrinsically important to traditional systems of medicine has been destroyed or has become threatened. The latest global Red List of plants released by the IUCN presents an alarming picture: nearly 34,000 species, or 12.5% of the world’s flora, are facing extinction.19 Based on these figures, one can estimate that approximately 1,000 of India’s 8,000 medicinal plant species may also be threatened. A threat assessment survey conducted in northern and southern India, as per latest IUCN guidelines, has highlighted approximately 200 species of medicinal plants that are under various degrees of threat.20 (See Table 3 on page 45.)

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has listed 11 Indian medicinal plant species in its schedules21 (see Table 5 on page 47). In 1998 the government of India, under the Export and Import Policy, recommended restrictions on the export of approximately 29 plant species, plant products, and their derivatives from the wild, except when used in formulations. The 29 species include the CITES listed species and those based on Botanical Survey of India assessments.22 If urgent conservation action is not taken immediately, India stands in danger of irretrievably losing this priceless medicinal plant heritage.

Table 5. Endangered Medicinal Plants in India*
Botanical name & Authority FamilySanskrit name
Aquilaria malaccesis Lam. Thymelaeaceaeagaru, aguru
Cibotium barometz (L.) J. Smith CyatheaceaeNot available
Dendrobium nobile Lindl. OrchidaceaeNot available
Dioscorea deltoidea Wallex Kunth. DioscoreaceaeNot available
Nardostachys grandiflora DC.Valerianaceaejatamansi, jatamamsi
Picrorhiza kurrooa Benth. Scrophulariaceaekatuka, katuki
Podophyllum hexandrum Royle Berberidaceaelaghapattra, vakra
Pterocarpus santalinus L.f. Fabaceaeraktachandana, tilaparni
Rauvolfia serpentina (L.)Benth.ex Kurz.Apocynaceaesarpagandha, nakuli
Saussurea costus (Falc.) Lipsch. Asteraceaekustha, vapya
Taxus wallichiana Zucc. Taxaceaetalisapatra, barahmi
* Plants are categorized as endangered according to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITIES)

FRLHT’s Pioneering Program for In Situ Conservation

Since 1993, FRLHT has pioneered the in situ conservation of India’s medicinal plant diversity in conjunction with the state forest departments (SFDs) in the states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, as well as with local communities, non-governmental organizations (NGO), and research institutions. In situ gene banks, also called Medicinal Plant Conservation Areas (MPCAs), have been established at 55 sites. The need to involve local communities is based on 2 realistic assumptions. First, to ensure effective conservation action, support and cooperation from local communities is critical. Second, women and folk healers have traditionally been the custodians of medicinal plant knowledge and resources. Therefore, local communities must be involved in and benefit from any effort to promote conservation and sustainability.

These MPCAs represent the largest effort of its kind in the country and perhaps in the tropical world. This conservation program is the most cost-effective and comprehensive strategy for establishing field gene banks on the inter- and intra-specific diversity of wild medicinal plants.23

Key Features of In Situ Gene Banks: Medicinal Plant Conservation Areas

FRLHT promotes the establishment of in situ conservation strategies versus ex situ ones. An in situ environment, especially one that has had indigenous peoples living in a biodiversity hot spot for thousands of years, provides an environment where plant diversity at the genetic, species, and ecosystem level can be conserved on a long-term basis. Unless plant populations are conserved in situ (i.e., in their natural habitat), they run the risk of extinction. Medicinal plant populations have large and often disjunctive areas of distribution, but there are also endemic species confined to a few pockets. Conservation of these disparate and widely separated populations is possible only by establishing a network of representative medicinal plant conservation reserves with a broadly common management framework. This network ideally includes areas within and outside the existing protected area network. This network would serve as a chain of field gene banks for medical plants and as wild germplasm repositories.

