Traditional medicinal plants an indigenous source of healthcare
PAKISTAN HAS the very rich diversity of flora and fauna. There are about 4940 native species of the flowering plants which are found in a variety of habitats from seashore and deserts to the high mountainous areas in the North. A conservative approach indicates that 700 species are being used as medicinal/aromatic plants. These include 372 endemic species that are mostly found in the north and western mountainous regions of Pakistan.
Pakistan has a lot of diversity in the medicinal plants. More than 50 per cent of the medicines used today in daily life are taken from plants source. The indigenous knowledge of the medicinal plants is the rich source of the important medicinal plants knowledge and the elderly people are mostly more aware of the indigenous use of these medicinal plants. Medicinal plants are commonly used as health care products in traditional medicine, raw material for the pharmaceutical industry for extraction of essential oils, fixed oils, tannins, gums and resins, and pharmacologically active constituents like alkaloids, glycosides, flavonoids, culinary additions spices and as natural cosmetics and in perfumes. It is for centuries that humans are extracting and processing the medicinal plants for their daily use, economic uplift of local community and for the treatment of animals.
According to WHO reports 2011 about 70-95 per cent citizens in the developing countries use the traditional medicine for their primary health care. This ratio is also almost similar to the developed and industrialized nations because of the easily availability, affordability and cheap price of the traditional medicine as compared to the allopathic medicine. The Retail of world market of medicinal plants costs a total of Approx. 12,400 (Million US $).
Pakistan has many important plants that are scattered throughout the country. Northern areas (Gilgit Baltistan) are the main source of the medicinal plants from where the plants are sold in the other provinces and also exported abroad. In addition of the local community the main users of the medicinal plants are the allopathic and herbal medicines industry. People living in the mountainous areas of Pakistan commonly use plants in many ways such as medicines, food, timber wood, fire wood, fodder etc.
According to the surveys carried out by the PFI (Pakistan Forest Institute) (1989), 500 tons of medicinal plants are produced in Hazara and Malakand, 16 tons in Murree Hills, 38 tons in Azad Kashmir and about 24 tons in Northern Areas. These plants are collected from the wild, dried and processed and sold in the local markets or exported to other countries. Pakistan obtains more than 80 per cent of its medicine requirements from higher plants. Majority of the people in Pakistan depends on medicinal plants to find treatment for their minor, even in some cases major diseases. Some wild medicinal plants being commonly used as ethno-medicine by the local community are e.g. Geranium wallichianum (Common/local name. Ratanjot), Berberis lycium (Sumblo), Podophylum hexandrum (Ban kakri), Paeonia emodi (Mamekh) Achyranthes aspera (Puthknda), Acacia nilotica (Kiker), Calotropis procera (Aak), Cuscuta reflexa (Amer bel), Taraxacum officinale (peeli booti), Withania somnifera (Asghand), Solanum surattense (Mokri), Oxalis corniculata (Khati booti), Cannabis sativa (Bhang), Plantago major (Ispaghol), Viola odorata (Banafsha), etc. The indigenous herbal medicine derived from these plants plays an important role in the rural areas and various locally produce drugs are still being used as household remedies by the local people for the treatment of various diseases and for the cure of different ailments.
The Northern part of the country is an important hotspot of the floral diversity and having a collection of many important indigenous medicinal plants that are regularly used by the people living in the surrounding of the area. Geranium wallichianum is one of the many other medicinal plants that are consumed by the local people. The root of the plant is used for the treatment of Backache and other joint pains.
Neuroda procumbens is one of the many important medicinal plants found in the deserts of Punjab and Sindh. It is locally called Chapri booti and is being indigenously used by the people of Cholistan. It is used as a routine recipe for tonic and as aphrodisiac. The decoction (extract) of the whole plant is used. The plant is heavily collected by the local people, herbalists and hakims and later it is dried and preserved.
The drug regulatory authority bill was approved by President Asif Zardari on Nov. 13, 2012. This was passed into a law to prevent the sale of fake, sub-standard and non-registered medicines and to stop hoarding by creating an autonomous Drug Regulatory Authority holding the key to regulate the manufacture, storage, distribution, import and sale and advertisement of drugs. The law will also ensure the availability of safe and quality medical services along with the medicinal plants indigenous medicines at affordable prices to the people and would protect the interests of the people as well as that of the pharma industry in the country.
There is a dire need that to preserve and document this indigenous knowledge of the medicinal plants for the coming generations as the knowledge is depleting away along with the older generation and the elderly people have this precious knowledge that must be utilized and documented. Pakistan is the country having a lot of potential in the field of indigenous medicinal plants throughout the country. The harvesting of these medicinal plants must be in a conserved manner and overexploitation must be avoided otherwise the precious floral diversity could get lost and this natural wealth may become threatened or endangered in near future.
The writer is Associate Curator in Botanical Sciences Division, Pakistan Museum of Natural History, Islamabad.