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Monograph #94

The practices and principles of Tibetan medicine hold tremendous promise as a supplement to worldwide healthcare. A precursor step to making this happen is for Tibetan medicine to be sustained where it is now practiced. Physicians trained in the Tibetan system must work together with people knowledgeable in other herbal medicine traditions, and Tibetan medicine must begin to make use of herbal resources available to people all over the world.

A dire need exists to conserve and cultivate botanicals used in Tibetan medicine using in-situ and ex-situ conservation. Efforts must be undertaken to sustain the plants that provide the ingredients of the current medicines and the ecologies that support them, and to cultivate species that cannot be preserved in the wild.

The history of the use of herbal medicines is as old as the social and cultural groupings of human beings. The great medical traditions of mankind (Ayurvedic, Chinese, Siddha, and Unani) have ancient connections with Tibetan medicine, using similar principles and some of the same herbs. Tibetan medicine is the therapeutic system largely used by the Buddhist community for healthcare since time immemorial.

However, with the changing lifestyle of the Buddhist community, this age-old system is in jeopardy. Apart from a few countries like Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet, the traditional use of herbs in treatment was neglected for a long period due to the advent of the allopathic system of medicine. Although allopathic medicine can cure a wide range of diseases, its high price and side effects are causing many to return to herbal medicines that have fewer side effects. In recent years, collecting medicinal herbs has become increasingly difficult; the natural availability of herbs has decreased and important herbs have disappeared in some regions. This is due not only to environmental changes and over-grazing but also to over-exploitation of herbs as a result of increasing population pressure and a growing demand for these herbs from large neighboring countries.

Prior to 1992, villagers in India collected botanicals without any restrictions. Now, the collection of herbs from National Parks in India has been banned by the Forest Department, although in some states permits are issued for the collection of herbs. To cultivate some of the rare medicinal plants, cultivators must often have permission from the Government, but the procedure can be lengthy and difficult. A reliable purchase price is also a troublesome factor for cultivators. Some medicinal plants are traded to India from Nepal at a much cheaper rate, resulting in the devaluation of indigenous products. In areas where no legal trade is allowed, evidence of illegal trade exists. Additionally, local markets pay more for plants than do Co-operative Societies, so cultivators often prefer to sell to local markets.

To mitigate the pressure on these valuable herbs, it is essential that a proper scheme be developed for their sustainable use. If not prevented, in time the patenting of plants and plant products used in Tibetan medicine by commercial agencies could deprive the native physicians of the benefit of their traditional knowledge. An overview of available literature reveals that there is a critical lack of medicinal plants documentation in English.

History behind the formation of the
Tanaduk Botanical Research Institute

The Tanaduk Botanical Research Institute was established to help preserve the ancient art and science of Tibetan Medicine. The idea is to conserve the botanicals used in Tibetan Medicine by cultivating them and the societies they live in, both in their native habitat and on conservation sites. Also by conducting research on all phases of the botanicals used in Tibetan Medicine from planting, to harvesting, to their efficacy when used in medicinal formulas.

The Mission statement of the
Tanaduk Botanical Research Institute

The purpose of the Tanaduk Botanical Research Institute is to establish a collaborative platform for conserving and researching medicinal herbs used in traditional medicine, specifically those used in traditional Tibetan medicines for centuries, and which are now endangered of being lost forever by deforestation and over-harvesting. The aim is to initiate projects for the conservation and replanting of vital botanicals, as well as for the research and development of medicinal formulations. The program goals are to establish a repertoire of endangered and widely used plants of the Himalayan and Tibetan traditional medical systems on conservation sites and to aid in medicinal plant research and conservation efforts. To better understand and document the clinical function of plants used in Tibetan Medicine, and to research and develop these traditional medicines for future use so they can be integrated as a valuable component of worldwide healthcare.

Description of project

Experimental sowing and planting began in the spring of 1979. Amchis and other botanists supporting the work now collect seeds from their immediate environments from a variety of local herbs, and are willing to continue to pursue these activities. Cooperation with this conservation effort has been established with contacts in Himal Pradesh, Solo Khumbu, Mustang, Amdo and other areas.

Medicinal herbs can be produced in three ways: (1) Intensive cropping: monoculture within a relatively small area using modern agricultural inputs and intensive cultivation practices; (2) Natural regeneration: collecting and propagating herbs from large protected areas where they grow without human interference; and (3) Semi-intensive production: sowing or planting medicinal herbs together with plants which normally grow with them in their natural habitat. This can be done on cleared soil and by replanting in designated cultivation sites. The third approach combines features of the first and second approaches: Herbs are sown or planted as in intensive cropping whilst preserving a naturally regenerating environment.

The Tanaduk Institute follows the third approach: the semi-intensive Low External Input Agriculture approach. Everywhere in nature, plants that grow together depend upon and reinforce one another, and are functionally interrelated to form a community. Experience gained from producing traditional medicines shows that the quality of herbs found in this type of habitat are higher than that of herbs produced in monoculture. In addition to planting herbs, project plans include investigating ways of conserving medicinal herbs especially of rare and endangered categories through the ex-situ conservation and monitoring of natural populations.

The following schedule, planned according to data found throughout the Himalayan region, is followed for cultivation.

Snow-sowing in May: The initial search for seedlings suitable for planting began in spring 1979. The plants have different seasons for growing, flowering and seeding. The Tanaduk Institute has initiated pilot projects to establish plots in numerous areas, and to begin sowing the collected seeds in the spring.

Replanting Wild Seedlings in June: In June, seedlings from wild plants are collected for planting at the experimental cultivation plots, and for transport to Orcas Island. The sowing success rate is analyzed and compared to that of the wild seedlings. Wild herbs are observed and other plants are identified that grow in the immediate vicinity. A report is made on all medicinal herbs included in the research plan. Roots and early seeds are collected for planting at the cultivation sites. Various botanical and horticultural activities continue throughout the summer season.

Replanting Roots and Sowing Wild Seeds in September: In the fall, roots and wild seeds are replanted in native growing areas and at cultivation sites both in the Himalayas and in the West.

The Orcas Island Site: Three hundred acres on Orcas Island has diverse growing area's that include, meadows, wetlands, mountain and hill area's and can be used to cultivate seeds and seedlings imported from the Himalayas.

The Drikung Kagyud Institute: This nonprofit institute for the preservation of Himalayan culture is located in Dehra Dun, India, and is a nonprofit institutution that oversees 80 monasteries, many of which are dedicated to cultivate these rare and endangered botanicals.

The Nauti site: Nauti is a village in Chamoli district of Uttaranchal. Land is available for cultivation some 250 kilometers away from Dehra Dun at 2000 meters altitude in the Chamoli district of Uttaranchal state. Garhwal University at Srinagar is close to the proposed cultivation site at Chamoli, where researchers plan to reap intellectual support and foster collaboration with the Botany Department.

The Kalimpong site: Kalimpong is ideally situated, and has the best all-round climate in India, if not in the world. It is a green-finger's paradise and the main businesses there are schools and nurseries, from which all kinds of flowers and orchids are exported the world over. It is central and it is easy to travel from there to Sikkim, Nepal, Bhutan, and to the Doars areas where further cultivation work is scheduled.

The Taktse Site: This site is owned by the Tsuklakhang Trust, which presently trains and educates 200 monks. The site has over 100 acres of land and work is already in progress with the cultivation of some medicinal plants. Their overall plans are to introduce medicinal plants on a commercial basis so that the proceeds will go towards the maintenance of the students studying at the Tsuklakhang Institute. The student monks will be involved with the cultivation of these medicinal plants.

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