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3. Background documents


Medicinal, culinary and aromatic plants in Pakistan

Aftab Saeed
Department of Academic Research, Karachi



Pakistan is a developing country of South Asia, spreading over an area of 87.98 million hectares. The country is situated between latitude 23 and 37 North and longitude 61 and 76 East. The annual rainfall ranges from 125 mm in the South to 875 mm in sub-mountainous and northern plains. About 70% of the rain falls during the monsoon season (July-September). However, occasional showers also occur during the winter. The summer months, except in mountainous areas, are very hot, while the winter months are mild in the plains and extremely severe in hilly regions.

Pakistan is the ninth most densely populated country in the world. According to the latest estimates, the population of the country is over 120 million. The state-owned forest area, under the control of the Forest Department, is 4.58 million hectares, only 5.2 % of the total area of Pakistan, Azad Jammu and Kashmir. Annual production of timber and fuelwood is 0.482 million m3 and 0.234 million m3 respectively.

A survey of the naturally available plant wealth of Pakistan shows that medicinal plants grow in abundance in Hazara, Malak and Kurram Agency, Murree Hills, Azad Kashmir, Northern Areas and Baluchistan, or are cultivated on farmlands in Punjab, Sindh, Baluchistan, North West Frontier Province and Kashmir. According to the surveys carried out by the Pakistan Forest Institute (1989), 500 tons of medicinal plants are produced in Hazara and Malakand, 16 tons in Murree Hills, 38 tons in Azad Kashmir and about 24 tons in Northern Areas. These plants are collected from the wild, dried and processed and sold in the local markets or exported to other countries. Pakistan obtains more than 80 % of its medicaments from higher plants. Medicinal plants are used as:



In Azad Kashmir, about 70 % of the productive areas were surveyed. The approximate annual yield of plants in the reserves of medicinal herbs in Gureze and Sharda Forest Ranges/Shard Forest Division and Keran Range of Keran Forest Division are shown inTable (1) :


Table (1): Important medicinal plant species of Kashmir forests,
North Western Frontier Province and Baluchistan.

Plant names Parts used Approximate
Annual Yield (tons)
Aconitum chasmanthum Roots


Aconitum heterophyllum Roots


Acontium sp. Leaves


Adianthum capillus Whole plant


Angelica glauca Roots


Artemisia vulgaris Leaves/ shoots


Atropa acuminata Roots


Berberis lycium Roots


Dioscorea deltoidea Rhizome


Dioscorea deltoidea Twigs


Geranium wallichianum Roots


Myrtus communs Fruits


Paeonia emodi Rhizome


Podophyllum emodi Rhizome


Polygonum amplexicauler Roots


Rheum emodi Roots


Saxifraga ciliata Roots


Thymus serphyllum Leaves


Valeriana wallichii Rhizome


Zizyphus vulgaris Fruits



The quantitative surveys of some of the above mentioned pharmacopoeially important medicinal plants, conducted in different forests of the North West Frontier Province and Baluchistan reveal that substantial quantities of such crude drug plants can be procured.



The actual supply/demand of herbs and medicinal plants is in the range of 20,000 tonnes per annum. About 14,000 tonnes of herbs were imported in 1989-1990 while about 106 tonnes of herbs and 3,083 tonnes of medicinally-used plants were exported in that year. Essential oils of Anise, Caraway, Coriander, Fennel, Lavender, Spearmint and Rosemary are extensively used as flavours for domestic consumption and for export.

Consumption of essential oils in Pakistan has been estimated by the Agricultural Development Bank of Pakistan and values are shown in Table (2).


Table (2) : Annual consumption (Kg) of essential oils in Pakistan.


Consumption (kg)

Eucalyptus oil


Pepper mint oil




Lemon oil


Orange oil


Herbaceous oils


Other oils






Trade of crude vegetable drugs is very erratic in Pakistan. Prices fluctuate greatly due to variations in external and internal demands within the country. Traders frequently underpay collectors of the raw materials and sell the products at a large profit. Hence the availability of particular crude drugs remains very unstable and market trends cannot be easily determined.

Reasons for fluctuation in price :



A variety of medicinal plants grow in the temperate hilly region of Pakistan. These plants gained importance in the allopathic system of medicine after Europeans investigated into their curative values. Plants such as Digitalis purpurea, Atropa belladonna, Colchicum sp. (Suranjan talkh), and many others were used in British and American pharmacopoeias, and a number of life-saving drugs are currently in use. This has resulted in the depletion of the existing stock and presently most of the plants are found scattered in the distant areas.

Some other species are also endangered through indiscriminate exploitation by the collectors. For quite a few of these valuable plants, either the quality has deteriorated or they have become extinct. Development of the technology of propagation and regeneration of medicinal plants in their natural habitat is essential for the conservation of this natural resource. Studies carried out by the Medicinal Plants Branch have revealed that temperate medicinal plants acquire perennial habits and therefore take more time to reach the stage of commercial exploitation.



