Develop medicinal plant industry, urges pharmacognosist

33% of medicinal plants worldwide found only in Jamaica

Thursday, June 08, 2017

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Award-winning pharmacognosist Dr Denise Daley has made a renewed appeal for Jamaica to develop its medicinal plant industry, arguing that among the benefits to be had are a slice of the global multibillion-dollar pie.Speaking Monday at the launch of 'Medicinal Plants of Jamaica and Their Uses', a six-month-long exhibition at The Institute of Jamaica, she made the case that with research and scientific validation, the country's range of medicinal plants and ethno-medicinal remedies are viable options to spur economic growth, reduce health care costs and improve the general health of the nation.

“Of the plants already identified as having medicinal properties worldwide, Jamaica has 50 per cent, and of that 50 per cent, 33 per cent is endemic to the island,” said Dr Daley. “This could position the nation to be a part of a US$38.7-billion industry by the year 2020.”

She noted, however, that only 15 per cent of the country's list have so far been scientifically tested and proven to have medicinal purposes. The others have been established based on folklore.

Among the commonly used herbal remedies found in most parishes here are aloe vera, moringa, noni root, cowfoot leaf, cowfoot tongue, bay leaf, Indian mint, cherry bark, vervain, dog blood, cerasee, King of the Forest, marigold, bissy, and sorrel. Dr Daley noted that some of them have been proven to treat non-communicable diseases — like cancer, diabetes, heart diseases, hypertension, and arthritis — which account for 10 per cent of the health budget, as well as some lifestyle diseases. The medicinal plants are also known to cure a wide variety of conditions such as headaches, fertility disabilities, inflammation, as well as for detox purposes and a range of other ills.

The World Health Organization says 80 per cent of people rely on herbal medicine for some aspect of primary health care, while 70 per cent of cultures still use herbal medicine.

Dr Daley, whose own work focuses on developing diabetes treatment from the eucalyptus plant, argued that Jamaica ought to grow its nutraceutical and functional food industry by focusing on prevention.

In fact, she appealed to Jamaicans to use more of the available herbal remedies since they have no or low side effects and are effective because they are in sync with nature. She warned, however, that people should exercise caution when using medicinal plants and they should not be mixed with prescription drugs. She further cautioned that patients should tell their doctor about their illnesses before starting a medicinal plant regimen.

Dr Daley also urged people to maintain the country's medicinal heritage by guarding against extinction and ensuring sustainability of the plants.

“We need to use them, but we can't lose them, so if you pick a plant, plant a tree,” she urged, adding that 25 per cent of prescriptions are from plant extracts.

Dr Daley, programme director at the College of Health Sciences at the University of Technology, was awarded the National Science and Technology Awards' Young Scientist of the Year 2016.

— Kerry-Ann Goldson and Sasha Rowe

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