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SESSION 1

Regional overview of the resource situation and the status of utilization of the medicinal, culinary and aromatic plants in the Near East

 


 

Plant resources and their diversity in the Near East

V. Heywood
University of Reading

 

FORESTS

Under the FAO regional structure, the Near East region includes the following 30 countries: Afghanistan, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Cyprus, Djibouti, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Libya, Malta, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tadjikistan, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

According to FAO (The State of the World's Forests, 1997), the total area of forests and woodlands in the region in 1995 was about 131 million, i.e. 2% of the land area of the region.

The largest forest area is in Sudan (41.6 million ha), followed by Iran (11.4 million ha), Turkey (8.9 million ha), Morocco (8.4 million ha), Kyrgyzstan (7.3 million ha), Algeria (1.87 million ha), and Afghanistan (1.4 million ha). The forest and woodland area in the remaining countries is less than one million ha. Countries like Bahrain, Malta, Oman and Qatar have no forests. Egypt, Kuwait and United Arab Emirates have only man-made plantations. The land area, population numbers, GNP/person and forest area of the countries in the region is shown in Table (1).

Due to the prevailing harsh climatic conditions of the region, forestland is mostly comprised of savannah areas, open woodlands, and land with scattered trees and xerophytic shrubs. However, in the Atlas mountains of Morocco, highlands of Cyprus, Pakistan, Turkey, the Caspian sea and Southern Sudan, temperate forests and high rain zones are found.

In countries lacking natural forests, fast growing and multipurpose tree species (i.e., eucalyptus, casuarina, poplars and acacias) are planted in the form of windbreaks or shelterbelts around the farms, highways, public facilities and in the agroforestry systems. These help to meet the local needs for wood and to protect the agricultural crops against wind as well as providing amenity and amelioration of the environment. In countries that have natural forests, such plantations provide significant amounts of wood (e.g. 4 million m3/annum of wood are made in Turkey mainly from poplar plantations) and even greater amounts than the natural forest production (e.g. Iraq, Iran, Lebanon Syria and Tunisia).

In general, the forestlands in the Near East countries are state owned, although there are some variations among the countries regarding ownership and the rights of forest dwellers and local populations. Many countries in the region have enacted laws and legislations to regulate the use of forests by local populations and protect them against damaging interventions.

According to FAO statistics (Table 2), the forest area of the region decreased during the period 1990-1995. The main causes for degradation are: over exploitation of wood for fuel by rural populations, overgrazing and the increase in need for wood and non-wood products and services of forests by the growing population in the region.

Deforestation in the region during this period was very high. The most affected countries were Sudan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Algeria. The forests are used as a source of timber, fuelwood and other wood products. Fuelwood and charcoal are the most important products in the region. For example, in Sudan, the consumption of fuelwood (firewood and charcoal) represented the largest share of total consumption. Wood for construction, maintenance and furniture accounted for 7.2%, 3.8% and 1.5% respectively. In Turkey, the average annual wood production of state owned forests is around 7-7.5 million m3 of round wood and 6-9 million m3 of fuelwood.

NWFP include medicinal and aromatic plants, herbs and spices, gums, resins, tannins, fibers, mushrooms, honey, fruits and nuts for nutrition, fodder for animals as well as wildlife products. There are also other very important services provided by the forests in the region. Protection of soil and water resources is a primary function of forests and wood plantations. Forests play a vital role in combating desertification and preventing soil erosion in fragile regions (Sudan, Yemen and North Africa countries), as well as protecting watersheds in mountainous areas (Yemen and Cyprus). Shelterbelts and windbreaks protect fields, cities and infrastructure, ensure environmental stability and increase soil productivity by mitigating the effects of climatic fluctuations in many countries of the region (Egypt, Libya, Iraq, Sudan, Syria and Turkey). Amenity and recreation are also among the important functions of forest areas. In line with the rapid urbanization in many countries of the region, demands for recreation activities have shown rapid increase. For example, in Turkey 428 recreation sites covering 15 946 hectares have been established, and 32 national parks covering an area of 649 486 hectares. Forests play a significant role in the preservation of biodiversity and the gene reserves in the region. They provide work opportunities and additional income to the rural population living in and around forests.