Wild roses (Rosa lacerans and R. beggeriana), which are widely spread in Northern Pakistan, have a high content of Vitamin C. Substances extracted from shrubs are widely used in tanning industry. Young leaves, twigs and flowers of Tamarix articulata and Calligonum polygnoides are rich in tanning substance. Their galls may have up to 15 % tannins. Several acacias also contain tanning substances. The bark of A. decurrents contains up to 40 % tannins. Shrubs are the major source of firewood for the rural population of Pakistan. Charcoal is a valuable commodity in many desert areas. Shrubs are also used for building products, frames of houses and small wood industries.


Table (4). Common medicinal shrubs of Pakistan

Botanical name Geographical distribution
Acacia modesta Pothwar, Salt Range
Atriplex nummularia Tharparker, Baluchistan Uplands
Artemisia maritima Quetta, Lasbella, Kharan
Alhagi camelorum Thal, Sibi, chagai, Kharan
Caragona ambigua Baluchistan Uplands
Ephedra foliata Baluchistan Uplands
Holoxylon recurvum Thal, Cholistan, D.G. Khan Kahu
Holoxylon griffithii Northrn Baluchistan
Olea cuspidata Pothwar, Salt Range
Opuntia ficus - indica Tharparkar, Sindh
Prosopis cineraria Thal, Cholistan, Tharparkar
Pistacia khinjuk Baluchistan Upland
Salsola foetida Thal, Cholistan, D.G. Khan
Ziziphus nummularia Pothwar, Salt Ranges, Sindh



Some drugs can be administered alone or as poly-pharmaceutical (following the principles of therapeutics) in the form of decoctions, infusions, tablets, powders, confections, electuaries, preserves, conserves, syrups, linctus, calcined preparations (Kushta) etc. In the field of preventive and primary health care, it is notable that most of the Unani Medicines are not directly curative and therefore are not liable to produce harmful side effects in contrast with some chemical or synthetic drugs.

Examples of simple and compound preparations

Simple natural drugs
Arora, R.B. (1965) found that Nardostachys jatamansi D.C. (Balchhar) was effective against hypertension of all grades. Peruvoside from Thevetia neriifolia Juss (Pila-Kaner) exhibited cardiotonic activity equipotent to ouabain. Caccinea glauca Savi (Kundur) was reported to possess potent diuretic activity. Antiarrythmic attributes of Rauwolfia (Asrol) and Acorus (Wajj) as well as anti-convulsant activity of Acorus (in dose of 30 mg./kg. given intraperitoneally) afforded protection against the development of hind limb toxic extension in the electrically induced convulsion. Anticoagulant and coronary dilator activity of coumarins against coronary thrombosis, thrombo- embolic episodes and spasmodic conditions of blood vessels have been reported from Calophyllum inophyllum Linn. (Champa) and Dalbergia sissoo Roxb. (Sheesham) constituents.

The recognized publications of CSIR, New Delhi (Chopra et al. 1956 Chopra, 1958), The Wealth of India-Raw Materials (1978) contain authentic information on thousands of the indigenous medicinal plants.

Anti-inflammatory drugs
Nimbidin from the oil of seeds of Azadirachta indica was found to reduce acute paw oedema. The present significant anti-inflammatory findings on nimbidin may substantiate the use of Neem oil in the treatment of rheumatic conditions (Pillai and Santhakumari, 1981). Bavachinin isolated from the seeds possesses marked anti-inflammatory antipyretic and mild analgesic properties. It showed no effect on CNS and minimum lethal dose is greater than 1000 mg/kg, ip in mice. 25-100 mg/kg ip (Anand et al., 1978).

Cell healing
Fractions of leaf extract from local types, such as Aloe vera syn. A. barbadensis and A. Saponaria, were tested by in vitro assays for the presence of lectin like activities and for effects on the attachment and growth of human normal and tumour cells (Winters et al. 1981). Fractions of extracts of fresh leaves had high levels of a lectin like substance. Substances in fluid fractions from fresh leaves were found to markedly promote attachment and growth of human normal but not tumour cells, and to enhance healing of wounded cell monolayers.

Antifungal and antiviral activity
Mangniferin isolated from leaf extract of Mangifera indica (Mango) have marked anti-influenza virus activity. It has anti-virus activity against skin diseases and the mucous membrane. Oral or topical compositions are useful for the treatment of diseases caused by herpes virus. The positive therapeutic effect of magniferin co-tanning ointment was demonstrated treating skin eruptions in children.

Fruits of Zizyphus Jujuba (Unnab) play a significant role in the pathophysiology of bronchial asthma and allergic diseases. The fruit is used in China for such diseases (Jyong-chyulyong and Kigonichi 1980). Buds of Syzygium aromaticum syn. Eugenia aromatica (Laung) contain eugeniin tannin. It has antiviral activity against herpes simplex virus at concentration (Takachi and Tanaka, 1981) of 10ug/ml. The alcoholic extract of ripe dried coconut shell of Cocus nucifera (Nariyal) showed antifungal activity at a dose of 100 ug/ml of Sabouraud's medium against all dermatophytes tested except E. flocossum for which the effective concentration is 200 ug/ml. (Venkataraman et al. 1980).

