Medicinal Plants

Modern Ayurveda

Ayurveda the Science of Life

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The Himalayan region is the largest mountain system in the world, with uncounted and unique world resources. The interaction between the mountain people and the natural system throughout history has helped in maintaining the richness of species, communities, and genetic materials in both the productive systems and wild lands of the mountain environment. However, the rich biodiversity of this region is being disastrously depleted due to human action in the last few decades. Understanding the indigenous knowledge of mountain people in relation to biodiversity resource management is one of the key issues for sustainable development of the Himalayan region today [1],

Plants, the ultimate producers, are the most important part of the world, and all other living organisms are completely dependent upon them to live. Plants are the basic source of food, which they form by using sunlight and converting it into chemical energy. This energy is used by every living organism for its life cycle, internal metabolism, and movement as well as in its combat with environmental conditions and also with other living organisms. Green plants are the only bridge between all populations of the earth and solar energy. We use this energy indirectly in the form of animal milk, meat, leather, etc. Plants not only produce food but also serve man and all other animals in so many ways. They provide a natural habitat in which wild animals can live and reproduce [2]. Herbal medicines have had a distinct position of respect from the primitive period to the present day. The practice of ethnobotanical pharmacology is as old as mankind. In Indo-Pak the first records of plant medicine were compiled in Rig Veda between 4500 and 1600 B.C. and in Ayurveda between 2500 and 600 B.C. This system traces its origin to Greek medicine, which was adopted by Arabs and then spread to India and Europe [1]. The long tradition of herbal medicine continues to the present day in China, India, and many countries in Africa and South America. In many village markets, medicinal herbs are sold alongside vegetables and other wares. The World Health Organization (WHO) has emphasized the importance of the traditional indigenous medicines, since a large majority of rural people in developing countries still use these medicines as the first defense in health care [3]. Globally, about 85% of all medications for primary health care are derived from plants [4],

Plant-based medicines enjoy a respectable position today, especially in developing countries, where modern health service is limited. Indigenous remedies that are effective, safe, and inexpensive are gaining popularity among the people of both rural and urban areas. Information from ethnic groups or indigenous traditional medicine has played a vital role in the discovery of novel products from plants as chemotherapeutic agents [5]. People living in tribal localities and villages have used indigenous plants as medicines for thousands of years because this knowledge passes from generation to generation, based on experience [6] .

Medicinal plants play an important role in the health care of people around the world, especially in developing countries. Until the advent of modern medicine, humans depended on plants for treating human and livestock diseases. Human societies throughout the world have accumulated a vast indigenous knowledge over centuries of the medicinal uses of plants and related uses, including as poison for fish and hunting, for purifying water, and for controlling pests and diseases of crops and livestock. About 80% of the population of most developing countries still use traditional medicines derived from plants to treat human diseases [7]. China, Cuba, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and a few other countries have endorsed the official use of traditional systems of medicine in their healthcare programs. For example, the Indian systems of medicine "Ayurveda," "Sidha," and "Unani" entirely—and homeopathy to some extent—depend on plant materials or their derivatives for treating human ailments [8] .

About 12.5% of the 422,000 plant species documented worldwide are reported to have medicinal value. The proportion of medicinal plants to the total documented species in different countries varies from 4.4% to 20% [9]. About 25% of drugs in modern pharmacopoeia are derived from plants, and the rest are synthetic analogs built on prototype compounds isolated from plants. Up to 60% of the drugs prescribed in Eastern Europe consist of unmodified or slightly altered higher plant products. These drugs have important therapeutic properties, including contraceptives, steroids, and muscle relaxants for anesthesia and abdominal surgery (all made from the wild yam, Dioscorea villosa), quinine and artemisinin against malaria, digitalis derivatives for heart failure, and the anticancer drugs vinblastin, etoposide, and taxol. These compounds cannot be synthesized cost-effectively, which means that their production requires reliable supplies of plant material. The global importance of medicinal plant materials is evident from the huge volume of trade at the national and international levels. During the 1990s, the reported annual international importation of medicinal plants for pharmaceutical use amounted on average to 350,000 megatons valued at over 1 billion USD. A few countries dominate the international trade with over 80% of the global import and export. China and India are the world's leading producing nations, whereas Japan and Korea are the main consumers of medicinal plants. Hong Kong, the United States, and Germany stand out as important trade centers. It is estimated that currently the total number of medicinal plants in international trade is around 2,500 species worldwide [9] .

The traditional system of medicine in Pakistan dates back to the Indus civilization, as verified by excavation conducted in the ancient cities of Mohenjadro and Harappa as well as of the University of Taxila, which flourished during the Gandahara period. These findings clearly reveal the importance of medicinal plants in the life and religious teachings of these civilizations. Modern medicine traces its origin back to the Greeks. Greek medicine was taken over by the Romans and then by the Arabs. After being enriched with Chinese and Indian medicine, it was taken over by modern Europeans. The Muslim rulers introduced it into India and incorporated in it the native Ayurvedic medicine. This mixture is now known as Unani medicine or, broadly speaking, Eastern medicine. The traditional Indian system of medicine, known as Ayruveda, which evolved during the period commencing from around 2500 B.C., was codified and documented in 600 B.C. Ayurveda came to be associated with the Hindus, while the Muslims of the subcontinent adopted a different traditional system known as Unani. Later on, both the "Ayurveda" and "Unani" systems benefited from and complemented each other. The dominant traditional system in Pakistan is the Unani system.

In Pakistan there are almost 50,000 herbalists spread all over the country. They run their clinics in rural and urban areas using medicinal plants in crude form. According to the Unani system, Pakistan has a rich flora in which 2,000 plant species are used at one time or another, in one culture or another, for medicinal purposes, but of these 2,000 Pakistani species, about 400-600 are documented and studied for medicinal purposes. Besides local practictioners, the rural area dwellers, especially the itinerant, use the plants based on their own experience and ancestral prescription. In the Lesser Himalayas, local inhabitants use different plant species in order to cure various ailments in daily life, including Allium cepa, A. sativum, Aloe vera, Acacia modesta, A nilotica, Achyranthes aspera, Ajuga bracteosa, Berberis lyceum, Bergenia ciliate, Calotropis procera, Cassia fistula, Cedrela toona, Chenopodium ambrosioides, Cichorium inty-bus, Cuscuta reflexa, Datura innoxia, Fumaria indica, Justicia adhatoda, Mallotus philippensis, Melia azedarach, Mentha longifolia, M. royleana, Myrsine africana, Otostegia limbata, Plantago lanceolata, P. major, Punica granatum, Quercus incana, Solanum nigrum, S. surratense, Burm. Taraxacum officinale, Viola canescens, Withania somnifera, Woodfordia fruticosa. and Zanthoxylum armatum. Local inhabitants use these plants, as 80% of Pakistan's population lives in rural areas where these plants are easily available, the prices of the allopathic drugs are out of the reach of the poor, the allopathic drug shops are scarce, and the most important factor is that people are becoming aware of the harmful effects of artificial commodities and are realizing the benefits of a more natural way of life [10].

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