Aromatic, Medicinal Plants Flourish in the Himalayas

In the region of the Himalayas from Bhutan, Nepal, and India, many aromatic plants grow and comprise a part of local people’s lives as medicine and food. In their review paper “Himalayan Aromatic Medicinal Plants: A Review of their Ethnopharmacology, Volatile Phytochemistry, and Biological Activities” in the journal Medicines, Rakesh K. Joshi, Prabodh Satyal, and William N. Setzer analyze in detail the nutritional and medicinal value of 116 aromatic plant species.

Cymbopogon martinis (source: Wikipedia)

The Himalayas are well-known as the world’s highest mountain range. The authors’ research area, located in the southern margin of the Himalaya range, is actually a narrow band of biodiversity. It is called by some researchers the center of plant diversity in the Himalayas. The monsoon brings rains concentrated in the summer and contributes a great deal to the rich biodiversity. The authors report, citing prior research, that “The Indian Himalaya is home to more than 8000 species of vascular plants of which 1748 are known for their medicinal properties.”

Artemisia marítima (source: Wikimedia)

The authors of the review paper indicated that the plants growing in high elevation are important for local people. Those plants provide both nutrition and medicinal functions. Some of those wild plants have been eaten by people since ancient times, while the medicinal effects have been noticed just recently. In the article, the authors list the ethnopharmacology, biological activities, and essential oil compositions of Himalayan aromatic plants. Some of them not only are useful but have some special characteristics.

For example, there are around 400 species in the genus Artemisia, like mugwort and wormwood, growing in the temperate regions, and 19 species of this genus in Himalayan regions have been recognized as medicinal herbs. The plants of this genus are traditional medicines discovered a long time ago by indigenous cultures. Most species have strong aromas, and can be smelled from a long distance. Due to their strong aromas, some of the plants in this genus are used as incense and insecticide. For example, the leaf extract of Artemisia japonica is used to treat malaria, while a paste of the leaves is applied externally to treat skin diseases in northern Pakistan. Another species, Artemisia maritima, is used by several Himalayan peoples to treat stomach problems and intestinal worms.

Artemisia michauxiana (source: PFAF)

When it comes to the Cinnamomum genus, which is in the laurel family, many people are quite familiar with the common spice, cinnamon. Chefs treat it as one important flavor and some people like cinnamon flavored coffee or tea. The Cinnamomum genus is another typical aromatic plant that are green from spring to winter. Their aromatic oils are preserved in the leaves and bark. In the Himalayan areas, eight out of 250 total species have been found. There are still many other genus of aromatic plants providing food and medicine for local people in the Himalayan places, such as the genus Cymbopogon, which is also known as lemongrass.

With its distinct environment of glacial and river valleys, the Himalayas nurture a rich biodiversity. Traditional herbs still play an important role in people’s health. More species are joining in the group of medicinal herbs. As a result, it should be highlighted that plants in Himalayas demand protection considering the challenge of climate change, environmental degradation, and other threats.

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