New International Standard for Sustainable Wild Collection of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants

16 February 2007 | News story

A new standard to promote the sustainable management and trade in wild medicinal and aromatic plants (MAP) was launched today at Biofach, the World Organic Trade Fair, Nuremberg, Germany.  

An estimated 50,000 – 70,000 plant species are used in traditional and modern medicine throughout the world. They are undoubtedly an important health and economic resource for humanity. The great majority are collected in the wild and provide valuable income for rural households, especially in developing countries. However, unsustainable collection is commonly practiced, which not only threatens the survival of many species, but also the livelihoods that depend upon them.

To address this issue, the IUCN SSC Medicinal Plant Specialist Group, in collaboration with the German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation, and others, has been a key player in the development of an International Standard for Sustainable Collection of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (ISSC-MAP). These standards go a long way to meeting the urgent need to provide specific guidance for industry, resource managers, collectors and other stakeholders on sustainable sourcing practices. Drawn up following extensive consultation with plant experts and the herbal products industry worldwide, they promotes appropriate management of wild plant populations to ensure plants used in medicine and cosmetics are not over-exploited

More than 400,000 tonnes of medicinal and aromatic plants are traded annually, with around 80% of the species harvested from the wild. Many species are in danger of over-exploitation and even extinction through over-collection and habitat loss. For example, in India, almost 300 medicinal plants are considered threatened using the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species criteria.

Traders and companies, collectors and consumers must share the responsibility for maintaining populations of medicinal plants which are valuable natural resources, and the ISSC-MAP principles and criteria show how this can be achieved in practice.

One of the industry’s leading companies Traditional Medicinals, is already investigating the application of the new standard to the collection of Bearberry, a shrub whose leaves are used for the treatment of a variety of conditions, mainly of the diuretic and urinary tract.

Once widely accepted and adopted, the newly developed ISSC-MAP criteria should become a major tool for medicinal plant conservation and improve the economic security for the rural livelihoods dependent upon them.