The Rosy periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus) pictured above increases a child's chance of surviving leukemia by 10 to 95%. Many plants save our lives; in fact 50,000 different species of plant are known to be used for medicinal purposes. But these plants are increasingly threatened for a host of reasons, and as they disappear so do our life saving resources. Botanical Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) has just published a report that looks at the state of medicinal plants from around the world.The report notes how important medicinal plants are for 80% of the world's population (~5 billion people). It stresses that herbal medicine accounts for much of the world's available medicine, even in so called 'developed' countries. Nearly 50% of all prescription drugs were first identified in plants, and a full 25% of drugs are directly extracted from plants. Indeed, there is growing interest in herbal medicine throughout all areas of medical science, as we discover the complexity and nuanced nature of plant chemistry and ecology.
This report offers an excellent look at a complex issue that ties together the ecology of the plants as well as the social, cultural, and economic conditions that result in conservation challenges. The challenge of conserving medicinal plants is a microcosm of how we interact with our natural world:
"It speaks of supply, it speaks of demand, and it speaks of competition and control. Humankind's use of species and ecosystems is critically determined by these variables"
The BGCI lays out a comprehensive plan on how botanical gardens can increase their ability and effectiveness in conserving medicinal plants. Given the inherent need for sustainable development of our natural resources I though it worth the time to study their approach. Just the titles within the report alone give a good road map for considering sustainability.
5. Preserve Indigenous Knowledge
6. Develop Alternatives to Wild Harvest, Technology Transfer
7. Sustainable Wild Harvest
For more information about the BGCI visit their website, or download the PDF free.