Is the future herbal?

Ishrak Jahan
Thursday, April 7th, 2016


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.


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 medicines are now the most popular form of traditional medicines, free of side effects and highly acclaimed at home and abroad. People of Africa, Asia, Latin America, Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Malaysia, China, Brazil, United Kingdom, Thailand, South Korea, France, Spain, Japan, India, Pakistan etc. are the largest users of herbal medicines today.


As per WHO, approximately 25% of modern drugs used in USA are derived from plants. More than 120 active components taken fromplants 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. WHO mentioned some 21, 000 medicinal plants. In Bangladeshalmost 550 plants species have been branded as medicinal plants having therapeutic properties of which 300 species are now commonly in use in the preparation of traditional medicine.


Users of Herbal Medicine


The development and mass production of chemically synthesized drugs have modernized 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 wellconversant with the use of herbal medicine for primary healthcare. 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 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 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 stomach trouble, headache, cough and cold, cuts and injuries, skin diseases like rashes, eye sore, malaria, pox and various other infectious diseases.


Local industry


The traditional medicine of Bangladesh is a unique conglomerate of different ethno-medical inspirations. Due to economy and easy accessibility the use of traditional medicine is an integral part of life for the common masses in Bangladesh. The utilization of traditional medicine in healthcare line is widespread in Bangladesh. In the context of treating diabetes, people are tremendously dependent on herbal medicines in this country. Therefore, huge amount of herbal medicinal industries have grown in both organized and unorganized 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.


Medicinal Herbs: Its Environmental Impact


It is universally accepted that medicinal plants maintain biodiversity and ecological balance apart from its medicinal role.


  1. Increases food supply
  2. Ensures better climate and ecological balance
  3. Supplies timber, fuel and fodder
  4. Provides birds shelter
  5. Affords animal food and better health
  6. Cheeks riverbank and soil erosion
  7. Protect crops from pest insects
  8. Increases microorganisms in soil
  9. Ensure supply of medicine and healthcare
  10. Makes soil fertile
  11. Enhance social forest development


Economic Impact of Medical Herbs


  1. 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.


  1. About 60,000 marginal farmers, most of them female, are earning through cultivating medicinal plants in Northern region of the country& thereby poverty has been alleviated to some extent increasing the female labor participation in the rural economic activities.


  1. They cultivate the herbs/ medicinal plants for local sale & export for earning substantial foreign currencies for the country.


  1. 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.


  1. Women’s participation in the cultivation sector of medicinal herbs enhanced group feeling; economic& social power of the womenfolk especially among the extreme poor.




In Bangladesh, a glorious heritage of herbal medicine system, based on 550 species of rich native plants, is considered as a 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 healthsystem.


All concerned should take an uncompromising attitude towards imposing strict compliance of quality control in the manufacturing process of effective herbal medicine, with more and more research attempts for life saving medicines & therapeutic drugs.


[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]


Ishrak Jahan, B. Pham (Hon’s.); M. Pham Lab Instructor, Department of Pharmacy, Primeasia University, Bangladesh

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