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Cover page of the Journal of Health Sciences

 Table of Contents  
Year : 2016  |  Volume : 9  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 14-19

Medicinal plants and related developments in India: A peep into 5-year plans of India

Independent Public Health Researcher, Bhubaneswar, Odisha, India

Date of Web Publication8-Jun-2016

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Janmejaya Samal
C/O, Mr. Bijaya Ketan Samal, Pansapalli, Bangarada, Gangapur, Ganjam - 761 123, Odisha
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/2349-5006.183698

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Medicinal herbs/plants or the herbal drugs refer to the use of plant and plant-based products for the management of common ailments. World Health Organization has defined herbal medicines as finished labeled medicinal product that contains an active ingredient, aerial, or underground parts of the plant or other plant material or combinations. In India, more than 70% of the population uses herbal medicine for their health-related problems. Many of the institutions adopt “reverse pharmacology” approach to study the clinical efficacy of medicinal plants and their pragmatic utility in healthcare. Moreover, the herbal therapeutics constitutes a major share of all the officially recognized Indian systems of medicine such as Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, and Homeopathy (AYUSH). However, there is evidence of spurious drugs, irrational use, and adverse drug reactions of herbal drugs which should certainly be monitored with governmental patronization. Furthermore to be accepted as a viable alternative to modern medicine vigorous method of scientific and clinical validation must be applied to prove the safety and effectiveness of these herbal products. However, the clinical trial of herbal drugs is difficult owing to some of the obvious reasons. Around 20,000 medicinal plants have been identified for their medicinal properties; however, only 7000–7500 medicinal plants are being used by traditional practitioners. Similarly, the export of AYUSH-related items has increased from 2011 to –2012 and 2012 to –2013 and decreased in 2013–2014; however, import has been consistently increased during these years. Given this background, a brief review was carried out to assess the medicinal herbs and their development in India primarily through 5-year plan documents of India.

Keywords: Adverse drug reactions of herbal drugs, Ayurveda, drug development, herbal drugs, irrational use of herbal drugs

How to cite this article:
Samal J. Medicinal plants and related developments in India: A peep into 5-year plans of India. Indian J Health Sci Biomed Res 2016;9:14-9

How to cite this URL:
Samal J. Medicinal plants and related developments in India: A peep into 5-year plans of India. Indian J Health Sci Biomed Res [serial online] 2016 [cited 2023 Mar 21];9:14-9. Available from: https://www.ijournalhs.org/text.asp?2016/9/1/14/183698

  Introduction Top

Traditional herbal medicine is being practiced throughout the globe in the form of indigenous medicine. The use of medicinal plant resources for the purpose of healing human ailments goes with the evolution of human civilization and forms the basis of origin of modern medicine.[1] Recognition of the rising usage of herbal medicines and other alternative complementary medicine led to the founding of the office of alternative medicine by the National Institute of Health, USA, in 1992. Herbal medicine received a worldwide boost when the World Health Organization encouraged developing countries to use traditional plant-based medicine to fulfill needs unmet by modern systems.[2] Herbal medicine is used by 75–80% of the world population, mainly in developing countries for primary health care.[3] Moreover, the herbal drugs are believed to have no side-effects, cheap, and locally available.[4] The most primitive recorded evidence of the use of herbal medicine in Indian, Chinese, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and Syrian texts dates back to about 5000 years. The ancient classical treatises of India such as Rigveda, Atharvaveda, Charak Samhita, and Sushruta Samhita describe the usage of medicinal plants. This proves that the herbal medicines or the traditional medicaments have been derived from the rich traditions of ancient civilizations and scientific inheritance.[3] In India, herbal therapeutics constitutes a major share of all the officially recognized Indian systems of medicine such as Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, and Homeopathy (AYUSH).[5]

In India, 17,000–18,000 species of flowering plants are found of which 6000–7000 are estimated to have medicinal properties. The usage of these medicinal plants is found in many Indian cultures and is documented in Indian systems of medicine such as Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani, and Homeopathy. An estimated 960 species of medicinal plants are in trade of which 178 species have annual consumption levels more than 100 metric tons. These medicinal plants not only constitute a major resource base for the traditional medicine and herbal industry but also provide livelihood and health security to a large section of Indian population.[6]