Floristic Diversity of the Near East Region

The flora of the Near East region is diverse and comprises some 23 000 vascular plant species of which 6 700 are endemic to the region (Table 3). The flora of the Middle East is estimated at 15 000 species by Heller (1991). These figures can be compared with 25 000 for the flora of the Mediterranean region.

In some countries such as Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Cyprus, Israel and Turkey, modern inventories of flora have been completed while in other countries, such as Iraq, Iran and the Arabian Peninsula, they are still in the stage of development. A recent checklist of the flora of Egypt has been published (Boulos 1995) and in the same year another catalogue of the flora was published by El Hadidi & Fayed (1995). The first of seven projected volumes of the "Flora of the Arabian Peninsula and Socotra" was published in 1996 (Miller & Cope 1996). This aims to provide a regional framework for the floras of the countries of the Arabian Peninsula (Saudi Arabia, Republic of Yemen including the Socotran Archipelago, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait). Another major floristic work is the "Conspectus Florae Orientalis" (Heller & Heyn 1980-94), an annotated catalogue of the flora of the Middle East. This synthetic catalogue is in some ways a supplement and update of the taxa listed in Boissier’s classic "Flora Orientalist" that was completed over a century ago.

Nineteen "centres of diversity" were recognized in the Middle East and South West Asia. They include the Levantine Uplands of Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Jordan which form part of the "Fertile Crescent", of major importance for agriculture. The region also contains Vavilov’s Near Eastern Center of Origin of Crop Plants and the Near Eastern Complex recognized by Harlan (1992) where a wide variety of cultivated plants were domesticated, as well as in neighboring areas such as the Mediterranean.

 

DIVERSITY OF MEDICINAL AND AROMATIC PLANTS, HERBS AND SPICES

The use of medicinal, culinary and aromatic plants, herbs and spices in the region goes back thousands of years and forms an important part of various cultures. Although many of the species concerned have fallen into disuse, traditional medicines still play a major role in health care systems. A list of the most important medicinal and essential oil and perfume plants is given in Table (4). The most important plant families are: Boraginaceae, Caryophyllaceae, Chenopodiaceae, Compositae, Cruciferae, Gramineae, Labiatae, Leguminosae, Liliaceae, Rosaceae.

In Turkey, more than 500 medicinal and aromatic plants are being used. Whole or parts of plants of about 250 species are exported (Koyuncu, 1995). Turkey is also rich in aromatic plants and Baser (1993) estimates that a third of the flora of Turkey consists of aromatic plants used for fragrance, flavoring or containing essential oil. In Tunisia, 152 medicinal plants have been recorded together with 38 essential oil plants (Chemli, 1997). Amongst the 1500 or so plants used in Iraq, a large number serve medicinal and aromatic purposes. Some of them are cultivated (Chakravarty,1976).

In the Arabian Peninsula oleo-gum-resins are found in Boswellia and Commiphora of the family Burseraceae. These are produced in resin ducts in the bark. Boswellia sacra, the most celebrated plant of Dhofar, and one that played a key role in its economy until recent times, was widely used as a medicinal plant for a whole range of ailments by physicians. Three species of Commiphora are used medicinally in preparations made from their resinous wood or from the resins: C. oliacea (or C. Copobasamum), the famous Balm of Gilead (Meccamyrrh), C. Foliacea, whose wood is widely used, and C. habessinica whose resin is very valuable as a medecine.

Information about the medicinal and aromatic plants of the region is scattered in a range of different works. Some are little more than briefly annotated lists of the common species to be found in a particular country (e.g. "Medicinal plants of Iraq". F. M. Karim & S.A. Quraan, 1986). In other countries such as Pakistan and Yemen, they contain detailed information about actual uses, how they are traded and so on.

The introduction of more extensive farming of medicinal plants should be considered. This requires more information about which species grow in the wild, their conservation status, how intensively wild species are harvested, how extensively they are cultivated and what are the existing and potential markets (local, national and international). This also requires the participation of the local community and its indigenous knowledge, and proper analysis of the socio-economic, cultural, agricultural, technical, scientific and conservation factors involved.

