Disappearing medicines

Imagine going to your local pharmacy for medicines you regularly depend upon and finding that there’s nothing left. That’s what’s happening with Ayurvedic medicine. Recently, the Botanical Survey of India did an assessment of India’s wild medicinal plants used in Ayurveda, and found that of the 359 that are relied on by this ancient system, 335 are on the IUCN Red List as endangered or threatened due to overharvesting. The traditional healing system has its origins in India, is 5,000 years old, and is said to be a root source of traditional Chinese and Greek medicine. The holistic system – in Sanskrit, “ayur” means life and “veda” means science – is based on balancing the energies of mind, body and spirit, and focuses on preventive medicine rather than on treating symptoms.

The plants that are in most danger include: Ulteria salicifolia, a rhizome that protects against ulcers; Hydnocarpus pentandra, whose seed oil is used to treat leprosy, arthritis and diabetes; Gymnocladus assamicus, a tree found in northeast India; and Begonia tessaricarpa, once thought to be extinct, used to treat stomach aches and dehydration.

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