Bhutan was known as Lho Jong Men Jong [Land of Medicinal Herbs] to the Tibetans, and sure enough our land is bestowed upon with diverse medicinal herbs. Modern medicine came to Bhutan, probably in the 1960’s with the coming of first motor-able road in mid- 1960’s. However, Bhutanese knew to rely on medicinal herbs to treat any forms of diseases and even now, good percent of Bhutanese prefer traditional medicine to modern medicine. We have a place dedicated only to promoting indigenous treatment and making medicines. Though, I was never into traditional medicine, my parents and my wife was into it for quite some time and I have to admit of hearing them feeling better.
Bhutan has always been home to many plants and has always remained least disturbed. However, this trend is changing now with many market opportunities opening up. Some of the best examples would be Paris polyphylla [Common Name: Satuwa (Lhosam Kha); Thok Sam Pa (Sharchop Kha)]; Exidia sp. [mushroom]; Pseudopanax ginseng [Gensing] etc. I have always wondered on how its market potential is reaching our farmers. Though, through the collection and sale of such natural resources in the newly found markets are helping our farmers to generate some income, I am quite certain that having proper marketing strategy in place would mean increased income to our farmers.
While these newly discovered marketing opportunities for some natural resources is helping our people earn some income, we cannot undermine the level of disruption such collection of resources causes to the ecosystem. During my recent study in Bumthang on trying to understand the distribution of Satuwa, I realized that Satuwa is now a rare sight and even if I found some, I was surprised that rhizomes were very small. It may be because; all old growth of it might have already been harvested. What adds fuel to it becoming rarer is, unlike other herbaceous plants, it is perennial. However, all hope is not lost as some communities are already into domesticating it.
With rich biodiversity in Bhutan, such new discoveries of medicinal plants and markets for natural resources are bound to happen. So, it has now become a necessity to have some strategies in place to inform the Department of Forests and Park Services and Department of Agriculture and Marketing Cooperatives, should such things pop up. Bhutanese at large has the tendency to jump directly to conclusion and harvest natural resources without much study of the marketing structure and the price of it in international markets. Such ‘haste’ character of ours is not doing any good to our farmers and to our natural resources and ecosystem. I believe that there should be a strategy in place for the farmers to inform the forestry department whenever they get new market information so that forestry people can advise farmers with market trends and put a marketing system in place.
Besides the disruption to the ecosystem, collection of natural resources causes, I fear the worst in front of human health. Many people, whom I came across has the tendency to eat anything they heard as having medicinal properties. This is not good! I always make a point to inform such people that there are no plants without any medicinal properties and one has to be careful while trying to eat any kinds of plants let alone those considered having market value due to medicinal properties. I believe that it is our collective responsibility to convey our farmers that anything that are deemed medicinal may not be good for consumption as any medicinal properties comes with some negative properties.
Remember even Aconitum sp. has medicinal properties when consumed in traces but its chemical content is so powerful that it isn’t suitable to humans when consumed in modest dosage.