Herbal medicine: current status and the future

The use of herbal medicine is the oldest and most popular form of healthcare practice followed by people of all cultures in all ages. Herbal medicines include herbs, herbal materials, herbal preparations and finished herbal products that contain parts of plants or other plant materials as active ingredients. Herbal medicines are now, however, the most popular form of traditional medicine often termed as complementary medicine. It is the sum total of knowledge, skills and practices based on the theories, beliefs and experiences indigenous to different cultures that are used to maintain health as well as to prevent, diagnose, improve or treat physical or mental illness and disorder. Herbal medicine has got age-old practice and reputation and popularity known as “Pro-people” or “Mass-oriented” system of medicine, due to its easy accessibility, safety and popularity. At present about 70% of world populations is getting their primary healthcare through traditional and herbal system of medicines, according to WHO estimation. In Bangladesh, 75% of our population more or less use herbal medicine for primary healthcare.
Medicinal herbs or plants
Herbs include whole plants and plant parts including leaves, flowers, seeds, fruits, stems, woods, roots barks and rhizomes in their solid, fragmented or powdered form. A considerable number of definitions have been put forward for medicinal plants. According to WHO ‘It is any plant which in one or more of its organs contains substances that can be used for therapeutic purposes, or which are precursors for chemo-pharmaceutical semi-synthesis. When a plant is designated as ‘Medicinal’ it is taken for granted that the said plant is a useful as a drug or therapeutic agent or an active ingredient of a medicinal preparation.’ Medicinal plants may therefore be defined as a group of plants that bears some unique properties or virtues that qualify them as ingredients of drugs and therapeutic agents and are used for medicinal purposes.
Herbal medicine in home and abroad
Herbal medicines are now the most popular form of traditional medicines, free of side effects and highly acclaimed in home and abroad. Over 4 billion world’s population are now bent towards the herbal medicine; Africa, Asia, Latin America, Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Malaysia, China, Brazil, United Kingdom, Thailand, South Korea, France, Spain, Japan, India, Pakistan etc. are the large users of herbal medicines today. In many developed countries, 70% to 80% of the population either uses traditional medicine or complementary medicine. In some Asian and African countries, 80% of the population depends on herbal treatment. In average 48% American prefer herbal medicine whereas, in China herbal medicine account for 40% of all healthcare delivered and about 200 million patients are covered by it per annum. 70% of the population in Chile and 40% in Colombia use herbal drugs. 48% in Australia, 70% in Canada, 48% in USA, 38% in Belgium and 75% in France has got interest in this.
The US spends about 5 million US Dollar per year for herbal products and normally 20% of people in the US use herbal commodities and medication.
The UK imports about 90% of its medicinal herb requirement involving about 139 million euro market. India is a major exporter of raw medicine and aromatic plant and processed drugs. 70% of total exports of these items are done in six big countries like France, Germany, Japan, Switzerland, the UK, and the US. Other major importers are Bangladesh, Pakistan and Spain.
Use of herbal medicine
As per WHO, approximately 25% of modern drugs used in USA are derived from plants. More than 120 active components taken from plants are widely used in modern allopathic system of medicine today of which 80% specify co-relation between modern and traditional therapeutic use. As many as 2, 50,000 species of flowering plant are listed as medicinal plants. In Bangladesh almost 550 plants species have been branded as medicinal plants having therapeutic properties of which 300 species are now commonly used in the preparation of traditional medicine.
Users of herbal medicine
The development and mass production of chemically synthesised drugs have modernised health care in most parts of the word over the past 100 years. Conversely, large sections of the population in developing countries still bank on traditional practitioners and herbal medicines for their primary care. According to WHO, people all over the world are now well conversant with the use of herbal medicine for primary health care. Some research indicates that people having little knowledge of the toxic effects of crude herbs, only rely on traditional medicines. It is known that people from the very beginning of era use herbal system of medication for treating various types of disease having or not having the desired effects. Furthermore, the practice is done in innumerable places nowadays by the economically or educationally backward population in the world. This might occur due to their lack of proper knowledge or non-affordability of the modern allopathic system of medication. By the by, with the passage of time and with expansion of scientific approach, peoples’ interest in herbal medicine developed resulting in its diversified use and popularity even in the high level society. People in this day use the herbal medicines often to cure the stomach trouble, headache, cough and cold, cuts and injuries, skin diseases like rashes, eye sore, malaria, pox and various other infectious diseases.
Global acceptance and trend
The diversified use of herbal product and its acceptance worldwide made the sector sustainable, fast growing and promising one. According to World Bank Report 1998, world trade in medicinal plants and related products is expected to rise to the tune of US Dollar 5 trillion by 2050, as against estimate for 3 trillion US Dollar in 2020.
