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Decades of development

India is known for her plant resources from time immemorial and is one of the world’s 12 bio-diversity centres sheltering over 45,000 different plant species, out of the 2,50,000 higher plant species on earth.  Of the 18000 native species found in India 1500 species contain aromas.  But only 65 have large and consistent demand  in world trade and are cultivated.  India is one of the few countries of a host of oil bearing plants.  The estimated annual area, production and productivity of essential oils in India are 20,000 ha,  1500t and 75kg/ha, respectively. India is the largest producer of mentha oil with the production reaching 12000t in 1998. Spices are grown in India over 23 lakh ha with production of 225 lakh t/yr and annual export of about 1200 crores.

When the industrial scenario in the country is studied, the dominance of some essential oils is observed during different decades. Pepper, ginger, cardamom, saffron, clove, fenugreek, cumin seed and celery seed oils and oleoresins were primarily used for flavour purpose.  The most traded essential oils during the past decades and the anticipated prominent oils of the future for perfumery use are summarised below.

Till 1960           Palmarosa, vetiver, sandalwood

1961 – 1970                Geranium, citronella, cedarwood, Eucalyptus globulus

1971 – 1980    Metha arvensis, mentha piperita, Mentha  citrata

1981 – 1990    Rose, jamrosa, basil, Jammu lemongrass, spearmint, clocimum

1991 – 2000    Sandalwood, mints, basil, lemongrass, palmarosa, aniseed, citronella,

                        clove, geranium, patchouli, vetiver

After 2000                   Mints, basil, orange, clove leaf, citronella, lemongrass, sandal wood,

                        eucalyptus, geranium, lavender, jasmine, tuberose

Essential oils of ginger, sandalwood, lemongrass, jasmine, tuberose etc. are exported from India to Russia, USA, France, Germany, Britain, Netherlands, Australia and Gulf countries, though `traditional oils’ like sandalwood and lemongrass are showing a downward trend.  The internal requirements of oils of basil, sandalwood, cumin seed, dill seed, juniper, etc are fully met from indigenous production.  However, lavender, patchouli, clove, nutmeg, geranium  and rose oils are still imported from China, Brazil, Turkey, Bulgaria, Australia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, etc for meeting the industrial requirement.

Development strategy

The success of Indian essential oil industry will depend on the adoption of a well planned development strategy to overcome the competition from other developing countries in the following lines.

Development of essential oils for export :  Lemongrass, vetiver, palmarosa, citronella, davana, eucalyptus, spice oils and oleoresins.

Development of essential oils for import substitution :  Patcholi, geranium, clove, nutmeg, cinnamon leaf, rose, lavender, etc.

Development of essential oils for  large scale internal consumption :  Aromatic grasses, basil, cumin seed, dill, ginger, etc.

Development of less known indigenous essential oils :  Kacholam, rasna, Ocimum, Acorus calamus, champaka, Mimusops elenji, ambrette, Tarbernaemontana, Coleus,  Cyperus, Caesalpinia sappan, etc.

Search for novel essential oils : species to be identified.

Improved varieties 

It is necessary to develop genetically superior planting material for assured uniformity and desired quality and resort to organised cultivation to ensure the continued supply of raw materials. Concerted efforts are needed to evolve superior location specific varieties with acceptable quality.  The general range of yield  improvement in aromatic crops by way of high yielding  varieties is only 15-50% primarily due to the adoption of initial level methodologies.  Introduction of modern powerful techniques is required to develop super genotypes for achieving   fascinating success.  Gene introgression, raising doubled haploids in F1s of tropical crosses, apomictic fixation of heterosis and chemical hybridisation for the purpose of their applications in leading aromatic crops involving not only plant breeders but also biochemists and genetic engineers. It is necessary to identify varieties responsive to modern management inputs as well as genotypes suitable for wider adaptation and for stress environment like low irrigation, high pH, floods, varying soil types and tolerance or  resistance to insect pests and diseases. Development of genetically engineered or transgenic plants with the required recovery of essential oil of desired aroma and chemical constituents would no longer be a dream in the new millennium.  It has already become a reality in priority crops like annual food and commercial crops and the area under their cultivation is increasing in leaps and bounds.

Improved varieties are available for most of the aromatic crops, which can be cultivated in India.  Some of the important essential oil crops and their popular improved varieties are given below.

East Indian lemongrass (Cymbopogon flexuosus): Pragati, Cauvery, Krishna, Sugandhi (OD-19), OD-440, SD-68, RRL-38, RRL-57, RRL-59, RRL-86, RRL(B)-1, RRL-Cf-100, GRL-1, Jorlab L-2, SB-9

West Indian lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus): RRL-9

North Indian lemongrass (Cymbopogon pendulus): Praman, RRL-16

Khasia lemongrass (Cymbopogon khasianus): RRL-14

Cymbopogon khasianus x C. pendulus: CKP-25

Java citronella (Cymbopogon winterianus): Manjusha, Mandakini, Medini, Jal Pallavi, Java-2, Bio-13, RRL(B)-15, RRL(B)-18, RRL(J)-3

Ceylon citronella (Cymbopogon nardus): RRL-5

Cymbopogon nardus var. confertiflorus x C. jwarancusa): Jamrosa, RRL-14, RRL-82, RRL-CN-5,