In the Medicinal Plant Conservation Area (MPCA) model, a network of approximately 10 conservation sites is officially designated for each state of 200 to 300 hectares. (The number of sites per state may vary depending on the size of the state.) In Southern India, the sites are located in relatively undisturbed forests of varying vegetation types, lying in different altitude ranges, soil types, and rainfall patterns. This is an attempt to capture the wild populations of medicinal plant diversity of the state across the MPCA network. Forest areas with high biodiversity, sites traditionally valued for medicinal plant diversity, or sites with known red-listed medicinal plant species are identified for creating an MPCA. The MPCA boundaries may correspond to the natural boundary features of the selected site, and ideally an MPCA should be located in a discrete micro watershed. The MPCAs are categorized as no-harvest sites. Their protection and management involves the participation of the local communities. This involvement and support of local communities are essential to sustain the MPCA on a long-term basis. In order to meet the community requirements, the forest department is required to establish medicinal plant nurseries in the MPCA and to supply local households with (1) plant species of high economic value to grow and sell, and (2) medicinal plant seedlings for their primary health care needs.

At MPCA sites, detailed botanical studies are implemented that help forest departments learn what plants exist in the MPCA gene banks and understand the natural conditions of the plants’ habitats. Such studies across the MPCA network provide reliable information on the presence, distribution, and distribution patterns of medicinal plants across the various forest types in the state. The studies also correlate the occurrence of medicinal plants with various ecological parameters such as soil type, soil pH, rainfall pattern, and altitude range. These data on inter- and intra-specific variations are essential for the management of the MPCA gene banks. Coupled with studies on threat assessment and trade, these data also provide informed and focused conservation actions such as species recovery programs. In addition, the analysis of the botanical, ecological, and socio-economic studies on utilization and trade conducted across the MPCA provides guidelines for the Department on Management of Medicinal Plants regarding the state’s forests. Based on the medicinal plant conservation program in South India, the Government of India Planning Commission in 2000 recommended the following: (1) the establishment of in situ gene banks (MPCAs) throughout the Indian subcontinent, and (2) national and state level boards to manage the MPCAs and development activities.

The MPCAs have 4 major management areas: field research, community conservation education, nursery outreach program, and local community participation.

Field Research Activities

Forty-nine red-listed medicinal plants are found in the MPCA sites selected for research activities (see Table 6 on page 48). This includes both endemic and non-endemic species. Endemic species are assigned a global status and non-endemic species have been assessed at the state level. Botanical studies on the conservation of the red-listed plants are underway with the cooperation of 3 Indian research institutes: Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment (ATREE), Bangalore (Karnataka); Institute of Forest Genetics and Tree Breeding (IFGTB), Coimbatore (Tamil Nadu); and Tropical Botanical Gardens Research Institute (TGBRI), Thiruvananthapuram (Kerala). The major emphasis is on the species recovery program for the critically endangered and economically important medicinal plant species.

