Long before Walter G Rosen coined the term "Biodiversity" in 1985, our ancestors had been putting the concept of conservation into practice.
In fact, in Kerala, the idea was interwoven into homes and hearts through religion and spirituality. Every home would devote a small area of forestland, called "kavus" or Sacred Groves - where all the flora and fauna particular to the area could flourish in all its pristine glory. This was to ensure the appeasement of their forefather. A by-product was, of course, conservation.
Man has depended on plants from time immemorial. Ancient Indian literature such as "Charaka samhita", Sushritha Samhita" and "Ashtaanga Hrudayam" bear testimony to this synergy.
Medicinal value of plants
95% of the medicines prescribed by our Indian systems of medicine such as Ayurveda, Unani and Siddha are derived from plants.
An interesting anecdote states that King Janaka`s physician, on completion of his gurukula vaasam, was asked to locate a single twig that had no medicinal value. He searched high and low, but found nothing that was non- medicinal!
As this Sanskrit sloka attests:
"Jagat yevam anaushadam na kinchit vidyate dravyam vashanartha yogayoh" - there is nothing in this Universe which is non medicinal and cannot be made use of for many purposes and by many modes - "Ashtaanga Hrudayam"
The principal users of medicinal plants are pharmaceutical, cosmetic and perfume industries. Besides, folk healers, traditional physicians, and households also depend on medicinal plants in routine therapy. Hence, there is a heavy demand for the supply of medicinal plants resulting in indiscriminate collection leading to destruction of species.
Conservation: An Urgent Need
Urgent need for conservation, thus becomes an all-important issue. Methods of conservation such as:
In situ conservation: such as preserving of natural habitat and kavus, augmentation management and protection of forests.
Ex situ conservation : methods such as seed gene banks, cold storage of vegetative parts, in vitro conservation and homestead cultivation.
Norman Myers in 1990 has identified the Western Ghats as one of the 18 `Hotspots` of the world and the second in India where medicinal plants abound. Agasthyamala, Sabarimala, Thekkady, Eravikualam and the Silent Valley are among these spots favoured by Mother Nature.
The importance of these plants cannot be over emphasised - it is the duty of one and all - government, civic bodies and the common man to preserve these national treasures before it is too late.