Kashmir is home to scores of extinction-prone flora and fauna. The flora of Kashmir is of immense aesthetic and medicinal value, as well as conducive to maintenance of the delicate and intricate mutual balance via subtle interplay of roles in the vibrant valley’s environmental framework.
But endemism of various Himalayan plants entail a sense of responsibility towards the Earth and entire human civilisation in general, to preserve the aesthetic specimen and are alarmingly susceptible to cataclysms, vagaries and vagrancies.
Here are seven endangered Himalayan plants known for medicinal values:
Himalayan Blue Poppy (Meconopsis aculeata)
It’s a blue-flowered thorny shrub, with a very limited geographical distribution restricted to particular areas of Pakistan and India, in the west Himalayas.
The species is highly valued as a medicinal plant, and the resulting demand for the plant as medicine has placed pressure on wild populations due to over-collection. The whole plant, but especially the root, is considered to be poisonous, containing narcotic alkaloids.
Famed for its unprecedented, unique azure colouration, it worths the moniker of “Queen of Himalayan Flowers”. Its greatest reputation revolves around it being the source of opium for anaesthesic and ritual purposes, dating to ancient sources where it was extracted and utilized by early surgeons to perform prolonged surgical operations.
Snow-Lotus (Saussurea laniceps)
Numerous high-alpine Himalayan species of Snow Lotus are grown as ornamental plants for their decorative-dense-woolly flower heads. They’re perennial herbaceous plants, of diminutive stature utilised in folk medicines to cure a wide range of maladies from altitude sickness to dysentery and gastric ulcers, and cold to fatigue and rheumatoid arthritis.
Among the genus, Saussurea laniceps is proven to be exceptionally effective for its anti-inflammatory and anti-nociceptive effects.
The species is threatened by over-exploitation for Tibetan traditional medicine.
Himalayan Yew (Taxus wallichiana)
The 20 meters high tree, often natively used as a fuelwood source, has medicinal use in Ayurveda and Tibetan medicine. It’s a source of the chemical precursors to the anticancer drug paclitaxel.
It’s also used in certain areas to make tea. The Himalayan yew has been subject to heavy exploitation for its leaves and bark across, contributing to its endangerment. Most conservation measures are commercially-motivated.
Salam Panja (Dactylorhiza hatagirea)
It’s a species of Himalayan orchid occurring at altitudes of 2,800-4,000 metres. Locally called ‘Salam Panja’ or ‘Hatta Haddi’, it’s called ‘Panchaule’ in the Himalayan vernacular.
It’s an erect perennial herb with long flowering stems having medicinal value.
The juice-extract from tuber is used as tonic and in treatment of pyorrhoea. Root paste is applied on cuts and wounds and its extract is administered to alleviate intestinal disorders.
Kutki (Picrorrhiza kurroa)
It’s found in the Himalayan region from altitude 3000-5000 meters. It’s thus remote from the human inhabitation and yet, it has reportedly been harvested to precarious teetering on the very brink of extinction.
Known as Kutki in Nepali, the perennial herb has a long history of use in Indian Ayurvedic medicine for the effective treatment of digestive problems.
Other applications have been propounded such as for remedying asthma, prevention and alleviation of liver damage and accelerating wound healing.
Papra (Podophyllum hexandrum)
It’s a succulent, erect herb, up to 1 foot tall with long, knotted creeper rhizomes. The plant is used in treatment of sexually transmitted and genital diseases.
Its paste is used as ointment for wounds, lacerations, inflammations and ulcers. Its rhizomes are said to have traditional curative usage towards a variety of maladies including typhoid fever, jaundice, dysentery, hepatitis, rheumatism, skin diseases, urinal ailments, and even used to treat tumours and cancer. The latter therapeutic uses are largely scientifically unverified.
Phen Kamal (Saussurea gossypiphora)
Being a perennial herbaceous plant, Phen Kamal is reputed to have medicinal properties according to traditional Chinese medicine.
The wool of this herb is applied to cuts, where it sticks compactly, seals the wound, and stops the bleeding.
Phen Kamal blooms during the monsoons between July and September. It’s unearthly, ethereal, surreal appearance is a deterrent against frosting related damage, and perhaps a form of camouflage.