Table 6. Red–Listed Species within the Medicinal Plant Conservation Areas Note: The 49 red-listed species below are arranged alphabetically.
Latin Binomial, Authority, Family
Threat Category (State-wise)
KarnatakaKeralaTamil Nadu
Adenia hondala (Gaertn.) De Wilde (Passifloraceae)VUVUEN
Ampelocissus indica Planch. (Vitaceae) ENENEN
Aphanamixis polystachya (Wall.) R.N.Parker (Meliaceae) VUVUDD
Aristolochia tagala Cham. (Aristolochiaceae) VULCDD
Artocarpus hirsutus Lam. (Moraceae)VU  
Canarium strictum Roxb. (Burseraceae) VUVUVU
Celastrus paniculatus Willd. (Celastraceae) NTVUNT
Chonemorpha fragrans Alston (Apocynaceae) ENVUDD
Cinnamomum macrocarpum Hook.f. (Lauraceae) VU  
Cinnamomum sulphuratum Kurz (Lauraceae) VU  
Coscinium fenestratum Colebr. (Menispermaceae) CRCRCR
Curcuma pseudomontana J. Graham (Zingiberaceae) VU  
Diospyros paniculata Dalzell Ebenaceae VU  
Dipterocarpus indicus Bedd. (Dipterocarpaceae) EN  
Drosera indica L. (Droseraceae) ENLCLC
Drosera peltata Sm. ex Willd. (Droseraceae) ENVUEN
Dysoxylum malabaricum Bedd. ex C.DC. (Meliaceae) EN  
Embelia ribes Burm.f. (Myrsinaceae) VUNTVU
Garcinia gummi-gutta (L.) N.Robson (Clusiaceae) NT  
Garcinia morella Desr. (Clusiaceae) VUNTVU
Gloriosa superba L. (Colchicaceae) VUVULC
Glycosmis macrocarpa Wight (Rutaceae) VU  
Holostemma ada-kodien Schult. (Asclepiadaceae) VUENNT
Hydnocarpus alpina Wight (Flacourtiaceae) VU  
Hydnocarpus pentandrus (Buch.-Ham.) Oken Allg. Naturgesch. (Flacourtiaceae) VU  
Kingiodendron pinnatum Harms (Fabaceae) VU  
Knema attenuata Warb. (Myristicaceae) NT  
Myristica dactyloides Wall. (Myristicaceae) VUVULC
Myristica malabarica Lam. (Myristicaceae) VU  
Nervilia aragoana Gaudich. (Orchidaceae) NTVUEN
Nothapodytes nimmoniana (J. Graham) (Icacinaceae) ENVUVU
Ochreinauclea missionis (Wall.ex G.Don) Ridsdale VU  
Persea macrantha (Nees) Kosterm. (Lauraceae) ENVUEN
Piper barberi Gamble (Piperaceae) CR  
Piper longum L. (Piperaceae) NENTEN
Piper mullesua Buch.-Ham. (Piperaceae) CRNTVU
Piper nigrum L. (Piperaceae) NTLCNT
Plectranthus nilgherricus Benth. (Lamiaceae) EN  
Pseudarthria viscida Wight & Arn. (Fabaceae) VUVUNT
Rauvolfia serpentina Benth. ex Kurz (Apocynaceae) ENENEN
Rhaphidophora pertusa (Roxb.) Schott (Araceae) VULCNT
Salacia reticulata Wight (Celastraceae) CRDDNE
Santalum album L. (Santalaceae) VUENEN
Semecarpus travancorica Bedd. (Anacardiaceae) EN  
Smilax zeylanica L. (Smilacaceae) NTVULC
Symplocos cochinchinensis S. Moore (Symplocaceae) NTLCLC
Symplocos racemosa Roxb. (Symplocaceae) VUDDNT
Trichopus zeylanicus Gaertn. (Dioscoreaceae) CR  
Vateria indica L. (Dipterocarpaceae) VU  
Key for Threat: CR = Critically endangered; EN = Endangered; VU = Vulnerable; NT = Near Threatened; LC = Least Concern; DD = Data deficient; NE = Not Evaluated.

Left: Mr. Muttaiah at Savandhi Herbs store outlet in Savandurga, Karnataka. Right: Savandhi Herbs products. Photos ©2004 Sarah Khan.

Savandhi Herbs staff: Mr. Lokesh-Secretary; Mr. Jayadevaiah-President; and Mr. Narasimhiah-Member, MPCA guard. Photos ©2004 Sarah Khan.

Community Conservation Education Activities

In the Topslip MPCA in the state of Tamil Nadu, a conservation educational facility has been established with a demonstration garden and self-guided nature trail, attracting upwards of 1,000 tourists per day. In the area of Karpakpalli (Karnataka), medicinal plant exhibitions have been organized. In another 20 sites, nature camps provide valuable conservation education to school children.

Nursery Outreach Program Activities

Presently 20 MPCA nursery sites exist. The state forest departments (SFDs), in collaboration with the local communities, have promoted the development of these nurseries. For example, in Agastiarmalai (Kerala) medicinal plants are grown to provide seedlings for women’s self-help groups, local folk healers, local homes, schools, and community herbal gardens.

