HERBAL WEALTH: Promoting Herbal Gardens In Kashmir

Let’s conserve our vanishing herbs and tap the vast potential of this natural resource

RAHEEL ANWAR LONE
Srinagar, Publish Date: Feb 18 2016 11:14PM | Updated Date: Feb 18 2016 11:14PM
HERBAL WEALTH: Promoting Herbal Gardens In KashmirRepresentational Pic

Kashmir has the unique distinction of being one of the richest repositories of medicinal and aromatic plants, which pave a way for reaping the green gold. Owing to its characteristic climate, altitudinal variations and conducive growing environment, the region is endowed with rich and spectacular diversity of medicinal and aromatic herbs of promising health and economic benefits. Since time immemorial plants have been used by man for relieving sufferings and curing ailments through various traditional healthcare systems. The Hakeems of Kashmir (the native physicians) attribute some property to every plant. Similarly ‘Amchi system of medicine’ (Tibetan traditional medical system) has been one of the most important traditional healthcare system in Ladakh and other Trans-Himalayan regions, which involves skillful use of various Himalayan plants to cure different diseases.

The important medicinal plants (with vernacular name) of Kashmir region like Aconitum heterophyllum (Patris), Arnebia benthamii (Kah-Zaban), Artemisia absinthium (Thethwan), Datura stramonium (Datur), Picrorhiza kurrooa (Koad), Podophyllum hexandrum (Wan Wangun), Saussurea costus (Kuth), Taraxacum officinali (Haend) Trillium govanianum (Tre-patri) etc., once found in plenty, have now become threatened due to unscientific harvesting and due to other reasons. Most of the medicinal herbs available in the market are reported to originate from the wild, and are extracted through destructive harvesting practices. This has led to many medicinal plant species facing extinction or severe genetic loss. 
Lush herbal gardens can be established by identifying important medicinal and aromatic plants and promoting their cultivation as a commercial enterprise. It is considered as a low cost plantation practice and has multiple health benefits besides providing lucrative income. Thus these gardens can ensure easy availability and continuity of herbs in perpetuity.
Owing to their growing recognition in pharmaceutical, perfumery, cosmetic, agricultural and food industry, they are in high demand that opens up new avenues for higher level of gains to farmers with a significant scope for boosting rural economy. Increased consumer demand for herbal products may be attributed to rising awareness about health side effects of synthetic drugs fuelled by soaring prices of prescription drugs.  
With suitable growing environment and favourable altitude, J&K has enormous potential for boosting their production and to become a hub of herbal entrepreneurship. To realize this dream, central government has released ‘Arogaya Gram Yojana’ scheme in J&K with support from Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR), National Medicinal Plant Board (NMPB), Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine (IIIM), Forest Department and other government agencies. Under this scheme experts will educate and train the local farmers to bring up the cultivation of medicinal and aromatic plants. It would provide farmers with a new area of cultivation besides providing economic benefits by leaps and bounds to them. Keeping in view that our state has low land holdings, we can also adopt agro-forestry practice in a systematic way in orchards and other plantation areas by cultivating important medicinal herbs to achieve higher economic returns from the same piece of land. Medicinal plants are regarded as the only income options in waste and marginal lands, since the plants possess some secondary metabolites which enable them to combat stresses, whether biotic or abiotic. The various challenges to promote herbal gardens would require quality planting material, guidance, capital support, post harvesting processing facilities, linking farmers with industry and availability of assured marketing facilities in order to make it a successful enterprise.
The concept of herbal gardens in schools is commendable and would go a long way to boost herb cultivation in the state. Such gardens hold much importance for our state, which is bestowed with an enormous herbal wealth. Learning does not happen only inside classroom but the whole school environment is involved in children’s development. To make a beginning in herbal awareness, J&K government has setup its School Herbal Garden programme to sensitize the students to herbs which will certainly bring them closer to nature. School herbal gardens would serve as an area for learning, a continuing lesson in respecting the environment and a place of pleasure and recreation.
On account of overexploitation, many herbs in our state are on the brink of extinction and may lead to ecological imbalance which is a matter of great concern. So it is high time that we wake up and pledge to conserve the vanishing herbs and tap the vast potential of this resource in a sustainable manner in our state. 
 
(Raheel Anwar Lone is a M.Sc. Forestry student in Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana)