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Mr. Manish MISHRA
Faculty of Ecosystem Management & Tech. Forestry, Indian Institute of Forest Management, Nehru Nagar,


(Not available in French & Russian)

The destruction of vast expanses of tropical forests at accelerated rate is threatening the survival of many species that they shelter. The losses are alarmingly high in the tropical forest ecosystems. This loss may result into the disappearance of valuable genetic resources, which have immense possibilities of use in the future. The current pace at which the forests are being destroyed, may lead to a precarious decline in the bio-diversity. Some of the species bound to become endangered even before their medicinal properties are fully explored.

These species are also being collected for pharmaceutical preparations. Due to over use of economically important plants from the forests of central India many species have already become endangered and vulnerable. Due to this, the density of some of these plant species have declined in the natural forests because of high price of product in the market, which encourage immature harvest by the local population. There is thus an urgent need to conserve these fast disappearing plant resources, as some of them are medicinally and ecologically very important.

Central Indian tropical dry deciduous forests harbour several varieties of medicinal and aromatic plants. Some of the most important ones are Curcuma caesia, C aungustifolia, Asparagaus racemosus, Rauvolfia serpentina and Chlorophytum spp etc. Apart from their extraction for use by industries in the pharmaceutical formulations, forest dependent populations also use them for their local health care based on their indigenous knowledge and practices. Among these plant species C caesia and R serpentina merit special attention for their economic value and present critical condition in the ecosystem due to unsustainable extraction. These species were reported to occur abundantly (IUCN, 1994) about a half century ago in the natural forests of central India. However, due to growing economic importance of these species, unsustainable extraction became rampant. In a Conservation Assessment Management Planning workshop (Prasad & Patnaik, 1998) 39 species of medicinal plants were evaluated for their ecological status as per IUCN categories. These two medicinal species were found to be in the category of Critically Endangered. This requires immediate and urgent attention to restore them by prescribing sustainable harvest regime and related management practices.

This paper attempts to highlight the distribution and current harvesting practices of these species and recommends measures for ensuring their sustainable extraction and use. Distribution pattern, phenology, production and current harvesting practices of C caesia and R serpentina being followed by the gatherers have been assessed in some natural forests of Madhya Pradesh, India. Existing marketing and distribution channel of the selected species have also been discussed so as a package of practices for value addition and consequent enhancement of gatherers income.

Key words: Medicinal and Aromatic Plants, Unsustainable harvesting, Exploitation, Regeneration, Endangered.


A large number of highly useful herbaceous plants have little future, unless immediate steps are taken to arrest the causes leading to ecological and biological impoverishment. It is estimated by IUCN that about 20,000– 25,000 of the worlds vascular plants species are dangerously rate or under threat. Thousands of life forms, are likely to vanish, if the current trend in population, land use, and pollution of air and water continues. It bring about irreversible alterations in the biosphere. The problem of habitat destruction is articularly serious in country like India where a remarkable variety of species still awaiting discovery.

Some of the plant species which were reported to occur commonly or abundantly about half a century ago have at present became rare or very rare due to over exploitation/habitat loss and have fallen in the category of endangered species. The glaring examples are Dioscorea deltoides, R serpentina, C caesia etc.

Growing demand and irrational exploitation have resulted in the rapid depletion of these species from the natural habitat to a level of near extinction. The tropical forests of Madhya Pradesh are enriched with a large number of species of high medicinal value. A good number of these herbaceous plants of ethanobotanical importance are endangered due to various factors like overgrazing, new habitations, indiscriminate deforestation and over exploitation. This has resulted in the environmental stress in Central India. Consequently some common plants have become endangered and are on the verge of extinction.

About 350 medicinal & aromatic plants(MAPs) are collected from the wild sources in the country and used for various purposes. C caesia and R serpentina have been collected from time immemorial and in recent years the commercial exploitation is so high that these have become critically endangered. Both the species are very much used by the tribal people for various diseases and ailments in W.B, MP, Arunachal Pradesh, UP. In MP both the plants are regarded very auspicious and it is stated that the person who possesses it never experiences shortage of cereals & food.

Species description:

Curcuma caesia Roxb. locally known as kalihaldi or narkachura, is a rhizomatous herbaceous plant. The plant height is about 1.2 M. and leaves 30–60 by 12.5–15 cm broadly lanceolate or oblong, glabrous, with a deep ferruginous purple cloud down the middle, which penetrates to the lower surface. Petiole and sheath about as long as blade. Spikes appearing rather before the leaves, about 15 cm long or altogether about 30 cm. high with the peduncle. Flowering bracts green with a ferruginous tinge. Coma deep bright red, tending to crimson. Flowers pale yellow, reddish at outer border, and rather shorter than their bracts. Flower spike vernal or aestival, distinct from the leaves and usually developed before they appear.

Distribution: Mostly found in Bengal and northeastern part of the country including Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizorum. It is also found in some parts of central India like Raipur, Mandla, Amarkantak, Panhamarhi etc.

Medicinal Uses: The rhizome is pungent, bitter, fragrant, heating, appetizer, vulnerary, anthelmintic, antipyretic, alexiteric, destroys foulness of the breadth, useful in leucoderma, piles, bronchitis, asthma, tumors, tuberculous glands of the neck, enlargement of the spleen, epileptic seizure. The rhizome has a bitter, sharp, hot taste and a good odor, laxative, tonic to the brain and the heart, aphrodisiac, alexipharmic, emetic, emmenagouge, expectorant, carminative; useful in gripping of children, pains, inflammations, toothache (Kirtikar and Basu, 1975).

The roots are expectorant and useful in Diaorrhea and dysentery. The Turkomans employ these roots as a rubefacient, to rub their bodies down with after taking a Turkish bath. In Bengal it is used in the fresh state like turmeric.

Ravoulfia serpentina (Indian Snakeroot) is an important medicinal shrub plant. There are around hundred species of which five are native to India. It is an erect glabrous perennial shrub, attain a maximum height of 75 cm. Leaves are arranged in whorls of 3–4 flowers are white or pinkish, peduncle deep red about 1.5 cm long, appear in small clusters. Fruits are round shaped, dark, purple or blackish. The plant can be grown in wide range of soil types.

Distribution: Occurs in Sub Himalayan tracts in Punjab, in lower ranges of Eastern and Western Ghats, Assam, Orissa, Bihar, U P, M P, Maharashtra etc.

Medicinal value: Roots are important source of drug. About 90% of the total alkaloids remain in the root bark. Most common alkaloid are reserpine, rescinnamione, deserpidine, ajmaline, yohimbine etc. Roots are bitter, acrid, anthelmintic, cardio-depressent and digestive and is used in insanity, insomania, epilepsy, dyspepsia, painful affections of the bowel, intestinal worms, sexual aggression, snake bite etc. The drug has been effectively tried in cases of high blood pressure, insanity and scizopherina. Decoction of the root is reported to be useful to increase uterine contractions and to promote expulsion of the foetus (Kirtikar and Basu, 1975).

Objectives and Observations: Distribution, harvesting practices and production study of two important critically endangered species were assessed in the natural forests of Madhya Pradesh, Central India. These plants have been in use by local people as traditional healing substances. These are also important commodities for export outside the state. The present study was undertaken with the following main objectives:

  1. to study the distribution, phenology and production of the species in the forests of Madhya Pradesh ;
  2. to study the present harvesting practices of the species in Central India, Madhya Pradesh;
  3. to study the marketing aspects.

Problems associated with selected species: Total uprooting without maturation. Regeneration problem. Reduced production. Low medicinal value Low economic return.

Material and Methods

Study Area: Seven districts of Madhya Pradesh were selected for the present study where both these species occur. These places are Raipur, Jabalpur, Mandla (Amarkantak), Bilaspur, Betul, Sarguja and Chhindwara(Patalkot) districts where these species are found in protected patches.

These study sites (Fig 1) happened to be forested areas with predominant tribal population derive their livelihood support from collection and sale of NTFPs like Buchnania lanzan, Emblica officinalis, resin and gum yielding species etc. The forests in the study sites represent by tropical moist and tropical dry deciduous, mixed miscellaneous, teak (Tectona grandis) and sal (Shorea robusta) forests(Champion and Seth 1968). The area is plain to gently sloping with small hills and few seasonal perennial water streams. Due to scanty rainfall (800–1100 mm) and drier climate, there are very few perennial streams. The climate of the area is monsoonic with three distinct seasons The rainy season extends from late June to late September, winter from December to February and summer from March to June. The summer temperature of the area ranges between 26° to 46°C and in winter it ranges from 2° to 17°C.

Data collection and methodology

Phenological parameters, production & marketing: Based on the literature available, only those districts were selected where both the species are reported growing under the natural forest conditions in the state of MP. Observations were taken on distribution pattern of the two medicinal plants and the associated forest habitat. Phenology and harvesting time was also recorded. However, district wise production data, market rates etc. was obtained through enquires made from forest department staff including personnel of MFP (trade & Development) federation), local traders and villagers.

Harvesting practices: The information on plant harvesting methods adopted by the local villagers/gatherers was collected by interviewing local people engaged in collection. Current-harvesting practices adopted by the local collectors was noted district wise.

