Among these, 15,000 species of healing plants are endangered according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, IUCN.
An astonishing 80% of the world’s population relies on herbal medicine to heal themselves.Both the prohibitive cost of pharmaceuticals and traditional medicine, based mostly on plants, explain this surprising number.
Endangered plant species are not only to be found in exotic locations. The Spring Pheasant’s Eye (Adonis vernalis), Bearberry (Arctostaphylosuva-ursi) and Arnica Montana all grow in Europe. They are seriously endangered mostly due to uncontrolled or non-ecofriendly, unsustainable wild gathering.
Biologist Roland Melisch, who works for the species protection programme, Traffic*, complained that certain manufacturers of phyto-medicines were not aware of the problems and therefore, failed to exercise care.
Cultivation with a Conscience
Responsible manufacturers of herbal remedies and cosmetics ensure that the plants they use to produce extracts come from controlled cultivation or controlled wild gathering. Some companies spend money on medicinal plant gardens, including Swiss company A.Vogel who has its own cultivations.
A.Vogel grows about 30 species of plants on its own land, which are used for natural remedies. They are organically grown and gently weeded and harvested. Around four hectares are sufficient for a great part of the required raw materials.
Plants and fruit which do not thrive in the Lake Constance climate or require special soil are cultivated or harvested elsewhere by experienced farmers, such as Arnica Montana which is cultivated in Germany and Devil’s Claw which thrives in cultivation in the Kalahari desert.
Sometimes there is a need for wild gathering:
- because wild plants can contain higher concentrations of medically effective ingredients;
- because cultivation is not possible;
- because population groups depend on the collection of medicinal plants.
In such cases, carefully controlled gathering can offer a solution which allows local families to profit from the additional income. Nowadays, in the era of globalisation and worldwide trade, it is, more than ever before, our task to use these precious gifts responsibly.
What can be done?
- Find out which medicinal plants need to be protected. Do not gather these plants yourself or buy any products in which they are contained.
- Choose alternatives to endangered plants: Hawthorn instead of Pheasant’s Eye for heart problems, Saw Palmetto instead of African Cherry for prostate problems.
- Ask manufacturers of medicines if they take into consideration those species of plants that are endangered, how they cultivate the plants for their products and whether they control wild gathering. If manufacturers feel the demand of the consumer, they will change their methods.
- Choose preparations that originate from demonstrable environmentally friendly production.
*Traffic is a community project of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)