Palmarosa (Cymbopogon martinii var. motia): Trishna, Tripta, ODP-1, ODP-2, PRC-1, RRL(B)-40, RRL(B)-65, RRL(B)-69, RRL(B)-77, RRL(B)-TC-1, RRL(B)-TC-2, RRL(B)-TC-3, PST-1, PST-2, C-28, C-60, IW-3630, IW-4198, IW-31243, IW-31245, Cl-80-68-HR-19

Vetiver (Vetiveria zizanioides): Sugandha (KS-1), KS-2, ODV-3, NC-66416, Hybrid-7, Hybrid-8

Menthol mint (Mentha arvensis): Hybrid-77, MAS-1, Gomti, Himalaya, Shivalik, Kosi, Kalka, Neerkalka

Pepper mint (Mentha piperita): Kukrail, Mitcham

Spear mint (Mentha spicata): MSS-1, MSS-5, Arka, Neera

Bergamot mint (Mentha citrata): Kiran

Scott mint (Mentha cardiaca): MCAS-2

Garden mint (Mentha viridis): Supriya

Ocimum gratissimum: Clocimum-1, Clocimum-2, RRL-Og-14

Hoary basil (Ocimum canum: RRL-Oc-11,  RRL-Oc-12

Rose (Rosa damascena): Noorjahan, Jwala, Himroz

Jasmine (Jasminum gradiflorum): Pitchi (Co-1)

Lavender (Lavandula officinalis): Sher-e-Kashmir, Karlovo

Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens): Kelkar, Ooty, Reunion, Bourbon, Algerian, Citrosa, IIHR Sel-8, KKL-1

Patchouli (Pogostemon patchouli): Indonesian, Johore, Java

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis): French, Italian

Tuberose (Polyanthes tuberosa): Single-Shrinagar, Double-Suvasini

Davana (Artemisia annua): Asha

Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla): Vallary, Prashanth

Henna (Lawsonia inermis): Rajastan, Kerala

Coriander (Coriandrum sativum): CIMPO-33

Lippia alba: LAC-2

Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum): ODC-10, ODC-130, RRL(B)-C-1, RRL(B)-C-6, RRL(B)-C-8

Potential situations for cultivation

Aromatic plants can be cultivated as pure crop, inter crop, catch crop, cover crop, border crop and under crop in farm, plantation and forestry sectors. Since the cultivable land is limited, efforts are needed to push these crops along with priority crops like food and commercial crops, wherever feasible. Vetiver grows well in coastal belt. Cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, patchouli, kacholam, rasna, etc can be grown as intercrop in coconut gardens and orchards. Eucalyptus, cinnamon, champak, elenji, etc can be grown as avenue trees and in waste lands. Vetiver, lemongrass, rasna, etc also conserve soil and water in slopy lands due to extensive root ramification. Rose scented geranium, patchouli, palmarosa, Java citronella, lemongrass, Eucalyptus citriodora, Tagetes, davana, mint, etc are suitable for cultivation even in the semi-arid tropics. Contiuous cropping of rose scented geranium intercropped with clusterbean or greengram is most productive and profitable. Java citronella can be intercropped with lentil in UP. Rice-potato-mint rotation is suitable in central UP while rice-brassica-mint system in tarai region.


The objective is to maximise the productivity of aromatic plants per unit resource so as to make Indian aromatic plants competitive in international market and to bring good returns to growers.  To achieve this, development of high yielding high quality types, resistant to major pests and disease as well as development of cropping systems involving spices will be important. The growers should select appropriate crop and variety suitable to the locality and follow a package of scientific practices.   Timely planting, maintenance of optimum plant population, soil test based balanced and integrated nutrients application, specific use of micronutrients and growth regulators, timely irrigation and weed control, harvest and selection of viable cropping system are all important. Optimum plant populations, irrigation regimes and harvest  time and methods, improved method of fertiliser application, especially N; new cropping system involving aromatic and food crops, etc give sustainable production with greater land efficiencies. Developing efficient low cost cultivation practices for different situations including post harvest processing and quality analysis is the need of the hour.

Organic farming

In the recent times, agricultural scenario is witnessing a trend towards organic farming. Agricultural produce through organic farming, without using inorganic fertilisers and pesticides has greater demand and fetches higher price in the international market. Organic farming has its root in ‘nature’, makes use of only organic materials, observes and learns from nature, believes that soil has life and cares about its fertility. It protects the flora and fauna of the soil. Organic farming is not for a single crop but it envisages the entire farm. It leads to environment friendly methods of organic waste disposal. It will reduce environment pollution, toxic effects due to use of pesticides and minerals and problems in biodiversity conservation.  Organic farming involves mulching, crop rotation, cover cropping, green manuring, composting, organic recycling and use of animal wastes, bio-gas slurry and biofertilisers. The energy sources are windmills, solar panels, small-scale hydroelectric projects and bio-gas. The changeover from inorganic to organic farming is to be carried out only systematically and carefully. Organic farming may be adopted slowly in crops by reducing the dose of inorganic fertilisers rather than an abrupt change over.  Foreign buyers demand produce free from pesticide residues, heavy metals and other toxic and hazardous substances. Farmers have to be trained in all aspects of organic farming starting from cultivation to final harvesting and obtaining certification from associations that do the monitoring. As chemicals are not  used as fertilisers and pest control agents, the cultivation is labour intensive due to high labour for hand weeding and other cultural operations. Hence, developing countries, which have cheap labour and unpolluted land, can opt for organic farming. The trend for green products is also increasing and it is expected that the industrialised countries will insist on ecolabelling of products in tune with ISO 14000 as a condition of import. This will mean that the product  has to be certified to the effect that no ecological damage what so ever has been caused during the production process.


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