In Kew’s second annual State of the World’s Plants report, 28,187 species of plants around the world have now been recorded as having a medicinal use. However, poor documentation of medicinal plants means people are not making the most of their health benefits, according to the report.
Prof. Kathy Willis, director of science, RBG Kew, said that the 28,187 plant species that are currently recorded as being of medicinal use “is probably a very conservative figure.” The report is also critical as to why fewer than 16 percent (4,478) of the species used in plant-based medicines are cited in medicinal regulatory publications.
It reveals that there are currently 15 substitute names for each medicinal species; this has caused confusion and risk in the sector. The report also suggests how this can be streamlined and improved in databases like Kew’s Medicinal Plant Names Service (MNPS).
Her Excellency Dr. Gurib-Fakim, President of the Republic of Mauritius, said in a statement:
“This important report draws attention to issues like conservation, as well as how effectively regulation can be achieved through more precise use of scientific plant names and greater awareness of the many alternative synonyms in use.
“Many of the 28,000+ species with medicinal potential have given modern medicine some very important leads, yet few are actually listed officially because of ambiguous labeling.”
New plants that have been discovered over the past year include nine species of a climbing vine (genus Mucuna) which is used in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. There were four new relatives of aloe vera discovered, which is widely used in the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries.
Two plants, artemisinin and quinine, were also discovered and are “among the most important weapons” against malaria, which killed over 400,000 people in 2015. Monique Simmonds, deputy director of science at the world-famous botanical group, said in a statement:
“The report is highlighting the huge potential that there is for plants, in areas like diabetes and malaria.”
Prof. Willis explained how plants are the foundation of the world’s ecosystems, and hold the potential to tackle some of our most pressing issues. However, we need to strike a delicate balance between our needs and those of the natural world.
“We’ve tried to make sure that this year’s State of the World’s Plants report goes beyond the numbers to look at the natural capital of plants — how they are relevant and valuable to all aspects of our lives.
“From the technological advances allowing us to unravel the mysteries of plants to the detailed study of their characteristics — molecular to morphological — we are able to get a better picture than ever before of what we have that is valuable and what is most vulnerable. “
Kew’s second annual State of the World’s Plants report involved 128 scientists from 12 countries. It reveals why some plants are more vulnerable than others to global threats such as climate change, disease, or pests. It also contains data never seen before on patterns that affect plants from different regions.
This latest data shows how plants are relevant and valuable to all aspects of our lives. Willis said that the broad survey of the current state of affairs should contribute to appreciating and helping plants:
“I hope this will enable us to have a global conversation about what we need to protect and conserve.”
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