 

INTERNATIONAL ACTIONS AND NETWORKS

One of the difficulties in planning action related to medicinal plant species is the lack of detailed information on their identity, geographical distribution, current uses, conservation status in the wild, cultivation practices, and trade statistics. Moreover, the range of interest groups involved with medicinal plants is remarkably wide. For this reason a recommendation was made at the first World Congress of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants for Human Welfare held in 1992 to set up an international coordinating body. Subsequently an International Council for Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (ICMAP) was created in 1993. The aim of this body is to provide a forum for more effective cooperation between the various organizations and individual scientists, technologists and other specialists working in the field of medicinal and aromatic plants. Activities involve formulation of new ideas, actions, strategies and promotion of education and training in all fields related to these plants.

More specifically the objectives of ICMAP include:

A regional network for the Identification, Conservation and Use of Wild Plants in the Mediterranean Region called MEDUSA was established during a workshop on "Identification of Wild Food and Non-Food Plants of the Mediterranean Region" held on 28-29 June, 1996 at the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Chania (MAICh). This network is financially supported by the Directorate General of the European Union, CIHEAM, and MAICh.

The general aim of the Network is to propose methods for the economic and social development of rural areas of the Mediterranean region, using ecologically based management systems that will ensure the sustainable use and conservation of plant resources of the area. These plant genetic resources are of actual or potential importance to agriculture, various industries and human health, and consequently improve the quality of life.

The specific objectives of the Network are:

The network includes representatives of international organizations, such as CIHEAM-MAICh, IUCN, ICMAP, FAO, IPGRI-WANA and LEAD which form the Steering Committee, and representatives from the countries of the Mediterranean basin (initially Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, Italy, France, Spain and Portugal). It is envisaged that the Network will eventually include members from all the Mediterranean countries and other international organizations.

 

OTHER NON-WOOD FOREST PRODUCTS

Food

The Near East forests provide a wide range of foods. Edible fruits are particularly important as they provide essential nutrients to the diet of local people. Examples of some edible fruit forest trees are: Pistacia, Pinus pinea and carob in Syria, Iran and Turkey; walnut, mulberry, tamarind, mango and Zizyphus sp. in Pakistan; and Andansonia digitata, Balanites aegyptiaca and Zizyphus sp. in Sudan. In countries that have no natural forests like Egypt, fruits of Ficus sycamorus, Eugenia jambolana and Morus sp. are consumed.

Forage

Many trees and shrubs and Savannah grassland in the Near East countries are used as forage for cattle, sheep, goats and wildlife (animals, birds and insects). Acacias are the most valuable forage trees in the region. Acacia saligna is the main forage source in the sand dune areas along the north coast of Egypt in the Sinai Peninsula. In Sudan, cattle eat pods and leaves of Acacia arabica, A. torotilis and A. senegal. Prosopis juliflora also produces palatable and nutritive pods and leaves that are eaten by camels, cattle, sheep and goats (in Egypt and Sudan).

Biochemicals

There are a number of plant species in the region which are sources of biochemicals. For example, in Sudan, tannin extracted from the bark of acacias is used widely in the leather tanning industry. In Turkey, red dye material is extracted from Alkanna spp. and yellow dye from Datsia cannabira, Anchonium elichryrifolium and Berberis spp. The dyes of Rhubia tinctorium is used for coloring, medicines and foods. In Tunisia Lowsania inermis, Punica granatum, Alkanna tinctoria and Rubia tinctorium are used as a source for dyes.

Gums and Resins

Gum arabic which is an exude of Acacia senegal is the most important NWFP in Sudan . It is the second export commodity in Sudan.

In Pakistan gum and tannin are obtained from A. arabica. Several other species, such as Balsamodenron sp., Pinus roxburghii and Boswellia gabra are sources of gum and resins.

In Turkey gum and resins are extracted from Abies sp., Pinus brutia and Astragalus sp..