A board, the National Medicinal Plant Board (NMPB) was set-up in November 2000 by the Government of India, which has the primary mandate of coordinating all matters relating to medicinal plants and support policies and programs for growth of trade, export, conservation, and cultivation of these plants. The board is located in the Department of AYUSH of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India.[6]

  Methodology Top

The primary approach for this review was to assess the status of medicinal plants and related developments through 5-year plans of India. The planning commission documents from first 5-year to twelfth 5-year plans were obtained through the planning commission web portal of Government of India. In addition, other documents from the Ministry of AYUSH, Government of India, and literature pertaining to this field were also reviewed to get an idea about the status of medicinal plants, drugs and their development, and future prospects in India. In this paper, the abbreviation Indian System of Medicine and Homeopathy (ISM and H) and AYUSH have been used interchangeably owing to their reference in different 5-year plans.

  Discussion Top

After India attained independence, its economy has been based on the concept of planning. This has been carried out on the basis of a long-term planning process known as 5-year planning. The 5-year plan in India is developed, executed, and monitored by the planning commission.[7] The planning commission is chaired by the prime minister of India and a nominated deputy chairperson who enjoys the rank of a cabinet minister. The first 5-year plan was launched in 1951 and two subsequent 5-year plans were formulated till 1965. Since the first 5-year plan health sector has been an integral part of planning process. Health sector planning is one among the 13 sectors identified by Government of India for planning till the twelfth 5-year plan. AYUSH sector forms the part of health sector planning.[7] Under the AYUSH section, detailed description regarding the medicinal plants is delineated during each 5-year plan. With the new government at the center in India, the planning commission was dissolved, and a new organization was set-up in 2014, NITI-Aayog. It stands for National Institution for Transforming India-Aayog which replaces planning commission and serves as the Government of India's policy think tank.

During the first 5-year plan, it was felt that the systematic investigation into the herbal plants is a hard hitting job as the same is delineated in the classical texts of Ayurveda. The major areas of investigation included identification, nomenclature, geographical distribution, and the localities, where the individual herbs can be grown to the best advantage. Museums were also recommended to ensure access of information regarding all areas of herbs to the researchers and the students of Ayurveda and other indigenous system of medicine. Early action regarding the collection, storage, and distribution of Indian medicinal herbs were also recommended during first 5-year plan. It was proposed during the first 5-year plan that the investigations and research pertaining to the medicinal plants should be carried out jointly by the Central Institute for Ayurveda Research and Central Drug Research Institute, Lucknow. These should be carried out under the expert supervision of subject specialist in coordination with central agencies.[8]

The Central Institute of Research in Indigenous System of Medicine that was set-up in 1953 started working on certain areas of medicinal plants such as identification of crude ayurvedic drugs, plants, and herbs and problems associated with their cultivation. A large number of indigenous drugs are used at household level; hence, during the third 5-year plan, it was proposed to establish herbaria with few selected herbs locally available in the first instance in individual development blocks. Considerations were also made for establishing facilities for manufacturing and standardizing homeopathic drugs.[9] Clinical research on several drugs of various Indian systems of medicine, collection and propagation of medicinal plants, and standardization of drugs was encouraged during the seventh and eighth 5-year plans.[10],[11] Until the ninth 5-year plan, the department had initiated schemes for the development and cultivation of medicinal plants.[12]

The main objective of the ninth 5-year plan was to augment the production of raw herbs of plant origin by providing central assistance for their cultivation and development. Several states such as Himachal Pradesh had set-up herbal gardens and linked them to production units of drugs for ISM and H. The department has utilized three gene banks (at Delhi, Lucknow, and Trivandrum) under the Department of Biotechnology to store 2000 species of medicinal plants (Germ plasma) required for ISM and H drugs. At the village level, cultivation of medicinal plants through appropriate utilization of waste land in active collaboration with Agriculture Department, Krishi Vijnana Kendra and Department of Rural Development was proposed during the ninth plan. Considering the need of the pharmacopeial standards of Ayurveda, Unani, Siddha drugs, both single and compound, the department had taken up the task of developing pharmacopeial standards through pharmacopeia committees. Four pharmacopoeial committees are working for preparing the official formularies/pharmacopeias to maintain uniform standards in the preparation of AYUSH drugs and to prescribe uniform standards for single and multiple drugs. These pharmacopeia committees are headed by experts of respective systems. The pharmacopoeial laboratory for Indian medicine was set-up at Ghaziabad in 1970.[12]

