We often think of medicinal plants and essential oils as a complement to western health care or as a pleasant scent to be enjoyed, perhaps even as a more natural way of life. But the possible global impact of medicinal plants, especially the aromatic species, go far beyond these and, if used to their full potential, are the key to solving numerous interrelated global issues.
When the full potential and possibilities of these benefits are considered, it is obvious that medicinal plants are one of humanity’s greatest natural resources.
The first global benefit of medicinal plants is nontoxic, holistic, affordable, and locally available healthcare. Western medicine, including pharmaceuticals, often harm the body while it works, only masking the symptoms of the ailment. Medicinal plants and essential oils help fix the source of the problem. They are longer term solutions, but combined with the solid foundation of a healthy diet, exercise and trusting in God, medicinal plants can target certain ailments and restore the body to health.
In fact, botanical medicine is the oldest form of healthcare, and remains the primary source of preventive and curative treatment for 80 percent of people in developing countries. Many essential oils create an environment that bacteria find inhospitable. A small number of oils can be used for a large number of common challenges, especially in restoring comfort, health and balance of the skin, respiratory, and digestive systems. Many of the common aromatic culinary herbs and spices used throughout the world have significant therapeutic value.
There are two main economic benefit of medicinal plants. The first is the income gained from the cultivation, processing, and sale of medicinal plants and their products. Medicinal plants have provided have been a source of sustainable income for innumerable people in every part of the world for millennia. Today, demand for medicinal plants is increasing and supplies are decreasing. As their economic value rises, so does their value as cash crops and the incentive to cultivate and process them grows as well. Many species of medicinal plants are now the world’s most expensive legal crops! With the expanding global market, more and more communities will be able to use herbal crops and products as a way of providing for their families in an independent and sustainable way. The cultivation of medicinal plants and the production of essential oil will most directly impact poor rural areas around the world. By supporting farmers and distillers engaged in these activities, we can help them continue their age-old livelihoods, while also supporting the environment and non-toxic health alternatives. The mega-agriculture taking over the world, which is normally the mass production of corn, soy, and wheat, is destroying the environment and local rural farm businesses. However, supporting the cultivation of a diversity of medicinal herbs and herb products protects communities and allows people to continue living on the land.
The second economic benefit is the availability of affordable medicines for local populations. Locally grown or wild-harvested herbs are relatively inexpensive compared to pharmaceutical drugs and other more costly and invasive therapies. Most of the important oils that create inhospitable environments for contagion, such as tea tree, eucalyptus, oregano, and thyme, are relatively inexpensive, since the plants grow easily and freely, and produce abundant amounts of oils. What’s more, only simple equipment and methods are required to create these oils, and minimal investment is needed to start a local industry. The low cost of the oils, combined with their high effectiveness, offers an important alternative to expensive antibiotics.
Environmental Protection and Ecological Restoration
The third global benefit of medicinal plants is ecological protection and environmental preservation. When a community cultivates high quality organic plants or manages an ecosystem that provides secondary forest products such as wild-harvested herbs, the biodiversity of the region is restored and maintained. Herbs can be used to make forests and wilderness areas economically stable, and thus protect them from deforestation and other destructive practices. Medicinal plants can also be used to purify environmental toxins and regenerate ecosystems. Several medicinal plants that are important for ecological restoration thrive in barren and degraded lands. The neem tree is a good example of such a plant.
Conservation of Ethnobotanical Knowledge
Knowledge about plants is an important part of humanity’s heritage of natural healing. This long history of accumulating knowledge is incredibly precious and should not be forgotten in today’s culture, which is obsessed with chemicals and quick fixes. Even as recently as our grandparents’ generation, the knowledge about plant-based medicines and other plant benefits was broadly held, shared, and practised. We are rapidly losing this knowledge, but the recent revival of alternative health care and a more natural way of life is bringing back the primitive knowledge that helped our forefathers for generations.
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