Ornamentals

In some Near East countries (e.g.Turkey), bulbous plants are used for ornaments as well as in pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries. They have traditionally been used in the floristic trade locally and are now also being sold abroad. The export of flowers earned 2 374 000 US$ in 1995. Some of the most important bulbous plants are: Eranthis hyemalis, Anemone blande, Leucozum aestivum and Cyclamen hederifolium.

Honey

Some of the Near East countries are important producers of natural honey from Acacia and Eucalyptus species. Turkey is one of the major producers.

Cork

The North African countries are the main exporters of cork. The annual cork production in Tunisia is 8000 tons. The most important species for cork production in the region is Quercus suber.

Mushrooms

The lower plants in the forests of the region including mushrooms, morels, truffles and other fungi supply a number of minor foods. Pakistan and Afghanistan are the main producers of morels in the world trade. The activities of the FAO "Forestry and Food Security Project in the Mediterranean and Near East Region (Turkey Syria and Jordan)" include cultivation of mushroom. The most commonly cultivated and exported mushroom in the project is Agaricus bisporas.

 

FOREST SERVICES

Soil protection and erosion control

One of the major roles of forests in the Near East region is to reduce soil erosion and water run off and therefore conserve the fragile mountain ecosystems. Windbreaks and shelterbelts protect fields and urban areas in the region. In addition, forestlands and plantations play a major role in combating desertification and stabilizing sand dunes in nearly all countries of the region.

Recreation, tourism and wildlife protection

The rapid urbanization in the region increased the demand for parks and reserves. Parks and reserves offer a number of recreational facilities such as hunting, fishing, bird watching, camping as well as conserving the indigenous biodiversity. In Turkey for example, there are 32 national parks covering a total area of some 650 000ha, 11 nature parks, 32 nature reserves and 118 wildlife reserves.

 

REFERENCES

Baser, H.C. (1992). Essential Oils of Anatolian Labiatae: A Profile. Acta Horticulturae 333: 217 – 238.

Boulos, L. (1995). Flora of Egypt Checklist. Al Hadara Publishing, Cairo.

Chakravarty, H.L. (1976). Plant Wealth of Iraq. A dictionary of Economic plants. Vol. 1.

Chemli, R. (1997). Plants Médicinales, Aromatiques et Culinaires de la Flore de Tunisie. FAO/RNE, Caire.

El Hadidi, Nabil & Fayed, Abel-Aziz. (1995). Materials for Excursion Flora of Egypt. Taeckholmia 15. Cairo University Herbarium, Giza.

Garadat, A. (1993). First Work on Plant Genetic Resources in Yemen. 12-14 December 1993.

Harlan, J.R. (1992). Crops & Man. Second edition. Amercan Society of Agronomy, Inc., Crop Science Society of America, Inc., Madison.

Heller. D. (1991). Conspectus Florae Orientalis. Botanica Chronica 10: 55-61.

Koyuncu, M. (1995). Medicinal and Aromatic Plants in Turkey. Ankara University. Ankara.

Karim, Fawzi M.& Qurann, Saleh A. (1996). Medicinal Plants: Rescuing a Global Heritage. The World Bank, Washington DC.

Miller, A.G. & Cope, T.A. (1996). Flora of the Arabian Peninsula and Socotra.

Palevitch, Z.Y.D. (1982). Effect of Drought on the Secondary Metabolites of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants – a Review. In: Atal, C.K. & Kapur, B.M. (eds), Cultivation and Utilization of Medicinal plants. Regional Research Laboratory, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, Jammu-Tawa.

FAO. (1997). State of the World's Forests. Rome. Italy.

Younis Haggag, M. (1997). Herbal medicine in Egypt. In: Heywood, V.H. (Ed.), Identification of Wild Food and Non-Food plants of the Mediterranean Region Workshop. Options Mediterranéenes, Serie Seminaire Mediterranéennes. CIHEAM/MAICh, Chania.

Table (1): Basic data and forest cover in the Near East region.

Country

Land area 1994
1000 ha.

