Medicinal Plants at Risk Due to Climate Change

Climate change is affecting medicinal and aromatic plants around the world and could ultimately lead to losses of some key species. This conclusion is based on the research, observations, and opinions of multiple medicinal plant researchers and conservationists, as reported in the cover article of the latest issue of HerbalGram, the quarterly journal of the American Botanical Council (ABC).

HerbalGram issue 81, which contains the article "The Effects of Climate Change on Medicinal and Aromatic Plants," was posted online and distributed to ABC members this week. The peer-reviewed magazine/journal is also available in select bookstores and natural food stores.

The 14-page article, based on recent climate change research and the perspectives of 15 scientific researchers, medicinal plant conservation experts, and others, explores the current and potential effects of climate change on medicinal and aromatic plants. The article notes that species endemic to regions or ecosystems that are especially vulnerable to climate change, such as Arctic and alpine regions, could be most at risk. Rhodiola rosea of the Canadian Arctic and snow lotus (Saussurea laniceps) of the Tibetan mountains are specifically identified as medicinal species that could face significant threats from climate change. Researchers who have studied medicinal plants of Arctic and alpine areas and discovered potential threats posed by climate change provide information on their findings.

The article further explores effects of climate change that appear to be impacting plants --- including medicinals --- throughout the world. For example, climate change has led to shifts in seasonal timing and/or ranges for many plants, which could ultimately endanger some wild medicinal populations. Extreme weather events, meanwhile, have begun to impact the production and harvesting of various medicinal plants around the world. For instance, recent abnormally hot summers have prevented reseeding of medicinal plants such as chamomile (Matricaria recutita) in Germany and Poland, and increasingly severe flooding in Hungary has reduced harvests of fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) and anise (Pimpinella anisum) in that country.

An excerpt of the HerbalGram article was published in the December 2008 issue of Nutrition Business Journal, and a synopsis of the article will be published in a forthcoming issue of World Conservation, the magazine of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The full HerbalGram article has been posted on the ABC website and is accessible to ABC members and the general public here.

About the American Botanical Council
Founded in 1988, the American Botanical Council is a leading international nonprofit organization addressing research and educational issues regarding herbs and medicinal plants. ABC's members include academic researchers and educators, universities and libraries, health professionals and medical institutions, botanical gardens and arboreta, government agencies, members of the herb, dietary supplement, cosmetic, and pharmaceutical industries, journalists, consumers, and other interested parties from over 70 countries. The organization occupies a historic 2.5-acre site in Austin, Texas where it publishes the quarterly journal HerbalGram, the monthly e-publication HerbalEGram, HerbClips (summaries of scientific and clinical publications), reference books, and other educational materials. ABC also hosts HerbMedPro, the most powerful herbal database on the Internet, covering scientific and clinical publications on 220 herbs.

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