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ENVIRONMENT REPORT — April 12, 2002: Medicinal Plant Conservation - 2002-04-11

This is the VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT.

Throughout history, people around the world have used traditional medicines made from plants. Today, these medicines made from plants have gained new acceptance in the United States. However, the popularity of medicines and products made from plants has caused concern that some of these valuable plants may disappear from the wild.

Americans spend more than three-thousand-million dollars a year on herbal medicines. About sixty-million Americans use these medicines. More and more doctors are suggesting herbal medicines for their patients. However, there is little research on how best to use these resources without destroying natural populations of the plants.

Some medicinal plants are harvested in huge amounts. For example, thirty-four million ginseng plants have been harvested each year from eastern forests in the United States. Now, the National Park Service is trying to do more to discover how to preserve herbal medicines that may be disappearing from America’s forests.

The Park Service helped organize the Plant Conservation Alliance. This group includes more than one-hundred-forty government agencies, private groups and educational organizations.

Some members of the group gathered with business leaders in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in February. Scientists, business representatives, as well as American Indian tribal leaders met to discuss the use of medicinal plants. The meeting explored concerns about medicinal plants that have not been dealt with before. The meeting did not produce a statement on policy. However, it did show why efforts are needed to preserve wild medicinal plants.

At least one-hundred-seventy-five different kinds of plants are harvested for use as medicine. Some are very common and are found in many areas. However, some medicinal plants are becoming rare. These include ginseng, which is used to increase energy, and echinacea, which is used to fight infection.

Concern for medicinal plant populations may have a wider effect. Some delegates to the conference noted that industries that use herbs in their products are now interested in preserving forests and natural areas. They say that undeveloped forests can be more profitable than developed land.

This Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT was written by Mario Ritter.