Indian Trade in Medicine and Aromatic Plants

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Chapter: Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry : Indian Trade in Medicine and Aromatic Plants

Recently there has been a shift in universal trend from synthetic to herbal medicine, which we can say ‘Return to Nature’. Medicinal plants have been known for millennia and are highly esteemed all over the world as a rich source of therapeutic agents for the prevention of diseases and ailments.

Indian Trade in Medicine and Aromatic Plants




Recently there has been a shift in universal trend from synthetic to herbal medicine, which we can say ‘Return to Nature’. Medicinal plants have been known for millennia and are highly esteemed all over the world as a rich source of therapeutic agents for the prevention of diseases and ailments. Nature has bestowed our country with an enormous wealth of medicinal plants; therefore, India has often been referred to as the medicinal garden of the world. Countries with ancient civilizations, such as China, India, South America, Egypt, etc., are still using several plant remedies for various conditions. In this regard, India has a unique position in the world, where a number of recognized indigenous systems of medicine, viz. Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani, Homeopathy, Yoga and Naturopathy are being utilized for the health care of people. No doubts that the herbal drugs are popular among rural and urban community of India. The one reason for the popularity and acceptability is the belief that all natural products are safe. The demand for plant-based medicines, health products, pharmaceuticals, food supplement, cosmetics, etc., are increasing in both developing and developed countries due to the growing recognition that the natural products are nontoxic, have less side effects and easily available at affordable prices. Nowadays, there is a revival of interest with herbal-based medicine due to the increasing realization of the health hazards associated with the indiscriminate use of modern medicine, and the herbal drug industries is now very fast growing sector in the international market. But unfortunately, India has not done well in this international trade of herbal industry due to lack of scientific input in herbal drugs. So, it would be appropriate to highlight the market potential of herbal products that would open floodgate for development of market potential in India. With these objects, we reviewed here the market potential of herbal medicine in India.


The export of medicinal plants and herbs from India has been quite substantial for the last few years. India has a large endemic flora. There are more than 80,000 medicinal plants known, and nearly 180 plant-derived chemical compounds have been developed as modern pharmaceuticals, which are included in the Pharmacopoeia of India. The domestic ayurvedic market is estimated to be US$ 1 billion, and is growing at the rate of 15–20% annually. India has been the major supplier of medicinal plants in the world market until 1977, when it was kept to second position by South Korea with export worth only Rs. 16 crore during 1978–79. The quantum of export had dropped to almost half of what it was in 1976–77 when India exported medicinal plants worth around Rs. 29.8 crore. The items of export value were opium, psyltium husks and seeds, Vinca rosea, kuth roots and senna leaves and pods. At present the annual trade of Indian medicinal plants is estimated to be 37,200 tonnes valued around US$ 93,540,272.00, which is expected to be increased to US$ 629,194,624.00 by 2005. During 1980s, India was the largest supplier of medicinal plants to the world market with the supply of 10.555 metric tonnes of medicinal plant material and about 14 metric tonnes of plant-derived products and their derivatives. The annual turn over was around US$ 300 million. In 1995, psyllium husk, seeds and senna were the main export items from India. During 1998–99, India exported psyllium husk worth US$ 19.6 million and senna leaves worth US$ 22.4. India also exported finished ayurvedic and unani medicine during the year 2000–01. It exported medicine worth around US$ 128 million to various countries including United States, Germany, Russia, UK, Hong Kong and Malaysia.


The global herbal industry is estimated to be US$ 50 billion annually and growing at the rate of 5.5–6.5% annually. The Indian contribution to the global industry is around 10% only. One of the important items of export, covering approximately 80% of the world requirement, is a proteolytic enzyme, papain mainly manufactured in Maharashtra from raw papaya fruits. The commercial production of pectin from thalmus of sunflower is also carried out at Jalgaon in Maharashtra.


India is one of the few countries in the world where essential oils industry was developed at a very early stage.

The essential oils, perfumes and flavours have been asso-ciated with Indian civilization for several thousand years. Because of its vast area and a variety of soil and climate, essential oils containing plants of all types can be grown in one or the other parts of the country. India produces essential oils from wild and commercially grown plants in appreciable quantities such as palmarosa, citronella, calamus, cardamom, celery seed, cedarwood, dill, ginger, lemon grass, vetiver and rose oil. The annual production of coriander is about 243,000 tonnes, which constitute approximately 80% of the world demand. About 30% of global demand in cardamom and 15% in saffron are met by India. The annual production of saffron is approximately 150 tonnes.


The most significant export is of the sandalwood oil, for which our country is the major producer, exporting approximately 50–60 tonnes to the world market. India is a leader in the production of menthol as mentha oil steadily expanded in the last decade during the year 2000–01. India exported about 3,870 tonnes of mint oil worth about Rs. 1.26 billion. India is also a leader in the production and export of high value perfumes (attars) for the world market.


The domestic market of Indian traditional system of medicine comprising of ayurveda, unani, siddha and homeopathy has been reported to the tune of approximately Rs. 5,000 crore only, and India is at present exporting herbal medicines and materials to the value of about Rs. 550 crore only. In the domestic market, the ayurvedic medicines account for a major portion, about 85% as compared to unani, siddha and homeopathy system. The total patent and proprietary medicines of these systems are manufactured by over 9,500 licensed pharmacies/herbal manufacturing units spread all over India.


With the development of phytochemical industry in India, domestic requirement for various medicinal plants grew considerably. Consequently, the Govt. of India has adopted restrictive export policy in respect of those crude drugs, which were indiscriminately exploited in the forest, such as rauwolfia, podophyllum, Indian rhubarb, dioscorea, kuth, jatamansi, Atropa acuminata, Artemisia brevifolia, berberis, colchicum, Ephedra gerardiana, Gentiana kurroa, Picrorhiza kurroa, Swertia chirata, Valerian wallichii, etc. However, with due permission from the Chief Conservator of Forest or officer authorized by him; the material of plantation or of nursery origin certificate can be exported.


These medicines are mainly consumed within the country and some of these are also exported to the Middle East. Major destination countries are the United States, Nepal, Japan, Sri Lanka, Russia, Germany, Italy, Nigeria and UAE, and according to the survey reports, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Ban-gladesh and Mauritius are the countries having maximum export potential.


The major pharmaceuticals exported from India in the recent years were isabgol, vinca extract, senna derivatives, castor oil in dehydrated form, beta ionone, papain, berberine hydrochloride and opium alkaloids.


India’s export of essential oils during last few years has shown the erratic trends. The sandalwood oil share is more than 50% in the total export; the United States accounted for major share of exports of this item followed by USSR. The mentha oil has the same export trend as the cheaper quality is being exported by China. India is also exporting volatile oils to France, Japan, Sudan, Germany and Switzerland. The other important items of export value are cardamom oil, lemon grass oil, palmarosa oil, pudina oil, peppermint oil, clove oil, geranium oil, vetiver oil and lavender oil.


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