Important strategies for the preservation, promotion, and cultivation of medicinal plants in the tenth 5-year plan were to establish medicinal plant conservation areas covering all ecosystems, forest types, and subtypes. It proposed that ex situ conservation of rare and endangered medicinal plants might be tried out in established gardens managed by Department of Agriculture, Horticulture, or Forests. During this plan, it was proposed that the gene banks created by the Department of Biotechnology should store the germ plasma of all medicinal plants and establish “vanaspati vans” in degraded forest areas. Strategies were made to engage technically qualified nongovernmental organizations to take up the task of improving the awareness and increasing availability of plant stock and involve in the promotion of agro-techniques for cultivation of medicinal plants. The plan proposed that the screening, testing, and clinical evaluation of herbal products to be taken up and completed. The plan proposed to establish drug testing laboratories for ISM and H with qualified staff. Proposals were also made to establish traditional knowledge digital library so that information on medicinal plants and their use in the country could be accessed readily and medicinal plant board for integrated development of the medicinal plants.[13]

Pharmacopoeial committees were established on respective AYUSH drugs and by the end of eleventh 5-year plan standards for around 40% of the raw materials and around 15% of formulations have been published by these committees. AYUSH Department intends to convert pharmacopoeial committees of various systems into a modern pharmacopeial commission with adequate representation of stakeholders. This is directed toward the development of standards those are in line with internationally acceptable pharmacopoeial standards and quality parameters of Ayurveda, Siddha, and Unani drugs. The NMPB is functioning with a very small component of staff as an extension of the Department. Manifold increase in expenditure for the eleventh 5-year plan was made to restructure the NMPB as an autonomous body and provide sufficient manpower to undertake its wide mandate. Two centrally sponsored components; one for cultivation, processing, and marketing of medicinal plants is started from the outlay of NMPB. This will have subcomponents for financial allocation: Cultivation of prioritized medicinal plant species over 75,000 hectares; raising of 50 lakh seedlings; setting up of Centralized Seed Centre and Nursery for cultivating planting materials for 15 states; setting up of six medicinal plant zones in agro-climatic zones of the country; and market development assistance fund for plan building and marketing support. The second existing central sector component is regarding program for in situ conservation, creation of gene bank for medicinal plants, ex situ conservation of prioritized medicinal plants, research and development for quality standards, and certification and program for information, education, and communication.[14]

During the twelfth 5-year plan, it was observed that albeit considerable progress has been made in documenting identity and quality standards of herbal medicines, scientific validation of AYUSH principles, remedies, and therapies has not progressed. Despite the efforts by the NMPB to support the projects for the conservation, cultivation, and storage of medicinal plants, only 20% of the 178 major medicinal plant species traded as raw drugs are largely sourced from cultivation. During the twelfth plan, nine AYUSH industry clusters through “special purpose vehicle” having common facility centers for manufacturing and testing of AYUSH medicines are set-up in eight states.[15] Furthermore, the Indian Public Health Standards released by Government of India delineates that locally available medicinal herbs/plants should be grown around the subcenter as per the guidelines of Department of AYUSH.[16],[17]

Furthermore, the current domestic trade of AYUSH industry is of the order of Rs. 80–90 billion. The Indian medicinal plants and their products also account for exports in the range of Rs. 10 billion. There is a global resurgence in traditional and alternative health care systems resulting in world herbal trade which stands at US$ 120 billion and is expected to reach US$ 7 trillion by 2050. However, the current Indian share of herbal drugs in the world trade is quite low.[6] An increasing trend is observed in export and import of AYUSH-related items in India. The export of AYUSH items has increased in 2011–2012 and 2012–2013 with an annual growth rate of 30%; however, it has decreased in 2013–2014 with a decline in annual growth rate of 36%. Similarly, the import of AYUSH products increased by 23% annually in 2011–2012 and 2012–2013 and has further increased in 2013–2014 with an annual growth rate of 25%.[18] [Figure 1] and [Figure 2] show the status of export and import services in India in AYUSH sector which is primarily related to medicinal plant resources.
Figure 1: Export and import of AYUSH items (in crores)