Economic analysis: The economics of C caesia and R serpentina was collected by interviewing the families and persons engaged in collection. The information about prevailing market prices was gathered from local villagers, middlemen and traders for economic analysis district wise. For analyzing the price differences of both the species from collectors to consumers, data was collected from the different groups involved at different levels in the marketing channels of the species.


Ecological parameters and prevalent market potential of C caesia and R. serpentina collected from the natural forests of Madhya Pradesh (central India) are given in Table 1. In the natural forests under study the two species are sparsely distributed and are not widely occur. There is a slight phenological variation (flowering and fruiting) in both species found in different districts because of varying moisture conditions.

Table 1 - Phenology, production and market price of C. caesia and R. serpentina in Madhya Pradesh, India

DistrictPlaceFlowering-Fruiting monthsHarvesting monthsCollection rate in Rs./kg(wet)Market rate in Rs./kg (dry)Estimated annual production potential (in Tons)
 Curcuma caesia 
BastarDantew-ada,  BijapurFl.Aug.Sept
Nov. Dec.15–2060.00100–150
Seoni/ BalaghatBarghatFl.Oct.
 Rauvolfia serpentina 
BastarDantew-ada, BijapurFl.May-June
BilaspurAmarkantak, LamniFl.June
Jabalpur Fl.July-Aug

Sources: 1) Prasad and Bhatanagar, 1991;
2) MP MFP Federation(Trade & Development;
3) J L Shrivastava, 1998.

The district wise approximate production of C caesia was found varying from 01 to 100 tons in the entire district per year while production of R. serpentin under wild conditions was found more in almost all the studied districts (60 to 125 T/Year). The gatherers selling wet rhizome of C caesia get an average rate of Rs. 15–20/kg and get Rs.40–60/kg for roots of R serpentina. After drying cleaning and grading the market prices increases manifold. After these value addition interventions mostly done by middlemen, the ruling market rate of C caesia is Rs. 50–60/kg and of R serpentina Rs. 290–312/kg.

Both the species are collected at early stages of maturity (i.e. before flowering/fruiting) in all the places except Bilaspur district where the local gatherers harvest plants after flowering and fruiting stage. Field observations reveled that except in Bilaspur areas where gatherers leave young rhizome allow some seeds to fall (collection in this case takes place after fruiting) in all other areas the whole plant along with the roots are uprooted, not leaving any reproductive material behind.

Data in Table 2 shows the share of different middleman's in the marketing channel starting from gatherers to retailers. The average values of margins clearly indicate that there is a huge margin between gatherers and middlemen's at village level. The average market values for C. caesia to gatherers were Rs.17.00/kg. As against this, the middlemen with primary processing (drying, cleaning grading etc.) earned 35.29% higher values (Rs. 23.00/kg). At trader's level, the value goes upto Rs. 34.62 (50.52%). Subsequently, the market value further increased to Rs. 40.12/kg (commission agent), Rs.54.00/kg at whole seller level. At retailer level the market value goes upto Rs. 60.50 kg. The processors or big traders of C. caesia collect large quantities of the wet produce and sun dry the material. After cleaning and drying the cost increases many folds and they get maximum margin in the whole chain as depicted in Fig.2.

Figure 2 - Marketing channels of Curcuma caesia (Rhizome)

Figure 2

Table 2 - Showing percentage margins of middleman at village level middleman to the traders

Name of SpeciesDistrict PlaceGatherors/ Villagers (Rs./kg wet)Agent/ MiddlemanProcessor*/ Big tradersCommission Agent in big citlesWhole salerTrader/ Retailer
Curcuma caesia
Average 17,0035,29%50,52%15,88%34,59%12,03%
Rauvolfia serpentina
(Dried Roots)

Values in the parenthases are value in RS./Kg
* Processors dried the roots (value addition), clean and packed, then transported to big cities

In case of R serpentina (roots) the initial collection rate was Rs.48/kg in almost all the districts. As against this, the middlemen with primary processing (drying, cleaning grading etc.) earned 53.12% higher values (Rs. 73.50/kg). Similarly, margins increases manifold between gatherers to village level middlemen and processors (Rs. 170/kg or 132.38%). Consequently, the margins declined from commission agent at big cities (Rs.244/kg or 43.22%) to traders/retailers (Rs. 299/kg or 5.23%). After drying the roots of Rauvolfia, processors get maximum margin as compared to the other middlemen in the channel (Fig 3).

