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Strengthening the critical resource base of medicinal plants has always been considered an important task by Arya Vaidya Sala. The efforts in this regard have been in five major directions, viz., maintaining of demonstration garden, cultivation in natural estates, undertaking collaborative research, collating and publishing reference material and undertaking extension work.

An important activity has been in the area of collating and compiling information on the character and use of medicinal plants as found in classical and modern texts. This major work has resulted in bringing out a five volume treatise entitled “Indian Medicinal Plants-A Compendium of 500 Species” (Orient Longman, Chennai, 1994-96).

A demonstration garden is set up in an eight acre plot at Kottakkal. A live collection of 700 scientifically identified medicinal plants, a herbarium and a museum for selected items of correctly identified crude drugs are maintained in this facility. This facility serves as a centre of learning and referencing for professionals, physicians, students, farmers and others. Based on the taxonomic studies made here, several scientific papers and a book entitled “Ayurvedic Drugs and Their Plant Sources (Oxford & IBH, Delhi, 1994) have been published. The garden is a favoured location of visit for informed visitors as well as laypersons.

Over 200 acres of medicinal plant estates are being maintained at Mannarghat (Near Palakkad, S India), Kottapuram, Thrikkakara (Near Kochi, S India) and Kottakkal, where large-scale cultivation of rare plant species is organised. These estates also support scientific activities by providing trial cultivation and maintenance of field gene banks.

One of the major research projects, entitled “Medicinal Plants (India) Project”, was undertaken in collaboration with the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada. Twenty endangered medicinal plants of the Western Ghats were studied under this project with respect to their pharmacognosy, propagation and distribution. Several scientific papers and a major compilation entitled “Some Important medicinal Plants of the Western Ghats, India – A Profile” came out of this project. IDRC sponsored a project on harvesting, processing and storage of Ayurvedic raw drugs with the aim of evaluating present practices and evolving new procedures. A programme to set up a Germ Plasm Bank of medicinal plants has recently been initiated with the support of the Department of Biotechnology of the Government of India. The major components of this programme are a field gene bank, an in-vitro bank, a seed bank, a digital database, etc.

Extension work has been planned to ensure availability of genuine herbs. Seeds and seedlings from the estates are distributed at nominal cost to farmers. Organic manure from plant residue is also made available to them at a competitive price. Training programmes are organised for the benefit of farmers, NGOs, agricultural officers, etc on cost-effective farming techniques. Arya Vaidya Sala has also been instrumental in setting up a society of farmers for promoting need-based cultivation and marketing of medicinal plants.

Future programs include an important drive to generate computer-aided library of plant standards with morphological and anatomical data and to use them for on-line application at medicine manufacture level.

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