More than 80 percent of the world’s inhabitants rely on traditional plant-based medicines, according to the World Health Organization.
In the US alone, more than 7 billion is spent annually on herbal medicine, and the demand is rapidly outpacing the supply. Herbal medicine sales are growing by more than 7 percent each year.
The demand is so high that pharmaceutical companies are now sourcing drugs from rare plants around the world in unsustainable numbers, only adding to the mounting list of endangered herbs.
For example, the best-selling cancer drug, Taxol, was originally derived from the Pacific yew tree (Taxus brevifolia). In order to treat one patient, six 100-year-old trees had to die.
These days, the drug is manufactured synthetically, but this type of destruction is rampant worldwide. (1)
Experts say that at least 20 percent of all herbs are now considered endangered—this is around 10,000 species that are threatened and/or depleted completely. (2)
When I first visited India in 1986, my Ayurvedic teacher strongly emphasized the fact that many of the most powerful herbs had been overharvested into extinction. That was 1986! Today, there are thousands of herbs on the brink of extinction that need our help.
The Story behind Kutki
One of the most treasured and well researched herbs in Ayurveda, Kutki (Picrorhiza kurroa) became listed as endangered by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in 1997, making it illegal to sell without CITES certification.
Kutki’s popularity and effectiveness drew worldwide attention which resulted in severe overharvesting.
For years, I viewed kutki as the most effective herb in my Ayurvedic pharmacy. When it became endangered, in order to protect this precious herb, we had to stop selling it.
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 close to extinction.
This is why it is crucial to source CITES-certified kutki only.
Today, thanks to the painstaking work of dedicated farmers in the small village of Gesh some 25 miles from the Tibet border, kutki is being saved! Kutki is now being sustainably grown and harvested in its natural high-altitude habitat high in the Himalayan Mountains, at about 12,000 feet.
LifeSpa’s kutki is CITES-certified and the proceeds go back to the growers who are ethically and sustainably cultivating the plant.
Spearheading this mission is The Dunagiri Foundation, run by Ayurvedic Master Herbalist, Prashanti De Jager. The Dunagiri Foundation’s 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.
The kutki from this village 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.
In support of the sustainable and ethical cultivation of endangered Himalayan herbs, LifeSpa has launched a project called RARE – Reviving Ayurveda’s Rare Ecology.
Our first restoration herb of focus is Ayurveda’s most potent liver, lymph and spleen herb, kutki. Learn about the unique benefits of kutki here.
This is the first in a long line of LifeSpa RARE products that we will be sustainably sourcing and making available in partnership with The Dunagiri Foundation.
Proceeds from the RARE line go towards supporting the farmers and villages who will be growing these threatened herbs, so this a very important mission!
The Dunagiri Foundation supports a variety of initiatives in the Himalayan village of Gesh:
- Preserving endangered herbs
- Teaching sustainable herb cultivation
- Documenting oral wisdom traditions – 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 to harvest, clean, dry and process the herbs using traditional methods.
- Basic tools for farmers – A village toolshed is being built. There is a dire need for tools, shovels, picks, hoes, hammers, screwdrivers. This village is extremely remote with few if any modern conveniences.
- 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 the kutki crop. Through the years, the springs fall into disrepair and begin to disappear. The funds for a traditional Naula structure to be restored will be a deep and fundamental gift to the villagers.
- Building community rooms – These meeting rooms will be where elders, villagers and children can gather, learn, and teach. Computer technology and solar education will be taught to support their infrastructure.
- Bees – Thirty yards from the kutki filed are natural bee hives that deed on the kutki flowers. The kutki field is always buzzing with bees. Every home has several hives that are naturally a part of any home built there. The hives are holes in the walls that lead to chambers in the walls! The bees can be supported more through this project.
Sourcing CITES-certified kutki is essential to the restoration of this powerful Ayurvedic herb. The RARE project also supports the Gesh villagers and farmers who have taken on this project to grow it for the world in an ethical way.