Figure 3 - Marketing channels of Rauvolfia serpentina (Dried roots)

Figure 3


The present harvesting practices C caesia and R serpentina in the natural forests of Madhya Pradesh are very deteriorating because of high price of product in the market and immature harvest by the local tribals. It was observed that both the species occurring commonly in the state are vanishing speedily because of immature harvesting and poor regeneration. During collection not a single plant was left behind on the forest surface for future regeneration. The reduced availability of both the species in the natural forests (especially Sal dominated) is gradually declining at a faster rate. There is urgent need to conserve C caesia and R Serpentina from the natural forests because of its better quality. Because of these reasons both the species are being exploited extensively from the natural forests.

Sustainability in production and harvesting is very important aspect in medicinal plants. The present practice of trade in MAPs is a secret affair. It is handled by local traders and middlemen. The high value plants like Sarpgandha and Kalihaldi are threatened with extinction in the wild. These medicinal herbs are considered as economically profitable in harvesting from wild state. Both the species are concentrated only in certain pockets, which are basically threatened in most places. The dynamics of medicinal plant exploitation depend on supply and demand. The studied species R serpentina, C caesia are in high demand for the local traders and also in the International markets

In conservation, area occupied by the species or the habitat is often a prime concern. According to Mac Arthur and Wilson, 1967 if the area of habitat is reduced by 90%, the number of original endemic species going extinct may be 10% and if the habitat is reduced by 50%. Therefore, habitat of a species matters the most in their survival and a large number of extinction's are often due to the impact of habitat destruction. Among species the intrinsic factors like population size appears to be very important, influencing survival of the species. It is well known that smaller populations are more prone to extinction. Once the population of an endangered species has become small, many problems related to its survival might occur. Once the population is at decline, it faces curtailment of gene flow which in turn, result in inbreeding, genetic isolation of population, inbreeding depression and genetic drift. This may further lead to inability to respond to further changes in habitat and eventually the population might go extinct. In many endangered plant species the population is far below the requirement for survival and most of them (nearly 120 species) are vascular plant species (IUCN red data book, 1978). Relatively very few species have the population estimates and among these species, information on proportion of mature individuals of the total sampled population is lacking (Mali & Ved, 1999). At certain time period the annual herbs grow maximum to reach their maturity. The difference between optimum and actual harvest time for several herbs is about two months in advance. The second advantage is that seed production would be ensured. Large scale harvesting before maturity reduces the size of population and future regeneration of particular species due to immature harvesting.

The present deteriorating condition of both the medicinal plants in forest is very precarious and needs immediate attention not only for conservation but also for propagation. Standardize methods of cultivation would help the hesitating farmers to develop their nurseries and adopt cultivation on a large scale. It would eliminate unemployment and would prove as a tool for their social and economic upliftment. It would reduce our imports and promote exports.


The author is thankful to the Director for going through manuscript, providing field facilities and valuable suggestions. The author is also thankful to Dr. P C Kotwal, Associate Professor for his valuable guidance. Thanks are due to the MP MFP federation and forest department field staff for providing assistance during the experimental work.

Selected Readings

Mittal, G.D and G.S Jaryal. 1999. How to cultivate medicinal and aromatic plants. Publication of CEDMAP, Bhopal (M.P). Ed. By Dr. GS Jaryal, CEDMAP, Bhopal (MP), India.

I.U.C.N 1978. Red Data Book. International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

I.U.C.N. 1994. Guidelines on the conservation of medicinal plants. IUCN, Gland. 50 pp.

Kirtikar and Basu (1965). Indian Medicinal Plants. Vol. IV. International Book Distributors. Booksellers and Publisher, Rajpur Road Dehradun,(UP).India.

Mac Arthur and Wilson,J E. 1967. Island Geography theory. In conservation biology. Editor M.E. Soule and B.A Wilcox. Sinauer Associates, Sunderlands, Massachsetts.

Mali,Subhash and D K Ved. 1999. Medicinal plant conservation; Number does matter. Amruth. August,1999.pp. 15–18.

MPMFP Federation. 1996. Commercially important NTFPs of Madhya Pradesh. Madhya Pradesh Minor Forest Produce federation (Trade & Development), Bhopal. MP, India

Prasad,R and Bhatanagar.P. 1991. Socio-economic potential of minor forest produce in Madhya Pradesh. State Forest Research Institute, Jabalpur, India. Technical Bulletien No. 26.

Prasad, R and Patnaik S. 1998. Conservation Assessment and Management Planning (CAMP) workshop for Non Timber Forest products in MP. CAMP workshop briefing book. IIFM, Bhopal (MP), India.

Shrivastava, J L. 1998. Cultivation practices of some medicinal plants. State Forest Research Institute publication. Series no.38.

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