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Figure 2: System wise distribution of licensed AYUSH pharmacies as on April 1, 2014

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Despite all these developments in AYUSH sector, especially in the realm of medicinal plants, there is evidence of irrational use of herbal drugs.[19] There are much evidence of irrational usage of herbal drugs in the community. An outbreak, about four decades ago, of a veno-occlusive disease with 42% mortality occurred in Central India following consumption of cereals mixed with seeds of a plant (Crotalaria sp.) containing pyrrolizidine alkaloid.[20] These sorts of incidents startle the medical community regarding irrational usage of herbal drugs and foster more rational usage. Moreover, studies reveal that most of the ayurvedic preparations may culminate in lead poisoning as evidenced by higher blood lead, more basophilic stippling, lower hemoglobin, and higher protoporphyrin in patients consuming standard ayurvedic medicines.[21] The biological impact of irrational use of herbal drugs is a matter of great concern. Some of the herbs, if used irrationally, may end with disastrous health outcomes; Vaccinium uliginosum and Vaccinium oxycoccos (cranberry) cause increased risk of bleeding. Aristolochia species are known to cause acute renal failure and aconite roots may cause aconitine poisoning (local anesthetic effects, diarrhea, convulsions, arrhythmias, or death). St John's wort and Camellia sinensis (green tea) may antagonize warfarin, thus increasing the risk for thrombotic complications. Blue (Caulophyllum thalictroides) and black cohosh (Actaea racemosa, Cimicifuga racemosa) may prove hepatotoxic. Datura species may cause anticholinergic poisoning and “yulan” (Stephania sinica) may cause tetrahydropalmatine poisoning (depressant action on cardio-respiratory and nervous systems).[22],[23] To gain public trust and to bring herbal products into mainstream of today's healthcare system, the researchers, the manufacturers, and the regulatory agencies must apply rigorous scientific methodologies and clinical trials to ensure the quality and consistency of the traditional herbal products.[1],[24],[25],[26],[27] The majority of ayurvedic formulations available in the market are either spurious or adulterated or misbranded.[28] Most commercially available preparations do not even conform to the delineations of ancient ayurvedic texts. The herbs lose their medicinal properties a year after collection; powders made from them remain effective for 6-month only, and the pastes for 1 year. Despite all these facts the formulations do not usually carry an expiry date or potential side-effects.[1] Steps such as health education and awareness, legislation to ban street drug vendors, and standardization of drug manufacturing units can be implemented to control the above-mentioned problems.[19] Many of the pharmacies in AYUSH system are not GMP certified and a few are not even licensed. [Figure 2] shows percentage wise distribution of licensed pharmacies in AYUSH sector, and [Table 1] shows percentage wise distribution of GMP and non-GMP compliant AYUSH pharmacies as on April 1, 2014.
Table 1: System wise distribution (%) of good manufacturing practice and non-good manufacturing practice-compliant Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, and Homeopathy pharmacies

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Recently, the draft released by the Ministry of AYUSH for National AYUSH Mission emphasized on medicinal plants both in mandatory as well as in flexible components. This medicinal plant component will be financed 100% by Central Government in the Northeastern States and hilly States of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Jammu and Kashmir, whereas in other states, it will be shared in the ratio of 90:10 between center and the states.[29]

  Conclusion Top

The usage of herbal drugs throughout the globe and especially in India is ubiquitous. About 75–80% of global population depends on medicinal plants as their first source of therapeutics. Although the usage of herbal drugs in India is an age old practice, efforts to standardize these drugs took place only postindependence. Currently, there are several challenges with regard to clinical trial of these drugs. Furthermore, irrational use is also rampant in rural parts of India. Recent advances in the form of establishing NMPB and launching the National AYUSH Mission is laudable; however, standardization and clinical trial of medicinal plants need to be further fostered in India.

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  [Table 1]

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