Protecting Endangered Himalayan and Ayurvedic Herbs

The RARE, or Reviving Ayurveda’s Rare Ecology, project aims to revive Ayurveda’s rare ecology in India.

In This Article

Endangered Plant Medicine Species

More than 80 percent of the world’s inhabitants rely on traditional plant-based medicines, according to the World Health Organization. This can put major pressure on an ecosystem. In fact, according to some experts, demand for herbs has resulted in at least 10,000 species, or 20 percent of all herbs, making the endangered species list.1,2

In the US alone, herbal medicine sales are growing by more than 7 percent each year. And more than $7 billion is spent annually on herbal remedies.

The demand is rapidly outpacing supply.

So much so that pharmaceutical companies are now unsustainably harvesting drugs and herbal medicine from rare plants around the world, only adding to the mounting list of endangered species.

For example, the best-selling cancer drug Taxol was originally derived from the Pacific yew tree (Taxus brevifolia). But overharvesting led to an endangered species listing and threatened the future of the species. In order to treat one patient, 6 100-year-old trees had to die. These days, the drug is manufactured synthetically, but this type of environmental destruction is still rampant worldwide for many other medicinal herbs and pharmaceutical ingredients.1,2

When I first visited India in 1986, my Ayurvedic teacher strongly emphasized the fact that many of the most powerful herbs had already been overharvested into extinction. That was 1986! Today, there are thousands of herbs on the brink of extinction that need our help.

One of the most treasured and well-researched herbs in Ayurveda, kutki (Picrorhiza kurroa), was listed as endangered by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in 1997. Kutki’s popularity and effectiveness for liver and lymph support drew worldwide attention, which resulted in severe overharvesting. Now, the listing makes it illegal to harvest and sell kutki without a CITES certification.

For years, I viewed kutki as the most effective herb in my Ayurvedic pharmacy. When it became endangered, we had to stop selling it.

Saving Kutki

Sadly, there were—and still are—a handful of companies that continue to sell illegal kutki on the web from black market wild-crafting, bringing kutki even closer to extinction.

But we have found a sustainable solution. Today, thanks to the painstaking work of dedicated farmers in the small village of Gesh, India, some 25 miles from the Tibetan border, kutki is being saved! Kutki is now being sustainably grown and harvested in its natural high-altitude habitat in the Himalayan Mountains, at about 12,000 feet.

kutki reviving ayurveda's rare ecology
Kutki Crew in Gesh, India (Photo Courtesy of The Dunagiri Foundation)

Spearheading this mission is (JD: Dunagiri is no longer involved) run by Ayurvedic Master Herbalist Prashanti De Jager whose mission is to find sustainable solutions to preserve a growing list of endangered species by empowering and educating Himalayan villagers to ethically cultivate threatened herbs.

One crop of kutki is being sustainably grown, harvested and certified per year from this remote Himalayan village, making LifeSpa’s Kutki for liver and lymph support is CITES-certified. This means that the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has certified this crop of kutki as sustainably cultivated and legal to be sold.

Plus, the proceeds go back to the growers.

Tune in to my podcast with Prashanti De Jager.

Reviving Ayurveda’s Rare Ecology (RARE)

In support of the sustainable and ethical cultivation of endangered Himalayan herbs, including kutki, LifeSpa has launched a project called RARE, or Reviving Ayurveda’s Rare Ecology.

Our Kutki supplement is the first in a long line of LifeSpa RARE products that we will be sustainably sourcing and making available.

Some of the initiatives of the Gesh community that our work supports are:

  • Preserving endangered herbs
  • Teaching sustainable herb cultivation
  • Documenting oral wisdom traditions, including capturing oral wisdom traditions from elders that are being lost and forgotten.
  • Traditional herb processing equipment. Prashanti De Jager and villagers are hand-building the equipment needed to harvest, clean, dry, and process medicinal herbs using traditional methods.
  • Basic tools for farmers. A village toolshed is being built and stocked.
  • Restoring Naulas. Naulas are the ancient natural springs where some of the world’s purest water comes from. The water is used for both drinking and watering kutki crops. Through the years, the springs have fallen into disrepair or have started to disappear. . The Foundation funds the construction of traditional Naula structures to help with restoration and preservation.
  • Building community rooms. These meeting rooms will be where elders, children, and other villagers can gather, learn, and teach. Any energy needs will be met with solar technology.
  • Bees. Thirty yards from the kutki fields are natural bee hives that feed on the kutki flowers. The kutki field is always buzzing with bees. Every home also has several hives that are in part supported by the Foundation.

Buy CITES-Certified

Sourcing CITES-certified kutki is essential to the restoration of this powerful Ayurvedic herb. We hope you consider sustainably and ethically sourced products through the RARE project.

Learn more about The RARE project.

Buy Kutki here and support the community of Gesh.

References

  1. https://www.utne.com/community/the-endangered-herbs
  2. http://cms.herbalgram.org/press/2017/USSalesofHerbalSupplementsIncreaseby77percentin2016.html

3 thoughts on “Protecting Endangered Himalayan and Ayurvedic Herbs”

  1. This is remarkable and wonderful work. I know you’ve written of this before. Would you be for or against others on other continents growing some of these herbs?

    Reply

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