Climate change threatens medicinal plants

Climate change threatens medicinal plants

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Researchers warn of the effects of climate change on medicinal plants

Especially in areas of the world where Western medicine is not available, medicinal plants make a significant contribution to keeping people and animals healthy. In the western world, too, more and more people have been relying on natural plant-based medicine in recent years. However, climate change could mean the end of many medicinal plants: changing temperatures and rainfall as well as the increase in pests and pathogens could have devastating effects on the variety of medicinal plants.

In a contribution by the journal Planta Medica, researchers from the fields of traditional medicine, botany, pharmacology and phytotherapy warn of the effects of climate change, especially in the field of medicinal plants. They now urge countermeasures to be taken.

Many medicinal plants may no longer be available in the future

Medicinal plants are an important part of medical care for a large part of the world's population. For 70 to 95 percent of people in most developing countries, they even represent the majority of the available medicines. Pharmacies, drugstores and health food stores in industrialized nations are also hard to imagine without herbal medicines.

In their warning, scientists now draw attention to the fact that many medicinal plants are likely to die out or at least become very rare due to climate change; in addition, the composition of the active ingredients of remaining medicinal plants could change unpredictably due to the adaptation to changed environmental conditions.

Not only health, but also economic consequences

Worldwide, many people are dependent not only on health, but also financially on medicinal plants. Because millions of people earn their living by collecting, selling medicinal plants or working as traditional healers. "Harvesting and trade in medicinal plants are an important source of income for the rural and urban population, as the global export value of herbal ingredients has recently been estimated at over $ 32.6 billion a year," the publication said .

Medicinal plants are also indispensable in many places in veterinary medicine: by keeping the herds healthy, they contribute to the livelihood of those who make a living from livestock.

A combination of different causes makes the problem worse

“The expected consequences of climate change in many parts of the world include harsher weather extremes such as more intense droughts, heavy rains, heat waves and cold spells. All these extremes can affect the growth and reproductive success of plants that are not adapted to these conditions, which leads to a reduction in sustainable harvests, ”is how the authors of the warning describe the direct expected consequences of climate change.

In addition to climate change, the problems of over-harvesting and the destruction of habitats by humans also play a role in the threat to many medicinal plant species. This includes, for example, deforestation in the rainforests. Many people could also lose access to the remaining medicinal plants, for example because they have to leave their traditional areas due to climate change (climate refugees).

Countermeasures required

In their warning, the scientists call for measures to stop the current threatening developments: “It would be ideal to reverse the current trends, and of course we advocate intensive efforts to curb climate change in order to reduce its negative effects on the biosphere and human communities worldwide reduce, ”the researchers emphasize.

“We urge local and national governments, non-governmental organizations, public health and ethnobotanical communities to take measures to help all communities, particularly those dependent on medicinal plants for their health care or income, to access to get high quality traditional medicines, ”the research team continued.

However, they rate the chances of stopping climate change in good time as rather slim. Therefore, they give concrete suggestions on how to become active on a smaller scale on site: Cultivating medicinal plants in community gardens, obtaining knowledge about the necessary growth conditions and care and teaching sustainable harvesting practices can be the first small but important steps. (kh)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Magistra Artium (M.A.) Katja Helbig


  • Applequist, Wendy L., Brinckmann, Josef A., Cunningham, Anthony B., Hart, Robbie E., Heinrich, Michael, Katerere, David R., van Andel, Tinde: Scientistsʼ Warning on Climate Change and Medicinal Plants; in: Planta Medica, November 2019, Thieme Connect

Video: What is climate change? (June 2022).


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