Kerala is home to about 800 medicinal plant species

The Kerala State Medicinal Plants Board (KSMPB) is preparing to take up a State-wide census of herbs, under plans to create a database for conservation and sustainable exploitation of the rich diversity of species.

The project, to be implemented in collaboration with the Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute (JNTBGRI) and the Kerala Forest Research Institute (KFRI), seeks to create a district-level directory of medicinal plants. It involves the preparation of passport script data of each herb, containing botanical information as well as habitat, distribution and utility. The project also envisages the creation of a platform to share information on medicinal plants as well as research findings and development of new drugs.

According to K.G. Sreekumar, Chief Executive Officer, KSMPB, Kerala is home to a rich repository of about 800 medicinal plant species, with almost 10 per cent facing the threat of extinction. About half of the 200 commercially exploited species are classified as rare. As many as 22 medicinal plant species have been Red Listed by SMPB.

The first compilation of data on the medicinal properties of the flora in Kerala dates back to the 17 century when Hortus Malabaricus, the first treatise on the subject, was published in Latin. The book lists 539 medicinal plant species. “Studies carried out since then have failed to come up with comprehensive data. It is in this backdrop that KSMPB is taking up the census to assess the diversity of medicinal plants in the State,” Dr. Sreekumar says.

First phase

The first phase of the census is expected to be completed in three years.

Dr. Sreekumar explained that the proposed database would have additional information on farmers, raw material requirements for the herbal drug industry and the results of pharmacological and phytochemical studies based on the plants. The database would provide easy access to researchers, students, traders and the industry.

The project includes a detailed estimation of endemic and threatened medicinal plants, with a view to evolving a strategy for conservation.

According to S. Rajasekharan, Senior Project Consultant and former Head, Division of Ethnomedicine and Ethnopharmacology, JNTBGRI, the database will facilitate the evolution of good practices in harvesting, collection, storage and sale of medicinal plants, ultimately resulting in better quality of herbal drugs. He said it would also facilitate the reintroduction of endangered species into their natural habitat.

The project had the potential to become a replicable model for sustainable exploitation, Dr. Rajasekharan said.

The Forest Department, Kerala State Biodiversity Board, panchayats and farmers would also be involved in the census.

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