Anadolu University, Medicinal and Aromatic Plant and Drug Research Centre (TBAM), ESKIŞEHIR
Wild-crafting of medicinal and aromatic plants has been a major concern for conservationists since they see it as a threat to plant biodiversity. Although, rural development projects such as construction of dams, development of tourism areas, establishment of housing and industrial estates, overgrazing, conversion of pasturelands to cultivation fields, deforestation, etc. pose a greater threat, wild harvesting of medicinal and aromatic plants is also included in this debate.
Wild-crafting of herbal materials is a tedious and difficult job and requires manual labour sometimes necessitating the entire family to get involved in the process. Collectors are usually non-educated and this is the main cause of the destruction of biodiversity and the unnecessary loss of material. Collectors consist of poor peasants who need this practice as an extra source of income. The introduction of good harvesting practice for wild-crafted plant materials and the education of collectors on sustainable wild harvesting and post harvest treatment of medicinal and aromatic plants are seen as a safe way to minimize unnecessary destruction of the wild flora. The paper discusses these and related issues. A successful case of such a practice in Turkey is presented.
Turkey has a rich biodiversity and a significant number of plant taxa. According to latest estimates, the vascular flora of Turkey contains over 12.000 generic taxa belonging to 173 families, 1244 genera and over 9150 species. Each year about 20 new species or taxa new for Turkey are recorded. The rate of endemism is over 35%. Over 3500 endemic taxa are recorded in Turkey.
An estimated 1000 species are used variously for medicinal purposes. The flora of Turkey also possess about 3000 aromatic plant taxa. About 200 of the medicinal and aromatic plants of Turkey have export potential and 70–100 plants taxa are annually exported from Turkey.
Since except for commercial crops such as poppy, anis, rose, fennel, cumin, coriander, dill, etc. cultivation practices for medicinal and aromatic plants are not common in Turkey. Therefore, the majority of exported herbs are harvested from wild sources.
It is an established economical fact that demand creates supply. As demand for medicinal and aromatic plants is increasing, wild crafting of herbs are expected to continue. Legal restrictions to curb wild crafting may result in shrinkage of supply, however, this in turn inflates the price of that commodity. As long as the demand stays, wild crafting ought to continue despite the elevated risks for the collector.
It is more important to control and reduce the demand for wild crafted herbs. But this is not an easy task. The problem can only be solved at international level. However, it may not be necessary to restrict the wild crafting of every plant material. It may be advised to restrict those which are under greater threat of extinction as scientifically proven.
Being totally against wild harvesting bears the risk of depriving the country of its economic benefits. The ideal situation would be to cultivate all the plants in demand. This is the only safe way to supply pure and good quality plant materials. However, due to reasons such as unsuitability of the plant for cultivation, paucity of demand, lack of economic feasibility, etc. most medicinal and aromatic plants are wild crafted.
Conscious entrepreneurs can be successful in the cultivation of medicinal and aromatic plants with a good profit margin through incentives provided by the state under the guidance of scientists. But this ideal situation is not a magic solution to the problem. How about the forest villagers who rely on wild crafting as a source of income? Here, there is food for thought for the state, the citizens, scientists and scientific institutions. The state has to enhance the quality of life of its citizens who have to collect plants from the wild for their livelihood. If the level of affluence is raised conscious of the society regards wild crafting a shame, and without resort to legal restrictions, destruction of biodiversity due to wild crafting subsides. This is the situation observed in developed countries. In other words, wild crafting arises from economic necessities. Since the level of affluence of a country cannot be changed in one day, the only option left for the state is to devise a mechanism to control wild crafting. Here, the priority should be given to the preparation of an inventory of wild plants with economic value. Special reserves or conservation sites can be declared for endemic and highly demanded other plants. This in situ conservation enables these plants to survive in their ecosystems. Efforts to this end have been ongoing in Turkey.
