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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 January, 2004, 02:01 GMT
Herbal remedies 'threaten plants'
herbal medicines
A wide range of herbal medicines are used
The growing demand for herbal remedies is threatening to wipe out 10,000 of the world's 50,000 medicinal plant species, conservation group WWF says.

In Europe alone, more than 1,300 medicinal plants are used commercially, and about 90% are taken from the wild.

A report released on Thursday by the Plantlife International group urges suppliers to ensure ingredients are cultivated or harvested responsibly.

The British Herbal Medicine Association says the problem has been exaggerated.

But Plantlife International says the plants are harvested wastefully far too often.

They say the bearberry - used to treat kidney and digestive problems - has become rare in much of Eastern Europe because whole plants are uprooted even though only the leaves are used.

With demand and commercialisation growing fast, the future of the wild plants that have helped most of humanity for centuries is now more uncertain than it has ever been
Plantlife's Martin Harper

Other threatened plants include tetu lakha - a tree found in south India and Sri Lanka and used for anti-cancer drugs in Europe, saw-wort - an Indian root used for skin disorders, and tendrilled fritillary - a Chinese plant used to treat respiratory infections.

Study author and World Conservation Union Medicinal Plant Specialist Group member Alan Hamilton told New Scientist magazine: "It is an extremely serious problem."

The market for herbal remedies in North America and Europe has risen by 10% every year for the past decade, research indicates.

It is now thought to be worth at least 11bn.

Plantlife's Martin Harper told New Scientist: "With demand and commercialisation growing fast, the future of the wild plants that have helped most of humanity for centuries is now more uncertain than it has ever been."

"It is time for the industry to join forces with environmental organisations to ensure herbal harvests have a sustainable future."




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Vicki Young
"Worldwide the industry is worth about eleven million pounds"



SEE ALSO:
Echinacea 'does not cure colds'
18 Dec 02  |  Health
Ban proposed for herbal medicine
18 Jul 02  |  Health


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