Population in 1995 (million)

GNP/ person

Forest area 1995

       

1000 ha

% of land area

Afghanistan

65209

20.1

C

1398

2.1

Algeria

238174

27.9

1650

1867

0.8

Azerbijan

8660

7.5

7.5

990

11.4

Bahrain

69

0.6

7870

0.0

6.0

Cyprus

924

0.7

10380

140

15.2

Djibouti

2318

0.6

780

22

0.9

Egypt

99545

62.9

660

34

n.a

Iran

163600

67.3

n.a.

1544

0.2

Iraq

43737

20.4

G

83

0.2

Jordan

8893

5.4

1190

45

0.5

Kuwait

1782

1.7

23350

5

0.3

Kyrgyzstan

19180

4.5

830

730

46.4

Lebanon

1023

3.5

G

52

5.1

Libya

175964

5.4

n.a.

400

0.2

Mauritania

102622

2.3

570

556

0.5

Morocco

44630

27.0

0.9

3835

8.6

Oman

21246

2.2

5600

0

0.0

Pakistan

77068

140.5

430

1748

2.3

Qatar

1100

0.6

15140

0

0.0

Saudi Arabia

214969

17.9

n.a.

222

0.7

Somalia

62734

9.3

C

754

1.2

Sudan

237600

28.1

C

41613

17.5

Syria

18378

14.7

G

219

1.2

Tajikistan

14060

5.8

470

410

2.9

Tunisia

15536

8.9

2.2

555

3.6

Turkey

76963

61.9

2120

8856

11.5

U.A.E

8360

1.9

22470

60

0.7

Yemen

52797

14.5

C

G

n.a.

Total

1777141

564.1

 

138

 

Source: FAO. (1997). State of the World’s Forests.

Key:
C: Estimated to be low income ($725 or less)
E: Estimated to be upper middle income ($2.896 to $8.955)
G: Estimated to be lower middle income ($726 to $2.895)
n.a: No figures available.

 

Table (2): Changes in forest cover in the region (1990 - 1995).

Country

Forest area 1990 1000 ha

Forest area 1995
1000 ha

Annual change

        

1000 ha

Rate (%)

Afghanistan

1990

1398

-118

-6.8

Algeria

1978

1867

-23

-1.2

Azerbijan

990

990

0

0.0

Bahrain

0

0

0

0.0

Cyprus

140

140

0

0.0

Djibouti

22

22

0

0.0

Egypt

34

34

0

0.0

Iran

1686

1544

-28

-1.7

Iraq

83

83

0

0.0

Jordan

51

45

-1

-2.6

Kuwait

5

5

0

0.0

Kyrgyzstan

730

730

0

0.0

Lebanon

78

52

-5

-7.8

Libya

400

400

0

0.0

Malta

0

0

0

0.0

Mauritania

556

556

0

0.0

Morocco

3894

3835

-12

-0.3

Oman

0

0

0

0.0

Pakistan

2023

1748

-55

-2.9

Qatar

0

0

0

0.0

Saudi Arabia

231

222

-2

-0.8

Somalia

760

754

-1

-0.2

Sudan

43376

41613

-353

-0.8

Syria

245

219

-5

-2.2

Tajikistan

410

410

0

0.0

Tunisia

570

555

-3

-0.5

Turkey

8856

8856

0

0.0

Turkmenistan

3754

3754

0

0.0

U.A.E

60

60

0

0.0

Yemen

9

9

0

0.0

FAO. (1997). State of the World’s Forests.

 

Table (3): Floristic diversity in the countries of the Near East and South West Asia

Country Vascular plant species

Endemic species

% Endemic species

Bahrain

248

0

0.0

Egypt

2121

54

7.2

Iran

8000

1400

17.5

Iraq

3000

190

6.3

Israel

2225

165

7.4

Jordan

2100

145

7.3

Kuwait

282

0

0.0

Lebanon

2600

311

12.0

Oman

1200

73

6.1

Qatar

306

0

0.0

Saudi Arabia

2028

34

1.7

Sinai (Egypt)

984

30

3.1

Syria

3100

395

13.0

Turkey

8650

2675

30.9

United Arab Emirates

340

0

0.0

Yemen

2830

135

4.8

Socotra (Yemen)

815

230-267

28.2-32.7

Source: Boulos et al. (1994).