Wild crafting is criticized as a threat to the conservation of biodiversity. Although, bioprospecting is encouraged and seen as an efficient way of tapping nature's resources through sustainable utilization of the environment for the benefit of mankind, conservationists are solidly against wild crafting of medicinal and aromatic plants. Even though, rural development projects such as construction of dams, development of tourism areas in and around nature reserves, establishment of housing and industrial estates, urbanization of the countryside, overgrazing of meadows and pasture lands, deforestation, conversion of pasturelands to cultivation fields, land erosion are bigger threats to biodiversity, however, wild crafting of medicinal and aromatic plants are also included in this debate.
Wild harvesting of medicinal and aromatic plants is practiced mainly in developing countries where the work is carried out by peasants. They do it for extra income and compete with each other for a bigger harvest. Collected plants are dried in open air and a certain degree of wilting (if necessary), sorting and cleaning is done before packaging for transport. If this is done without the supervision of a skilled worker, wastage of materials and destruction of the environment may be sizeable. Deliberate adulteration is also a common problem.
Rejection of the consignment by the buyer means immediate loss to the collecting party. It may not be possible to remove dirt and foreign plant materials from chopped, crushed or semi-powdered bulk of plant material. It is not only a loss for the collector but also for the country. Therefore, education of the collectors is an immediate necessity.
Good Harvesting Practice
Recently, a guideline has been proposed with the title “On the Commercial Collection of Plant Material from the Environment for Medicinal Purposes”. It is also named as “Good Harvesting Practice (GHP)” (Annex 1).
This guideline is aimed at educating the collectors and by introducing checks and rules for harvest and post-harvest practices. It is intended to reduce avoidable losses and to secure collection of the correct plant material in a sustainable way. It requires supervision of the collection by a responsible person knowledgeable in the particular plant harvested, its vegetative cycle, population density, correct time and mode of harvesting, etc. He educates the collectors on the recognition of the true plant, on the aspects of conservation and legal restrictions, and in ways to safeguard the production of high quality plant material suitable for pharmaceutical manufacturing. It is hoped that the drug collecting organizations will soon reorganize themselves to adhere to this guideline and a certain certification scheme will be developed to encourage, and ensure that these rules laid down in the guideline are strictly implemented and documented.
The preparation of the guideline is timely since the subgroup on Herbal Medicines of the European Medicine Evaluation Agency (EMEA) requires for herbal materials the minimum standards set for synthetically manufactured active pharmaceutical materials. Proof for such a standard can be obtained by legally binding written documentation indicating that the true plant material is harvested, processed, transported and stored in an orderly manner. Since the guideline was drafted by an industrial manufacturer of herbal medicines realizing the fact that some order is necessary in obtaining pharmaceutical grade plant materials from wild sources, there is a good chance that GHP will soon set the minimum standards in the trade of wild crafted herbs.
Another important aspect of sustainable wild crafting is to give the villagers of a region a “sense of ownership”. In other words, wild crafting rights should be given to certain groups such as village cooperatives in their own regions. The authorized group does not allow strangers to collect plant materials from its region. Furthermore, the group is encouraged to take precautions for sustainability.
Here, I would like to give some examples from Turkey.
Kekik (Oregano) is an important export commodity of Turkey. Annually, Turkey exports 5.000–7.500 tons of dried oregano for a return of 13–15 million US dollars. Commercial oregano species are collected mainly in the Aegean and Mediterranean regions of Turkey. Turkish oregano (Origanum onites) (Labiatae) tops the list of commercial oreganos. The others include White oregano (Origanum majorana-Carvacrol-rich type), Sütçüler oregano (Origanum minutiflorum) [Endemic], Greek oregano (Origanum vulgare subsp. hirtum), Israeli oregano (Origanum syriacum var bevanii), and Thymbra spicata, Satureja cuneifolia and Coridothymus capitatus to a lesser extent. Contrary to the Harmonized List of Export Commodities of Turkey, Thymus vulgaris (thyme) and Thymus serpyllum (wild thyme) are not native plants of Turkey, however, kekik (oregano) is exported under their position numbers.
