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            Most of medicinal plants, even today, are collected from wild. The continued commercial exploitation of these plants has resulted in receding the population of many species in their natural habitat. Vacuum is likely to occur in the supply of raw plant materials that are used extensively by the pharmaceutical industry as well as the traditional practitioners. Consequently, cultivation of these plants is  urgently needed to ensure their availability to the industry as well as to people associated with traditional system of medicine. If timely steps are not taken for their conservation, cultivation and mass propagation, they may be lost from the natural vegetation for ever. In situ conservation of these resources alone cannot meet the ever increasing demand of pharmaceutical industry. It is, therefore, inevitable to develop cultural practices and propagate these plants in suitable agroclimatic regions. Commercial cultivation will put a check on the continued exploitation from wild sources and serve as an effective means to conserve the rare floristic wealth and genetic diversity.

It is necessary to initiate systematic cultivation of medicinal plants in order to conserve biodiversity and protect endangered species. In the pharmaceutical industry, where the active medicinal principle cannot be synthesised economically, the product must be obtained from the cultivation of plants. Systematic conservation and large scale cultivation of the concerned medicinal plants are thus of great importance. Efforts are also required to suggest appropriate cropping patterns for the incorporation of these plants into the conventional agricultural and forestry cropping systems. Cultivation of this type of plants could only be promoted if there is a continuous demand for the raw materials. There are at least 35 major medicinal plants that can be cultivated in India and have established demand for their raw material or active principles in the international trade (table). It is also necessary to develop genetically superior planting material for assured uniformity and desired quality and resort to organised cultivation to ensure the supply of raw material at growers end. Hence, small scale processing units too have to be established in order that the farmer is assured of the sale of raw material. Thus, cultivation and processing should go hand in hand in rural areas.

            In order to initiate systematic cultivation of medicinal and aromatic plants high yielding varieties have to be selected (table 8). In the case of wild plants, their demonstration would require careful development work. Sometimes high yielding varieties have also to be developed by selective breeding or clonal micropropagation. The selected propagation materials have to be distributed to the farmer either through nurseries or seed banks. Systematic cultivation needs specific cultural practices and agronomical requirements. These are species specific and are dependent on soil, water and climatic conditions. Hence research and development work has to be done to formulate Good Agricultural Practices (GAP)  which should include proper cultivation techniques, harvesting methods, safe use of fertilizers and pestisides and waste disposal.


Table  8. New varieties of medicinal plants developed in India (Gupta, 1993)




Characters (Institution where developed)

Psyllium  Plantago ovata

Gujarat Isabgol-1

Gujarat Isabgol-2


High seed yield (1t/ha) with synchronous maturing of seed (GAU, Anand)          

Seed yield of 1t/ha, moderately resistant to downy mildew disease(GAU, Anand)

Opium poppy

Papaver somniferum 

Jawahar Aphim-16







Udaipur Opium




 Kirtiman (NOP-4)






White flowered with serrated petals, produces oval capsules maturing early at 105-110 days for lancing. Yield 66kg of latex averaging 10%  of morphine (JNKVV, Mandsur)

Medium dwarf, pink flowered, serrated petals. Produces large bumble-shaped capsules, high latex and morphine content.(over JA-16) (NBPGR, Delhi)

High latex yield in Rajasthan tract (58kg/ha) with high morphine content (12.3%) and high seed yield (1.2t/ha) (RU, Udaipur)

High latex yield in central and eastern UP. Latex yield 47-57.54kg/ha. (NBRI, Lucknow)

Latex  yield 45.84kg/ha, morphine content 11.94% in eastern U.P. Moderately resistant to downy mildew (NDUA & T, Faizabad)

With pale white peduncle, produces 66.5kg latex/ha with 18% morphine (CIMAP)

Foliage erect and incised, bears black flowering stalk. Produces 78.1% latex with 15.5% morphine (CIMAP).


Rauvolfia serpentina


High seed germination (50%). Root yields 2.5t/ha in 18 months. Roots carry 1.45-1.80% of total alkaloids; half of it yields reserpine + serpentine combined (JNKVV, Indore) 

Dioscorea floribunda






A composite culture, produces fast growing vines relatively free from diseases and pest attack; produces 50t/ha of fresh tubers in 2 years containing 3.5% diosgenin (IIHR, Bangalore)

Selection through hybridisation, producing 60t of fresh tubers containing 3.5-4.0% diosgenin (IIHR,  Bangalore) 


Solanum viarum




IIHR 2n-11

Plants devoid of spines, produces high berry yield at high density planting containing 2.5-3.0% solasodine (Glaxo, India).

