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Exotic botanicals with a historical tradition are a growing trend

The Curegarden Research Team

Plants were used for medicinal purposes long before recorded history. Ancient Egyptian papyrus and Chinese writings as early as 3,000 BC describe medicinal uses for plants. Some native cultures used herbs in their healing rituals (Native American and African)  while others developed traditional medical systems (Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine) in which botanical therapies were used.

The appeal of ethnic ingredients is one of the major trends to influence the food supplement industry, as consumers are captivated by stories about traditional uses of plants in faraway lands. Like the saying “the grass is greener on the other side,” consumers associate plants from distant places with better health and greater efficacy.

According to the WHO, in some Asian and African countries, 80 percent of the population depend on traditional medicine for primary health care, and the organization and its member states collaborate to promote the use of traditional medicine for health care. The organization also notes that, “Traditional medicine is the sum total of knowledge skills and practices based on the theories, beliefs and experiences indigenous to different cultures that are used to maintain health as well as to prevent, diagnose, improve or treat physical and mental illness.

“Herb and botanical sales continue to increase worldwide. In fact, naturally derived herbal and botanical extracts will experience some of the fastest growth among the major nutraceutical ingredient groups, according to “World Nutraceutical Ingredients”, a recent study published by the Freedonia Group, Cleveland, Ohio.

There are several reasons for this sustained gain in popularity of botanicals. Basically, “In many countries throughout the globe, botanicals are the first choice in preventive health,” said Michael Wang, president, NuLiv Science USA, Walnut, CA.

The growing acceptance of ethnic botanicals has led the trade to seek out botanical based remedies based on established cultural medicinal traditions. Known to work differently, in harmony with the body, in the absence of negative side effects, these systems are also considered advantageous because they are complementary with other systems of medicine. Curcumin extracted from Turmeric, known for thousands of years in India for its anti-inflammatory properties, is a good example. Between 2010 and 2011, India exported nearly 70 million kilograms of turmeric, according to a recent report.

Arabic botanical tradition

The Arabic traditions of healing had a major part to play in the development of European herbalism. Many herbs used in Europe today gained credibility through the Greek-Arabic tradition.

 The Arab scholar Avicenna scribed the five-volume standard of the Romans that was the definitive medical text from Pakistan to Germany from 1000 to 1700.

Arabic medicine is credited with bringing a large range of new herbs to European herbalism, along with a theory of medicine and the knowledge base to build complex formulations of several herbs combined for maximum therapeutic effect. Examples of botanicals from the Arabic cultural tradition include caper, wild mint, nettle, cumin, lady’s mantle, salt bush and black cumin.

Europe’s botanicals

Best-selling botanicals in Europe include some of the old favourites like ginkgo biloba, St. John’s Wort, ginseng, garlic and soy. In the EU, consumers are using botanicals for heart health/circulation, brain/memory, liver/detox, immunity, digestion, bone/joints, weight management and anti-aging.
Relatively ‘new’ botanical extracts of plants such as green tea, cocoa, blueberries and tomato are also finding wide acceptance.

Malaysian botanicals

Another example of ethnic botanicals comes from the Malaysian Ramuan tradition. Ramuan is a Malay concept for a harmony of ingredients; Ramuan tradition holds that outer beauty is a manifestation of inner health and balance, and emerged from the cultural cross-pollination of Indian Ayurvedics, Chinese herbalists and Malay healing customs that inspired the system of holistic health created from blends of naturally occurring, health promoting, plants and herbs.

Chinese traditional medicinal herbs

Chinese herbal medicine developed as part of Chinese culture from tribal origins. By the first century AD, a consolidated listing of medicinal herbs, herbal formulations, and their uses had been developed. The classic Chinese book on medicinal herbs was written during the Ming Dynasty and listed nearly 2,000 herbs and extracts.

Chinese herbal medicine focuses on restoring a balance of energy, body, and spirit to maintain health rather than treating a particular disease or medical condition.

Chinese herbal medicine uses a variety of herbs such as astragalus, ginkgo, ginseng, green tea, and eleuthero, (also known as “Siberian ginseng”) in different combinations to restore balance to the body.

However, today, “Flooding and drought conditions, increasing labour costs, industry growth, and market speculation are reportedly resulting in a surge in prices for traditional Chinese medicines herbals,” reports the Shanghai Daily News online.

Botanical tradition in India

 Traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda remain the most ancient yet living traditions. Fuelling renewed public interest in these alternative systems of medicine are reasons such as increased side effects, lack of curative treatment for several chronic diseases, high cost of new drugs, microbial resistance and emerging diseases.

Also promoting interest in traditional remedies is the fact that modern research often supports traditional usage. Many herbs used in Ayurveda were described by ancient Indian herbalists such as Charaka and Sushruta during the 1st millennium BC. The practice of Ayurveda therapeutics listed over 314 plants, which are used as medicines in India. These medicinal plants are listed in various indigenous systems such as Siddha, Ayurveda and Amchi, and Unani. In the present context, the Ayurvedic system of medicine is widely accepted and practiced not only in the Indian peninsula but also in the developed countries such as Europe, United States and Japan. Plant derived medicines have been the first line of defense in maintaining health and combating diseases.

Traditional botanical systems: Appeal and proven safety

Giving due appreciation to a tradition of use is a means of providing important and meaningful information to consumers, and is also a way of acknowledging and respecting tradition and the study and teachings of innumerable generations before us.

The fascination of these ancient healing traditions and their plant base have been proven—through generations of use—to be safe, and that their side effects, if any, are well known and documented, along with maximum safe dosages. This enhances consumer assurance in these traditional ethnic botanicals’ safety and efficacy.

Reference:

Joerg Gruenwald: Ethnic Botanicals: A Growing Trend

Nutraceuticals World: 2012 International Herb & Botanical Trends

WHO – Traditional medicine , 2008

A compilation of bioactive compounds from Ayurveda: http://www.bioinformation.net

Acknowledging the value of ‘traditional use’ in herbal medicine – NYR Natural news

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