The biggest threat to wild growing oregano is early harvest. Some collectors are known to start harvesting very young oregano plants in February in contrast to its more usual harvesting period of July-September. Due to low content of carvacrol in essential oil of these early harvests, such consignments are rejected by the buyers. Another malpractice is harvesting of the herb with bare hands instead of using a sickle. Such a practice results in uprooting or damaging the roots, hence, killing the perennial plant.
An interesting practice for sustainable wild crafting of oregano exists in Sütçüler township and its villages in Isparta province. Sütçüler oregano is an endemic species with high essential oil yield and high carvacrol content. Realizing the economic importance of this species which grows only in their region in the world, the collectors in four villages have established village cooperatives. These cooperatives in collaboration with the regional Forestry Office have drawn up a set of rules for the wild crafting of this oregano species. These rules require the collectors not to start harvesting before a predetermined date which usually is the first half of September while the plants are in the stage of late flowering/early fruiting. The collectors are permitted to harvest the plants with sickles or other sharp tools 5 cm above the ground. During this period, the peasants move to the high plateaus which belong to their village with their families, do the harvesting in their specified areas by the Village Headman, and bring down their harvest after drying, pounding and packaging in sacs to sell to the cooperative. An important aspect of this practice is that it has been an improvised initiative by the villagers directed by common sense and not through dictation. Cooperatives are established in the following villages: Çandir, Sarmemetler, Gümü and Beydilli. Their harvests in 1998 were as follows: Çandir (70–80 tons), Beydilli (80–100 tons), Sarmemetler (50 tons) and Gümü (20–30 tons). This type of harvesting has been practiced in these villages in the last five years.
Laurel (Laurus nobilis) (Lauraceae) is a bush which grows along the entire coast line of Turkey stretching from Artvin to Hatay. Laurel leaves are harvested for export or essential oil production in most parts of Turkey, however, in İçel and Hatay provinces, fruits are harvested and an aromatic fixed oil (Laurel berry oil) [Tehnel oil, Gar oil] is obtained by boiling the crushed berries in water followed by scooping out the floating oil. This oil has excellent frothing properties and therefore used in locally made soaps, and exported mainly to Arab countries and Germany.
In mountain villages of Silifke in Içel province, it is possible to see well looked-after laurel trees owned by the villagers. Each villager harvests berries from his own trees in a manner similar to harvesting olives. While in other parts of Turkey where wild growing laurel plants are butchered by cutting their entire branches to pluck leaves, here, the cared plants can grow to the height of a tree and no more measure of conservation is necessary.
Sideritis species (Labiatae) [Mountain Tea] are used as herbal tea in Turkey. Entire crop is obtained by wild crafting. They are sold locally and also exported mainly to Germany.
Since Turkey is one of the two main gene centres of Sideritis together with Spain, the rate of endemism is high. As dried inflorescenses are used to make tea, plants are collected while flowering.
We have recently made an interesting field observation. The unusual abundance of the endemic Sideritis vuralii around the Kayrak village caught our attention. When asked, the villagers told us that they had been planted by them upon discovery of its bee-attracting properties.
If a plant is found useful then necessary steps are taken by the people concerned for its survival.
Salep is obtained from the tubers of terrestrial orchids of the Orchidaceae family. The fat tubers of the species of Orchis, Ophrys, Platanthera, Serapias, etc. are collected. After washing, the tubers are either lined up on a string like beads or loaded on a skimmer, and dipped in boiling water for some time in order to kill the enzymes. Then, the tubers are dried in the sun until they become rock hard. When finely ground and boiled with milk salep makes a pleasant hot drink taken especially in winter months. In summer, salep is a key ingredient of Maraş Ice cream which is hung and cut by knife in hot summer days.
