By Ashwani Kumar
| March 30th 2012 09:53 AM | Print
Herbal medicine is still the mainstay of about 75-80 per cent of the world population, mainly in the developing countries, for primary health care because of better cultural acceptability, better compatibility with human body and lesser side effects. However, the last few years have seen a major increase in their use in the developed world. In Germany and France, many herbs and herbal extracts are used as prescription drugs and their sales in the countries of European Union were around $ 6 billion in 1991 and may be over $20 billion now. In USA, herbal drugs are currently sold in health food stores with a turnover of about $ 4 billion in 1996 which is anticipated to double by the turn of the century (Rawls, 1996).
Traditional medicine has maintained its popularity in a number of Asian countries, such as China, India, Japan and Pakistan. In China, for example, traditional medicines (herbal preparations) account for 30 per cent to 50 per cent of the total medicinal consumption. In 1993, the total sales of herbal medicines amounted to more than US$ 2.5 billion. In Japan, from 1974 to 1989, there was a 15-fold increase in Kampoh medicinal preparations in comparison with only 2.6-fold increase in the sales of mainstream pharmaceutical products. The Japanese per capita consumption of herbal medicine appears to be the highest in the world (Seema and Kumar, 2004).
During the last decade, there has also been a growing interest in traditional and alternative systems of medicine in many developed countries. One-third of American adults have used alternative treatment and 60 per cent of the public in the Netherlands and Belgium, and 74 per cent in the United Kingdom are in favour of complementary medicine being available within the framework of the National Health Service. A survey among Member States of the European Union in 1991 identified about 1400 herbal drugs used in the European Economic Community.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has recently defined traditional medicine (including herbal drugs) as comprising therapeutic practices that have been in existence, often for hundreds of years, before the development and spread of modem medicine and are still in use today.
Such information is not compiled in systematic manner and vast amount of information exists only in the folklore and has not been studied systematically (Sharma and Goswami, 1992).
Rienacker in his article “The future of medicines” says a new type of medicinal scientists are appearing on the scene who no longer regard diseases mechanically as local phenomena but as symptoms resulting from a general state of disorganization and disharmony (Weiss and Fintelmann, 2000).
Recently, great interest in herbal drugs and traditional remedies is indicated world wide and there has been an upsurge in the scientific investigation in this area (Satyavati et al., 1976 and Jain and Defellips, 1991). Leporattm and Ivancheva (2003) made comparative analyses of medicinal plants used in Bulgaria and Italy. They described around 250 medicinal plants. Gedif and Hahn (2003) described medicinal plants in self care in rural central Ethiopia.
The market for Ayurvedic medicines is estimated to be expanding at 20 per cent annually in India (Subrat, 2002). Factors contributing to the growth in demand for traditional medicine include the increasing human population which is likely to touch 7.5 billion by the year 2020 (Rajan et al., 2005) and frequently inadequate provision of western medicine in developing countries (Hamilton, 2004). The World Bank has also recognized vital values of medicinal plants (Kareru et al., 2007).
Most of the drug plants are wild and only a few of them have been cultivated. Studies of medicinal plants based on ancient literature and its investigation in the modern light is known as “ethnology”.
Ethnopharmacological studies are contributing to the research for new natural products with one or other biological activities because of its multidisciplinary nature involving research work in Botany, Chemistry, Pharmacology and others.
Ethnobotany is a distinct branch of natural science with various aspects such as anthropology, archeology, botany, ecology, economics, medicine, religious, cultural and other disciplines. This term was coined by J. W. Harshberger in 1895 to indicate plants used by the aboriginals. It deals with the study and evalution of plant human relations in all phases and the effect of plant environment on human society. Ethnobotanical studies have been carried in different parts of the world (Singh et al., 2002; Hamill et al., 2003 and Harsha et al., 2003). They provide vast amount of data with potential use in medicine. Pharmacognostical studies are helpful in identification of crude drugs. The yield of the plant could be improved by experimental manipulation.