 

Table (4): Major indigenous medicinal and aromatic plants of the Middle East and Southwest Asia

Achillea frragrantissima Juniperus phoenicea
Achillea santolina Lavandula dentata
Achillea graecorum Leontice leontopetalum
Alkanna strigosa Marrubium spp.
Aloe perryi Mentha pulegium
Aloe dhufarensis Myrtus communis
Aloe inermis Nerium oleander
Ammi spp. Ocimum Kilmandscharicum
Anagyris foetida Origanum syriacum
Anastatica hierochuntica Otostegia fruticosa
Artemisia herba-alba Papaver somniferum
Artemisia judaica Peganum harmala
Boswellia sacra Retama raetam
Cannabis sativa Rhamnus spp.
Calamintha incana Rhus tripartita
Calotropis procera Rhus communis
Catha edulis Ricinus communis
Cassia enna Ruta chalepensis
Citrrulus colycinthis Salvia fruticosa
Commiphora foliacea Symphytum spp.
Commiphora ileadensis Teucrium polium
Commiphora parviflora Thymelaea hirsuta
Commiphora soctrana Thymus spp
Crocus sativus Tribulus terrestris
Cymbopogon proximus Urginea maritima
Cynoglossum creticum Verbacscum sinuatum
Datura stramonium Verbena officinalis
Digitalis spp. Ziziphus jujuba
Dracaena cinnabari
Source: Boulos et al. 1994.
Ephedra alata
Eryngium campestre
Ferula asa-foetida
Foeniculum vulgare
Glycyrrhiza spp.
Gypsophila spp.
Haplophyllum tuberculatum
Hyoscyamus spp.

 

Table (5): Medicinal plants adapted to arid zone conditions of the Middle East

Genus / Species
Active Constituents Medicinal properties
Calotropis procera Mudar bark calotropine Various, fixing agent for perfumes
Boswellia Odoriferous gum resin Various, aromatic stimulant
Commiphora Gum resins, myrrh Various, aromatic stimulant
Capparis spinosa Rutin Used for arteriosclerosis,
diuretic, chills, renal disinfectant, tonic
Spergularia marina Triterpene, saponine Expectorant
Gypsophila Saponosides Tonic, diaphoretic alterative, skin diseases
Salsola Alkaloids Hypotensive
Artemisia cina Santonine Anthelmintic
A. herba-alba Thujone, santonine Vermifuge
Convolvulus scammonia Resin Purgative
Citrrullus colocynthis Colocynthin, elaterin Purgative
Globularia alypum Anthraquinone glucosides Purgative
Cymbopogon proximus Geraniol, citral Antiseptic, insect
Repellents, perfume
Hyssopus officinalis Essential oils Carminative, antiseptic
Rosmarinus offcinalis    Chloritic, perfume
Thymus      
Alhagi maurarum Manna from leaves Laxative and purgative
Cassia angustifolia Anthraglucosides Purgative
C. acutifolia      
C. obovata      
Acacia seyal Gum Emollient, emulsifier
Astragalus Gum tragacanth Emulsifier
Trigonella foenum-graecum Diosgenin Tonic, restorative,
Precursor of steroids
Androcymbium gramineum Colchicine Anti-mitotic properties
Urginea martitma Scillarin A and
other glycosides
Cardiac stimulant,
diuretic
Fraxinus ornus Manna: mannitol and galactoside-
saccharose
Laxative
Rhamus alaternus Anthraglucosides Purgative, laxative
Paliurus Heteroside Diuretic
Ammi majus 9-nethoxy-psoralen Psoriasis
Dorema ammoniacum Sap contains gum   
Genus/ Species Active constituents Medicinal properties
Ferula asaapoetida    Antispasmodic
Zygophyllum    Hypoglycaemic
Tribulus terrestris Hepatic toxin Sheep poison
Peganum harmala Alkaloids, harmaline Hallucinogen,
Anthelmintic
Balanites aegyptiaca Sapogenins, diosgenin Precursor of steroids

Source: modified from Palevitch (1982).


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