Demand for traditional medicines could threaten plant species

Seminar: The increasing demand for traditional medicines might lead to threats in the sustainability of raw materials, according to traditional pharmacists.

Roots and flowers of plants used as raw materials, if not used in a sustainable manner might threaten the survival of the species. High altitude plants like Byed Rgyad Spoe (delphinium), Ud-pal (meconopsis) and Dom-nag Dom-khris, which are commonly used to produce traditional medicines, might be threatened in the long run according to traditional pharmacists.

According to officials from Menjong Sorig Pharmaceuticals, the requirement for traditional medicines has increased from seven metric tonnes in 2000 to 30 metric tonnes today.

Menjong Sorig Pharmaceuticals’ Sherab Tenzin, during a two-day seminar on traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources yesterday in Thimphu said that the increase in demand for the traditional medicine might be because of the increase in the access to medicines.

There are around 60 traditional medicine units in the country today. Sherab Tenzin said that about 30 to 35 percent of the population today has access to traditional medicines.

Bhutanese traditional medicine system, also know as gso-ba rig-pa, is believed to have started by Lord Buddha some 2,500 years ago. The system was brought in Bhutan by Guru Rinpoche in the eight century.

The system that is rich in cultural and traditional values, offers an alternative choice of treatment for the people. In 1967, the government formally recognized the system and established the first indigenous medicine dispensary at Dechencholing in Thimphu.

According to officials, gso-ba rig-pa is a medical practice based on the Buddhist philosophy. It has a holistic approach to health and wellbeing. Sherab Tenzin said that the root cause of suffering both physical and mental is Marigpa (ignorance). Marigpa then leads to dug-sum three mental poisons – Dod-chag (attachment), Zhe-dang (hatred) and Ti-mug (delusion).

The three mental poisons in turn stimulates the secretion of rlung (wind for attachment), mkhris-pa (bile from hatred) and bad-kan (phlegm from delusion). “The imbalances of these secretions lead to ill health and disease,” said Sherab Tenzin. “Traditional medicine system targets and heals the root cause of the suffering.”

Some 2,990 different types of raw materials are known for manufacturing of traditional medicine. About 600 medicinal plant species have been identified in the country and currently about 300 ingredients are used.

Almost 90 percent of the ingredients are based on medicinal plant. The remaining part originates from animals and minerals. About 85 percent of raw materials requirements are sourced within the country.

Sherab Tenzin said that although most of the plant ingredients are collected from wild, some of the species are now being cultivated and domesticated.

Younten Tshedup 

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