• Traditional medicine systems:
Healthcare is one of the most important and basic needs of humankind, which have been associated since human civilization. From time immemorial human beings have been using plants as medicine in treating various ailments. Most of the plant parts used include leaf, fruit, whole plant, root, seed, bark etc. All the ethnic groups used a large number of wild plants for the treatment of various ailments, as the state is predominantly inhibited by indigenous people.
The most common traditional medicine systems practiced since ancient times are Ayurveda, Unani, Sidha, Homeopathic, Chinese, etc., and apart from these there are various other practices prevailing within various ethnic groups in the world. In this space age, herbal medicine still flourishes and is getting popularised in both the developing and the developed countries due to its natural origin and lesser side effects. Over 80,000 species of plants are in use in herbal medicine throughout the world. Approximately, 80% of the people in the world’s developing countries rely on traditional medicine for their primary health care needs, and about 85% of traditional medicine involves the use of plant extracts. Many plant‐derived compounds have been used as drugs, either in their original or semi‐synthetic form. There are also several plant extracts or phytomedicines in clinical trials for the treatment of various diseases. With the increasing realization of health hazards and toxicity associated with indiscriminate use of synthetic drugs and antibiotics, interest in the use of plants and plant‐based drugs and nutraceuticals has been in vogue throughout the world.
• What makes certain plants possess medicinal values?
When we look at the flowers, colourful leaves and fruits, we only say that they are colourful and beautiful but never gave a second thought‐ Why these colours and where do they come from? People say that they are there to attract insects and other pollinators but, it is just not that. They are, in fact, defensive attributes which the plants use, to withstand various stress conditions exerted by environmental factors such as temperature, mixed radiation regimes from the sun and outer space, background radiations and other epigenetic factors. These colourful displays enhancing the richness of biodiversity contain hidden wealth which can be harnessed in the form of various phytochemicals and are extremely valuable.
Plants which are considered to be have medicinal properties have certain attributes and functionality. The medicinal plants contain bio-active molecules in the form of secondary metabolites which are produced inside the plant parts during stressed conditions and stored in them. These secondary metabolites are defence mechanism of the plants which help in protecting themselves during adverse environmental conditions. These bio-active molecules exhibit medicinal properties against various ailments. On the other hand these bioactive molecules exhibit antioxidant properties which are useful in scavenging free radicals inside the body.
• What is the need to understand and scientifically validate traditional medicine practices?
Traditional knowledge on medicinal plant uses has been considered as an area of high priority, sometimes leading to drug discovery thereby contributing to socio-economic development. Further, the indigenous knowledge is the life line of the humans and base line of drug discovery and nutritional beneficial food plants. Hence, validation of these folklore claims of medicinal plants through phytochemical, pharmacological and biological investigation is an urgent need to prove their curative properties.
( Contributor : Dr. Dhanaraj Singh Thokchom is presently Senior Scientist (Scientist-in-charge) Ethno-Medicinal Research Centre (EMRC) which is supported by the Department of Science & Technology, Ministry of S&T, Govt. of India) at Hengbung, Manipur. During his tenure in EMRC, he has several patents on plant-based products developed from traditional knowledge. He was looking after the Orchid Research & Development Centre, KVK-Sylvan, FEEDS, Manipur as Scientist -D. He has a doctoral degree in Genetics & Radiation Biology and has been consistently working on areas of Redox Biology, Drug discovery and herb-based product development.
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