Salep plants grow in forests or meadows, and are considered endangered species. In most countries, their collection is prohibited. Although its export is banned in Turkey, it is somehow exported. Domestic consumption requires a sizeable quantity of salep tubers to be wild crafted. Its propagation poses problems as germination of its seeds require the occurrence of a certain fungus in the soil. Total dependence to the nature for its supply gives shivers to conservationists. However, it can be harvested in a sustainable way.
The plant yields two tubers one fat and hard and one weak and soft. After uprooting to collect the fat tuber, if the plant is replanted immediately with its weak tuber it survives and supplies another fat tuber next year. This example also clearly shows even simple education of the collectors can prevent unnecessary destruction or spoilage.
As illustrated above, education plays an important role in sustainable utilization of natural resources. Simple educational materials such as illustrated leaflets or booklets, wall charts, videos, etc. can be very useful in creating public awareness and for the education of collectors. They can be printed and distributed by traders or trade organizations dealing with wild crafted medicinal and aromatic plants.
I personally find, the adoption and careful implementation of GHP rules useful and necessary for sustainable harvesting of medicinal and aromatic plants.
Proposal for a guideline on the commercial collection of plant material from the environment for medicinal purposes
(GHP, Good Harvesting Practice for Collected Plant-Material)
[By G.Harnischfeger, ICMAP News, No. 7, 12–14 (June 2000)]
The following guideline describes requirements, which should be met in today's collection of medicinal plant material. Observance of this guideline constitutes an important step towards medicinal plant products of constant and sufficient quality.
Since demand for herbal starting material from a specific species is difficult to predict and climatic conditions influence greatly its quality, it is prudent for the trader or buyer to include as many different growing areas as possible. This allows equalization of quality by mixing individual batches of different provenances.
1. Collecting Personnel
1.1 Collectors should possess extensive knowledge about the identification of the plant from which the drug is derived, its physiological specifics and its requirements for environmental factors like shade, moisture, soil etc.
1.2 Collectors should be able to distinguish clearly between the medicinal plant and its closely related relatives in order to avoid unwanted admixtures.
1.3 Collectors should have sufficient knowledge about optimum conditions for the time of harvesting, the best techniques for harvesting and also enough knowledge about the subsequent conservation process and storage conditions to insure high quality of the raw material gathered.
1.4 Collectors should adhere to a high degree of personal hygiene. They should not take part in collecting activities if suffering from infectious diseases transmittable by food, e.g. diarrhea, carry open wounds, inflammations of the skin etc. until their complete recuperation.
1.5 The knowledge of the collectors should be periodically reinforced and monitored by a competent specialist of the collecting organization. This education process should be documented.
2.1 Collecting should take place at a time when the plants with regard to their use are in optimum condition with respect to required pharmaceutical quality and therapeutical efficacy.
2.2 Collecting should take place under dry conditions. Wet soil, dew, rain or exceptionally high air humidity are unfavorable.
2.3 All equipment used should be clean and free of remnants of previously harvested plants.
2.4 Mechanical damage that results in undesirable quality changes has to be avoided, e.g. loss of essential oil in broken umbelliferous fruits.
2.5 Whenever possible collection should take place in such a way, that unnecessary damage to the plant is avoided. Care should be exercised to enable the plant to grow back to a normal state.
2.6 The period between collecting and arrival of the plant-material at the drying facility should be reduced to a minimum in order to avoid undesirable changes in external appearance, quality and microbial status.
2.7 The collected plant-material should be protected from pests, pets and domestic animals.
2.8 Special care should be taken to avoid over harvesting and through it the danger of extinction of the plant species in the particular collecting area.
2.9 No plants or parts of plants on the endangered species list, be it local or international, should be collected unless special permission is given by the competent state authorities.
2.10 The responsible collecting organization has to appoint at the local level a person charged with insuring the correct identification of the collected plant-material and the compliance of the collectors with provisions 2.1–2.9.
