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Indiscriminate exploitation threatens ‘naag chhatri’


The increasing demand of the herbal industry for ‘naag chhatri’, a perennial medicinal plant found in the temperate zone of the Himalayas, is leading to its indiscriminate and excessive exploitation and posing a serious threat to it. The herb is being smuggled out of the state in bulk. Over the last six months, large quantities of the dried herb have been seized by the Forest Department and other government agencies.

There is no ban on the collection of the herb, but it cannot be transported out of the state without permit. The sudden increase in demand has also resulted in an abnormal hike in its price, which has shot up from Rs 800 per kg to between Rs 2,500 and Rs 3,000 per kg. It has become a lucrative source of income for villagers.

‘Trillium govanianum’ in botanical terms, the plant is known for healing properties. It is traditionally used in ayurveda and the Chinese system of medicine for a range of therapeutic preparations.

It is a source of the steroid ‘harmone’ in drug industry. Its demand has increased abruptly in recent years after being used in the Chinese system of medicine.

As the demand can no longer be met from Nepal and Bhutan, companies are meeting their requirements from Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir, points out Vipan Guleria, forestry scientist with Dr YS Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry at Nauni in Solan, who has been working on the conservation of medicinal plants.

It is found in small pockets of the Himalayas. The main ‘naag chhatri’ collecting areas in the state are Kalaban, Shutrundi, Sach Pass, Chandru Nag, Kugti Pass, Manimahesh ranges, Chajpur, Rahla and Rohtang.

Its root is the most important part as it is a source of the steroid ‘harmone’. The root contains a chemical called ‘trillarin’ that yields ‘diosgenin’, a corticosteroid hormone used in preparations for rheumatism, birth control and regulation of menstrual flow. There little scope for regeneration as the whole plant is uprooted for the roots.

“The species has been threatened as it is being harvested prematurely, even before seed formation, affecting its natural regeneration. Traditionally it was harvested after the 20th day of the Hindu month of Bhadrapad (after September), which helped in its conservation,” explains Lal Singh, Director of the Himalayan Research Group.

Guleria says the only way out is to encourage large-scale cultivation in high-altitude areas by providing training to villagers. The government should raise nurseries and provide plant material to villagers. It will not only help in its conservation, but also supplement their income.


The Tribune (09-11-2012)