Bhutan Finds Alternative Source of Medicinal Plants to Ease Pressure from Commercial Harvesting


Medicinal plants of Dagala region in Bhutan: their diversity, distribution, uses and economic potential

Wangchuk P, Namgay K, Gayleg K, Dorji Y
J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2016 Jun 24;12(1):28
PubMed Central: PMC4921017

Bhutan’s Ministry of Agriculture and Forests and Ministry of Health conducted an ethnobotanical survey to determine if the Dagala village block (gewog) might serve as an alternative collection site for the state-run Menjong Sorig Pharmaceuticals, which manufactures plant-based medicines for traditional hospitals in Bhutan.

Writing in the Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine, Phurpa Wangchuk of James Cook University and co-authors note that the ecological pressure on medicinal plants in Bhutan has increased significantly over recent years, particularly in Lingzhi Gewog, the primary source of plants and other raw materials for medical formulations manufactured for the country’s network of traditional medicine providers:

“[Menjong Sorig Pharmaceuticals (MSP)] manufactures more than 100 different polyingredient medicinal formulations and supplies them to the traditional medicine hospitals and units across the country. The polyingredient medicinal formulations are prepared into different dosage forms as powder, capsules, pills, tablets, ointments and decoctions. The raw materials (mostly medicinal plants) for preparing these formulations are either collected within Bhutan (mostly from Lingzhi region) or imported from India. The medicinal plants, which grow in the higher elevation of alpine mountains (>2000 meters above sea level) including that from Lingzhi region, are known as the High Altitude Medicinal Plants (HAMP) and the others that grow in the temperate and tropical environment are called the Low Altitude Medicinal Plants (LAMP). Due to persistent collections of HAMP from Lingzhi region for more than 48 years, the pressure on medicinal plants has increased significantly over the recent years. Therefore, identifying an alternative medicinal plants collection site for HAMP have been one of the MSP’s top priority.”

Bhutanese medicine is with traditional Tibetan medicine one of the oldest surviving medical traditions and is in wide practice across the world, so this case study is potentially of significance not only for Bhutan but also for the other countries that use these medicinal plants.

The team chose Dagala Gewog to study because it shares several agro-climatic features with Lingzhi Gewog and has never had an ethnobotanical survey (though there were abundant anecdotal claims about medicinal lush plant growth in the region), and because the local people could potentially benefit from a sustainable collection program.

Berberis aristata
Berberis aristata [Photo:, Wikimedia Commons]
Working with a local Byjop guide, the team identified 100 medicinal plant species from Dagala Gewog, 16 of which were abundant in the region and in current use by MSP: Aconitum laciniatum, Berberis aristata, Bistorta macrophylla, Euphorbia wallichii, Gentiana algida, Geranium refractum, Juniperus pseudosabina, Juniperus squamata, Neopicrorhiza scrophulariiflora, Plantago depressa, Potentilla arbuscula, Rheum australe, Rhododendron anthopogon, Rhododendron glaucophyllum, Rhododendron setosum, and Taraxacum officinale.

“These 16 species that are found in abundance have the economic potential since MSP require them in bulk quantities to prepare medicines. Since is also practiced across the globe, these medicinal plants could be in demand by other countries including India, Nepal, Mongolia, Tibet and Switzerland (PADMA company based on Tibetan medicine). However, the first priority would be to focus on meeting the domestic demand of MSP for these medicinal plants. MSP currently engage yak herders for collecting medicinal plants from Lingzhi. As a result of medicinal plants collection program, the Lingzhip (local inhabitants of Lingzhi region) have improved their socio-economic status and contributed significantly to the realization of country’s ‘Gross National Happiness’ (GNH) indices including preservation of traditional medical knowledge, conservation of environment and socio-economic prosperity.”

The team concluded that it was feasible to establish an alternative medicinal-plant collection center in Dagala Gewog:

“Establishing an alternative HAMP collection centre in Dagala Gewog has multi-pronged benefits. The tangible and immediate benefits would include: a) Dagala communities could generate decent income through medicinal plants collection program and elevate their socio-economic status, b) MSP could obtain sustainable supply of HAMP to meet the demand of medicine production, c) training on sustainable collection of HAMP (always provided by MSP as a package of collection program) would educate Dagala Jops on the values, protection and preservation of plants, d) establishing this alternative collection center would ease the pressure on Lingzhi HAMP and could enable MSP to collect the plants on a rotational basis, and e) since Dagala region is known for eco-tourism, having the medicinal plants collection centre and the herb garden would enhance the in-flow of eco-tourists especially the botanists and the herbalists.”

Read the complete article at PubMed Central.

The information on my blog is not intended as a substitute for medical professional help or advice but is to be used only as an aid in understanding current medical knowledge. A physician should always be consulted for any health problem or medical condition.