Antimicrobial activity
The aqueous extract (1:10) from seeds of Moringa oleifera was tested against fungi including Candida and Penicillium and bacteria from Bacillus, Proteus, Streptococeus and Mycobacterium spp. Remarkable results were obtained. Ripe and unripe Carica papaya fruits extract showed significant activity on pathogenic bacteria. Staphylococcus aureus, Bacillus cereus, Escherichia coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Shigella flexneri (Emeruwa, 1982).

Hypocholesterolemic agents
The alcohol extract of the Commiphora mukul and C. mukul was found to be most potent in lowering serum cholesterol level as well as cholesterol / phospholipid ratio (C/P).

Antidiabetic effect
Ficus sp, F. glomerata, F. religiosa etc. contain an active principle-sitosterol D-glycoside which showed a hypoglycaemic effect in fasting and alloxan diabetic rabbits (Oliver Bever, 1980). The fruit and seed of Syzygium cumini, are used as antidiabetics, in doses of 1- 2.5 g/kg. LD in mice is 4 g/kg. Gymnema sylvestre leaves which are chewed, reduce glycosuria, normalize the blood sugar in diabetic subjects in 3-4 weeks but when used in combination with insulin a prompt response was observed. The active substance is gymnemic acid.

The above mentioned plant materials have moderate action and can be useful in bringing symptomatic relief in mild cases of diabetes. In some cases their prolonged administration might delay the establishment of a more serious diabetic disease. Valeriana officinalis components, present in the oxygen fraction, are relatively important in causing the sedative activity.

Antiepileptic activity of Lavandula.
In secondary epilepsy, administration of 1.5 gms. pulverized powder for selective time duration proved useful.

The natural polypharmaceuticals

Khamira Abresham Hakim Arshadwalais extensively used in the management and treatment of hypertension, arrhythmia, palpitation and cardiac debility. The individual ingredients of this preparation included Bombyx mori Cocoon, Nardostachys jotamansi, Moschus moschiferus etc.

Joshanda is a reputed remedy to relieve common cold and influenza. It comprises seven active ingredients all of herbal origin [ viz. Althaea officinalis (Khatmi), Cordia latifolia (Sapistan), Glycyrrhiza glabra (Mulathi), Malva sylvestris (Khubazi), Onosma bracteatum (Gaozaban), Viola odorata (Banafsha) and Zizyphus jujuba (Unnab) ].

Safoof-Satawar includes Glycyrrhiza glabra, Asparagus racemosus, Ammomum subulatum and Carum carvi in its composition. The compound drug (in dose of 6-grams equally divided and administrated for 6- weeks) acts safely and gives relief in cases of acid peptic disease.

Safoof Khashkhash with five major ingredients (viz. Seeds of Lactuca Sativa, seeds of Portulaca oleracea, seeds of Papaver sominiferum, flowers of Nymphaea lotus and dried fruits of Coriandrum sativum) the powder compound preparation is found to be effective against hypertension. The polypharmaceutical effect is attributed to the sedatives, analgesic and diuretic activities of its ingredients.

Icterene,a plant-based preparation, is of hepatoprotective activity and is useful in treatment of infectious hepatitis.



Anand, K.K., Sharma, M.L., Bupinder Singh and Ray Ghatak, B.J. (1978). Indian Journal of Experimental Biology, 16, 1216-1217.

Arora, R.B. (1965). Cardiovascular Pharmacotherapeutics of Six Medicinal Plants Indigenous to Pakistan and 33India. In: Hamdard Pharmacopoeia of Eastern Medicine, Hamdard Foundation Pakistan (1969) 422-448 pp.

Chopra, R.N., Nayar, S.L. and Chopra, I.C. (1956). Glossary of Indian Medicinal Plants, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, New Delhi, 330 pp.

Chopra, R.N., Chopra, I.C., Handa, K.L. and Kapur, L.D. (1958). Chopr's Indigenous Drugs of India. U.N.Dhur and Sons Pvt. Ltd. Calcutta, 816 pp.

Eilert,U., Wolters B. & Nahrstedt, A.(1982). Planta Medica, 42, 55-61.

Emeruwa, A.C. (1991). Journal of National Products, 45(2), 123-127 pp. In: The Conservation of Medicinal Plants. Ed. (1991), (Reference Olayiwola, A.).

Pillai, N.R. & Santhakumari G. (1981). Planta Medica, Volume 43, 59-63.

Szymova M. (1952) Chemical Abstract 47: 2412.

Takechi M. and Tanaka Y. (1981) Planta Medica, 42, 69-74.

The Wealth of India, Raw Materials - A Dictionary of Indian Raw Materials and Industrial Products (1948 - 1976) Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, New Delhi, Vols. I-XI. Venkataraman, S., Ramanujam T.R. and Venkata-Subbu V.S. (1980). Journal of Ethno-pharmacology, 2, 291-293.

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