India: Powerhouse of Herbal Medicines

Knowledge of house of Herbal Medicines, Pluralist Health Care System and its intellectual property.


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          India has one of the richest and most diverse cultural heritages associated with the use of medicinal plants.  It represents a striking example of intimate link between biological diversity and cultural diversity.  India is one of the 17-mega diversity countries and is home to 7% of the world biodiversity, there are 16 agro climatic zones, 45,000 different plant species of which 7000 to 8000 species are used in various traditional and folk systems of medicine.
          The richness of Indian civilization with its glorious past has given the humanity vast knowledge about the usage of plants for food and health care.  The strong tradition of health care practiced and documented for more than 3000 years in the form of Aurveda, Unani, Siddha and Yoga & Naturopathy systems of medicine have evolved through centuries of usage and have stood the test of times in providing holistic health care to the people and are based on very intimate and well researched understanding that biotic and non-biotic components of the environment play in promoting holistic health care.  There is growing interest in the world about the use of these systems and increasingly the developed world is prepared to adopt Indian systems.  Today, Yoga has become popular the world over.

Pluralist Health Care System

          It is now globally recognized that traditional, alternative complementary systems of medicine provide health care to almost 80% of the population in developing and less developed countries.  Even in the developed world, there is a growing realization that  the modern system of medicine alone is not able to address all the health problems particularly related to the life style diseases like diabetes, hypertension, AIDS cancer, etc.  It is in this context that scientific wisdom contained in the traditional health care system can be made use of to find solutions to the present day problems.  India is fortunate to have inherited rich bio-diversity, both in plants and animals and the ethno botanical knowledge which  they would like to access for health care.  It is this philosophy that the Government of India is very actively promoting for development and promotion of traditional systems of medicines like Ayurveda, Unani and  Siddha.  One of the important initiatives in this direction has been to mainstream Ayush systems of medicines in the health care under the National Rural Health Mission.


          A major challenge facing the traditional systems of medicine world over today, however, is the question of standardization, quality and safety.  Although traditional systems of medicine have their own science behind them, in order to improve the outreach of these systems, serious attention is being paid to validate the traditional knowledge and bring that in conformity with the modern scientific paradigm.  Efforts are being made to strengthen quality control and standardization by evolving pharmacopoeial standards and setting up State Drug Testing Laboratories.  Indian Government have also made compliance with the evolving world standards on GMP.  In order to ensure quality of such AYUSH products which use minerals in their preparation, testing for heavy metals has been made mandatory for export purposes.

Intellectual Property

                   Protection of intellectual property is another key area in the field of traditional medicines.  The large body of traditional knowledge that we have under Ayurveda, Sidda and Unani systems of medicine needs to be protected against patenting by other.  It is towards this that under a project called Traditional Knowledge Digital Library steps have been initiated to digitize classical formulations and register these with International patent organizations under the nondisclosure agreement so that wrong patenting of traditional knowledge can be avoided.

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