Medicinal and aromatic plants of Pakistan

Traditional herbal remedies are still widely used in Pakistan, yet many medicinal plants are threatened by unsustainable levels of harvesting, habitat degradation, climate change and a lack of regulation.

Snowy mountains by a lake

This three-year project aligned with Kew’s Science Collections Strategy will aim to collect the seed of 150 species of medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs) from Pakistan for conservation in-country and at the Millennium Seed Bank.

The project follows on from the successful partnership with the Pakistan Bio-resources Conservation Institute (BCI) as part of the Adapting Agriculture to Climate Change (Crop Wild Relative) project.

The Pakistan MAPs project comprises five distinct objectives ranging from setting up a formal grant agreement with BCI, priority setting, species collecting and conservation, capacity building and research activities.

A strong classical traditional medicine sector based primarily on the Unani system of medicine exists in Pakistan. This tradition dates to the Indus Valley civilization and continues today as an important source of employment and healthcare particularly in rural and tribal areas of the country.

Although the number of plant species with medicinal properties in Pakistan is not firmly established, there may be in excess of 3000 species that fall within a general definition of a MAP.

This accounts for around 50 percent of the total number of flowering plants found in Pakistan. A more conservative estimate puts this total at between 400-600.

This diversity is based on the wide range of ecological zones that span Pakistan, from the sub-tropical Indus Delta to semi-arid and arid desert regions, to high mountains, including K2 at 8,611 metres.

The collection of MAPs, particularly in rural areas, provides an additional source of income for the collectors, who are primarily women. As such, the sustainable harvest or cultivation of MAPs in Pakistan could serve to alleviate poverty, especially in rural areas.

The introduction of sustainable practices, including cultivation, would also translate into environmental and biodiversity conservation, and allow Pakistan a greater share of the international trade in medicinal plants.

Traditional knowledge surrounding the use of medicinal plants is also seen to be deteriorating and not being passed onto younger generations. As such a need is seen for greater awareness raising among the population in general and specifically aimed at the young.

Kew currently holds 170 seed collections of 107 taxa from Pakistan, of which over 80 percent have not had their threat status assessed.

Due to the threats to wild populations of MAPs in Pakistan from unsustainable levels of harvesting and climatic events such as flooding and earthquakes, the BCI is keen to expand their current activities to include long-term ex situ conservation with duplicate storage at the Millennium Seed Bank to secure the safety of their collections.

Kew’s experience in long-term seed banking is well suited to building BCI’s capacity in this area, while BCI’s expertise in the flora of Pakistan will facilitate the delivery of this project which will be mutually beneficial to Kew’s and BCI’s strategic goals.

  • Seed collection, processing and conservation.
  • Exchange visits by Kew-BCI staff.
  • Review of conservation status of target taxa and preparation of species conservation assessments.
  • Upgrade of BCI seed conservation equipment.
  • Contribution of data to the Medicinal Plant Names Service (MPNS).
  • Completion of MSc project in association with Queen Mary University of London.

Arcadia Foundation

Garfield Weston Foundation

Bio-resources Conservation Institute, Pakistan Agricultural Research Council