|Medicinal plants: Rescuing a global heritage (WB, 1997, 80 p.)|
|1. The global background|
Forest products are these days being divided into two categories: (i) timber products and (ii) the so-called "non-timber forest products" (NTFPs). Medicinal plants are in the NTFP category and may be considered as non-domesticated crops. Little attempt has been made to objectively assess these natural resources in forest industries. Principe (1995) has suggested that an estimate of medicinal-market value is more easily characterized in forest ecosystems as people can more readily visualize the range of benefits of forests than other ecosystems. Therefore a proper assessment and evaluation of those plants endemic to the forests is a necessary priority to provide acceptable estimates for policy appraisals, research needs and sustainable forest management programs.
At present many important and potentially important forest medicinal plants are destroyed or left to go to waste during logging operations. The forest sector, as a supplier, has little knowledge or appreciation of their value. A notable case in point is the destruction of the small yew trees in the forests of the Northwest of North America. They were long considered useless "weeds" but now provide the current drug of choice against a number of deadly cancers.
Given such discoveries, it is increasingly recognized that the forest sector must reexamine its short-term and long-term objectives and develop a multiple-product management plan that accounts for NTFPs as well as timber products. In the production of forest medicinal plants there is an opportunity for foresters, the pharmaceutical industry, and local practitioners of traditional medicine to work together to their mutual benefits.