Factors behind the popularity of Herbal Products
r Usage of herbal as a dietary supplement is on the gradual increase
r Reliance on Natural products of advanced countries for healthcare solution
r Acceptance of herbal products globally and its growing demand
r Herbal product is free from side-effects and comparatively economical
r Introduction of Ayurveda course of education in the Western World
Herbal product industry in Bangladesh
The traditional medicine of Bangladesh is a unique conglomerate of different ethno-medical inspirations. Due to the geographical situation and socio-cultural traits herbal medicine advanced by traditionally rooted elements attributed by local aboriginal people and prejudiced by Indian Ayurveda and Unani medicine. Due to economical and easy accessibility the use of traditional medicine is an integral part of life and living of the common mass in Bangladesh. The utilization of Traditional medicine in healthcare line is widespread in Bangladesh. In the context of treating diabetes which is in epidemic form, people are tremendously dependent on herbal medicines in this country. Therefore, huge amount of herbal medicinal industries have grown in both organised and unorganised sector with annual consumption of roughly 20,000 tons of medicinal plant. According to a report, over 400 industries (including small and middle) are manufacturing herbal products countrywide. Currently, Bangladesh has a market of about tk. 300 crore worth herbal or traditional products per annum.
Government initiative for development of herbal sector
r An independent & autonomous council styled “Medicinal Plant & Herbal Product Business Promotion Council” has been formed under Ministry of Commerce. The council works as public- private partnership for export boost up and general business promotion.
r A board formed under the ministry of health and FP welfare works as Bangladesh Board Unani & Ayurverdic System.
r The government designated herbs & herbal medicine as one of the five priority sectors to diversify & enrich the country’s export volumes.
Associations for Development of Herbal Sectors in Bangladesh
r Bangladesh Herbal Food & Cosmetics Association (BHFCA)
r Bangladesh Homeopathic Medicine Manufacturers Association (BHMMA)
r Bangladesh Unani Aushadh Shilpa Samity (BUASS)
r Bangladesh Herbal Products Manu-facturing Association (BHPMA)
r Bangladesh Ayurvedic Aushadh Shilpa Samity (BAASS)
Herbal drug manufacturers in Bangladesh
There are eight herbal drug manufacturing organisations in Bangladesh. They are – Square Herbal and Nutraceu-ticals Ltd, ACME herbal, Hamdard Laboratories, AB Pharmaceutics, Holy Food and Beverage Ltd., Sadhana Ayurvedic, Shakti Ayurvedic and AP Ayurvedic.
Medicinal herbs: Its environmental impact
This is universally accepted that medicinal plants maintain biodiversity and ecological balance apart from its medicinal role.
r Increases food supply
r Ensures better climate and ecological balance
r Supplies timber, fuel and fodder
r Provides birds shelter
r Affords animal food and better health
r Cheeks riverbank and soil erosion
r Protect crops from pest insects
r Increases microorganisms in soil
r Ensure supply of medicine and healthcare
r Makes soil fertile
r Enhance social forest development
Economic impact of medical herbs
r The farming of medicinal plants is a source of employment as well as income in the rural areas especially in MONGA affected areas in Rajshahi, Rangpur, Bogra and Sylhet.
r About 60,000 marginal farmers most of them female (about 48,000) are earning through cultivating medicinal plants in Northern region of the country and thereby poverty has been alleviated to some extent increasing the female labour participation in the rural economic activities.
r They cultivate the herbs/ medicinal plants for local sale and export for earning substantial foreign currencies for the country.
r The ever increasing demand of Medicinal Herbs at home and abroad created a robust economic impact in the country’s business market and outside as well.
r Women participation in the cultivation sector of medicinal herbs enhanced group feeling; economic and social power of the women folk especially among the extreme poor.
In Bangladesh, a glorious heritage of herbal medicine system, based on 550 species rich native plant diversity, is considered as very important component of people oriented primary healthcare system. But over the years, although considerable progress has been made in the sector, in absence of safe, effective and quality products, all efforts have failed to attain the desired goal and success in line with the national policy and integrated health system. All concerns should take uncompromising attitude for imposing strict compliance of quality control in the manufacturing process of effective herbal medicine, with more and more research attempts for life saving medicine and therapeutic drugs. This is indispensible to combat the curse of diseased world as per WHO standard with the state of the art facility. Government should extend more funds and other forms of favourable supports for the development of this traditional system of Medicare.
[Note: This article has been compiled based on the information gathered from the works& articles of Prof. Dr. Sitesh C Bachar, Prof. Dr. Abdul Ghani, The Pharma World (May-June, 2013) & the internet sources]
The writer is a Member of American Society of Microbiology (ASM), Washington, DC and presently Lab Instructor, Department of Pharmacy, Primeasia University, Bangladesh