Community Participation Activities

Local populations and communities benefit from income-generating activities. For example, small-scale processing units, such as Savandhi Herbs at Savandurga (Karnataka) and Dhare Shri at Sandur (Karnataka), have been established to generate income around the MPCA. Currently, women’s self-help groups produce 23 products for use in primary health care. These include the classic Ayurvedic formulation Triphala churna, which is a mixture of the following: (1) the powder from the fruits of Emblica officinalis Gaertn., Euphorbiaceae; Terminalia bellerica (Gaertn.) Roxb., Combretaceae; and T. chebula Retz.; (2) the highly revered tonic root ashwagandha (Withania somnifera [L.] Dunal, Solanaceae) powder; and (3) erand thaila or castor seed oil (Ricinus communis L., Euphorbiaceae). Managed by the local community members, sales-outlets have been established to sell seedlings and processed products.


In the spirit of the Chiang Mai and Bangalore Declarations, FRLHT has pioneered in situ conservation in southern India to avoid the erosion of both biological and cultural diversity. FRLHT’s efforts are essential to preserving and developing the rich ancient ethnomedical heritage of the Indian subcontinent. Furthermore, field research, community conservation, nursery development programs, and local community participation are tangible results of in situ conservation sites. In fact, these 55 MPCA sites represent models for other communities worldwide to implement for maintaining their own indigenous health traditions along with biological and cultural diversity.

Sarah K. Khan is a PhD candidate in Ethnobotany at Graduate Center of City University/New York Botanical Garden. With a Fulbright Scholarship, Phipp’s Botany in Action grant, and Committee of the American Overseas Research Centers Smithsonian grant, she is researching Ayurvedic and Chinese medicinal plants in India and China. She has an MS in Clinical Nutrition and a Master’s of Public Health degree, both from Columbia University. E-mail:


N. Mohan Karnat is a forest officer working with FRLHT for the Medicinal Plants Conservation project in the South Indian states. E-mail: or


Darshan Shankar is the founder and director of FRLHT, Bangalore, and the recipient of the Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine Award at Columbia University for International Culture Stewardship. E-mail:


The authors would like to thank the entire staff of FRLHT for their invaluable contributions to the contents of this article and Mr. Steven Foster for his editorial assistance.


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Sidebar: FRLHT’s Efforts Go Beyond Conservation

In addition to its primary work in the area of ethnobotanical and medicinal plant conservation, FRLHT has established numerous projects and programs:

• Built a database of the Materia Medica of Ayurveda and Siddha traditions based on primary medical texts covering the period from 1500 BCE to 1900 CE.

• Initiated a pioneering project on rapid assessment of local health practices in 13 communities spread across rural South India.

• Developed educational materials to disseminate reliable knowledge on Indian medicinal plants and traditional knowledge of local health traditions. This includes books, videos, and a popular traditional healthcare magazine entitled Amruth, which is dedicated to the dissemination of information on medicinal plants.

• Publishes scientific articles on issues of medicinal plant conservation, trade, biodiversity, medicinal plant chemistry, intellectual property rights, and traditional health systems.

• Established a pharmacognosy laboratory for certification of medicinal plants and for product development.

• Conducts short-term conservation courses for foresters and community leaders. The training modules focus on in situ conservation of medicinal plants and documentation and rapid assessment of local health traditions.

• Maintains and continuously updates rich databases and references collections including: (1) The BOTMAST database of approximately 7300 medicinal plant species, (2) The Ayurveda Nomenclature database with 1.2 million records, (3) An applications database with about 24,000 records, (4) Separate databases on nursery techniques for 300 species and seed storage techniques for 92 species, (5) Trade data on about 800 plants collected from important markets, (6) Eco-distribution maps of red-listed species for over 150 species, (7) An herbarium with over 24,000 voucher specimens of 2500 species.

More information on FRLHT is available at