Completely devoid of spines, produces high berry yield at high density planting containing 2.5-3% solasodine (IIHR, Bangalore)

Kangaro kateri

Solanum laciniatum


Long duration crop (300 days) suitable for temperate regions. High solasodine content in leaves (1.8%) and mature berries (4%) (YSPHU, Solan) 


Hyocyamus niger





Short duration (100 days), early rabi crop in plains. Yields 2.5t/ha of dry herb with minimum 0.05% total alkaloids (NBPGR, Delhi)

A mutant characterised by yellow flower petals, produces 7.5t/ha dry herb or 23kg total alkaloids/ha (CIMAP)

Egyptian Henbane

Hyocyamus muticus


Vigorously growing and high seed fertile mutant, produces 4.5t/ha of dry herb or 23kg total alkaloids/ha (CIMAP)


Cassia angustifolia


Late flowering type, tailored to produce purely leaf crop in one harvest at 100 days. Foliage sennoside content (6.0%)  (GAU, Anand)

Japanese mint

Mentha arvensis var. piperascens














Yields fresh herb of 37.2t/ha in 2 cuttings; containing 0.8-1.0% oil with high leaf/stem ratio. Matures 10-15 days early. Oil yield 290kg/ha containing 83% menthol (CIMAP)

Fresh herb yield 69t/ha, oil 348kg/ha (CIMAP)

A tall vigorous, compact growing type, cross of MAS-2 x MA-2. Produces 78.2t/ha fresh herb, oil yield 486kg/ha with 81.5% menthol. Highly resistant to leaf spot and rust diseases (CIMAP) Introduced from China, produces compact bushy growth with thick leathery leaves, high herb and oil yield.

A progeny selection of interspecific cross between M. arvensis and M. piperita in USSR. High herbage yield with high oil content (0.8-1%); oil contains 70-80% menthol (YSPHU, Solan).  

Ocimum gratissimum

Thymol basil  

O. viride

Sacred basil

O. sanctum



Thymol type




High herbage yield with high oil content, 75% eugenol (RRL, Jammu).

Herb yield 3t/ha, 59kg/ha oil/annum. (CIMAP, Lucknow)

Superior selection with high oil yield 55l/ha in 110 days containing 53% eugenol and 19% caryophylline (NBPGR,   Delhi)


            Taking into consideration the requirements of the plants selected, an agrotechnological package has to be developed to suit the infrastructural facilities available. Research and development work has also to be carried out in the following areas (Silva, 1997).

1.      Optimisation of  agronomical  conditions for cultivation

2.      Training in safe fertiliser and pesticide use

3.      Development of fast growing varieties with disease resistance

4.      Determination of maturity and  time of  harvesting

5.      No. of economically viable harvests

6.      Methods of harvesting.

Decision on a limited scale of exploitation of medicinal plants from wild sources has to be based on accurate inventories about the kinds of plant resources, abundance and the feasibility of harvesting without damage to the ecosystem. In case potential candidates identified are not abundantly available, cultivation of them through agroforestry and community forestry programmes will have to be initiated.  In this regard, development of industries based on medicinal plants can be included as a priority area as niche markets for these are already available.

Organic Farming

              In the recent times, agricultural scenario is witnessing a trend towards organic farming. It is seen that agricultural products produced through organic farming, without using any inorganic fertilisers and pesticides, fetch high demand and price in the international market.. Organic farming has its root in Nature and it makes use of only organic materials. It observes and learns from nature. It 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. The main objective of organic farming includes mulching, crop rotation, cover cropping green manuring, animal waste, composting, bio-gas slurry, biofertilisers and organic recycling. The energy sources are windmills, solar panels, small-scale hydroelectric projects and biogas. The changeover from inorganic to organic farming is to be carried out only systematically and carefully. Organic farming can be adopted in crops too by decreasing the dose of inorganic fertilisers rather than an immediate removal and adopting organic farming practices timely and correctly. 

            Farmers have to be trained in all aspects of organic farming including obtaining certification from associations that do the monitoring, starting from cultivation to final harvesting. As chemicals cannot be used as fertilizers and pest control agents, the cultivation is labour intensive requiring labour for weeding and other farming activities. Hence, developing countries, which have cheap labour and unpolluted land, can opt for organic cultivation. Organic manure has to be prepared which leads to environment friendly methods of organic waste disposal. Organic farming will reduce environment pollution, toxic effects due to use of pesticides and minerals and problems of biodiversity conservation.

            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 any product produced has to be certified to ensure that no ecological damage what so ever has been caused during the production process.

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