2.11 Information about the general area of collection, for example, a brief description of habitat, climate, soil type and other specifics which might influence the quality of the harvest should be documented by the responsible collecting organization for each campaign.
2.12 Appropriate documentation including season and date of the collecting campaign and an assessment on identity, macroscopic quality and purity of the collected plant material should accompany every shipment from the collecting area to the drying and/or processing facility.
2.13 Every shipment constitutes a batch. It should be labeled appropriately and be accompanied by the documentation outlined in paragraph 2.12.
2.14 The appointed person of paragraph 2.10, possessing adequate knowledge about the requirement on identity, quality and purity of the plant-material should sign the accompanying documentation and accept responsibility for those specifics named in paragraphs 2.12 and 2.13.
3.1 Arriving at the drying/processing facility the collected plant-material has to be promptly unloaded and unpacked. It should not be exposed to the sun and must be protected from the elements.
3.2 Building-facilities used for drying/processing must be clean, well aerated and never be used for animal keeping.
3.3 Building-facilities must provide protection of the plant-material against pests, rodents, insects and birds as well as against pets and domestic animals.
3.4 Equipment like drying-frames etc. must be clean and regularly serviced.
3.5 In case of air-drying, the plant-material should be spread in a thin layer. The drying frames must be located in a sufficient distance from the ground to provide adequate air circulation and facilitate uniform drying.
3.6 For all methods used, adequate consideration should be given that drying conditions are chosen appropriate to the type of plant-material processed. These concern both the character of the active ingredients (e.g. essential oils) and the type of plant organ collected (e.g. root, leaf, flower etc.).
3.7 Drying directly on the ground under exposure to sunlight should be avoided.
3.8 The dried drug should be screened in order to eliminate discolored, moldy or damaged pieces and foreign admixtures and contaminants.
3.9 Clearly marked waste bins should be kept ready, emptied and cleaned daily.
3.10 The dried plant-material should be packaged immediately in bags or containers permitting air exchange in order to reduce the risk of pest attacks and mould.
3.11 Adequate documentation of the drying process, duly signed by a responsible person, should be added to the batch report.
4. Packaging, equipment, facilities for storage, documents and quality assurance
The requirements laid down in the Good Agriculture Practice (GAP) guidelines apply where appropriate.
Important Wild Crafted Medicinal and Aromatic Plants Exported from Turkey
[Volume (kg)/ value ($)/unit export value ($/kg)]
|Other Medicinal and aromatic plants||815,401|
MM. K. HÜSNÜ & Can BAŞER
Centre de recherche sur les plantes médicinales et aromatiques et les produits pharmaceutiques,
La cueillette sauvage de plantes médicinales et aromatiques préoccupe gravement les écologistes depuis qu'ils ont compris combien elle menaçait la préservation de la biodiversité. Certes, les projets de développement rural, comme la construction de barrages, le développement des zones touristiques, la construction de complexes immobiliers et industriels, le surpâturage, la transformation de zones de pâturage en champs cultivés, le déboisement, etc., représentent une menace plus grave mais la récolte sauvage des plantes médicinales et aromatiques est également un sujet de débat.
La récolte sauvage d'herbes est un travail laborieux et difficile qui ne peut se faire qu'à la main, ce qui fait que parfois une famille entière est employée à cette activité. Les cueilleurs n'ont généralement aucune instruction et c'est la principale cause de disparition de la biodiversité et de la perte, évitable, de plantes. Il s'agit de paysans pauvres qui ont ainsi une source supplémentaire de revenus. L'introduction de bonnes pratiques de récolte des plantes sauvages et l'éducation des cueilleurs, à qui on enseignera un mode de récolte assurant la pérennité des plantes et le traitement après la récolte des plantes médicinales et aromatiques, est considérée comme un bon moyen de réduire au minimum la destruction évitable de la flore. Le document traite de ces questions et des questions qui s'y rapportent. Un exemple réussi de ce genre d'éducation menée en Turquie sera présenté.