Climate Change and Medicinal Plants


DSCN6968With climate change being high on the news agenda at the moment I decided to see if research had been carried out to determine how it will effect medicinal herbs.

From a web search I found an article by Courtney Cavaliere for the Journal of American Botanical Council on “The Effects  of Climate Change on Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (MAPS)”, 2009.  The article is very interesting and covers several of the impacts that will be felt by plant communities worldwide. I have highlighted some of the findings here. To read the article in full click here:

The most interesting and concerning findings for me were:

1 – “Warming is occurring more rapidly in the Arctic than any where else in the world”. Many of the species that grow in these conditions do so because of little competition. However, with temperature increases other species are encroaching on their territories, increasing competition and threatening their survival. An example of a plant used by indigenous communities to treat depression and infections that is threatened is Rhodiola rosea.

2 – MAP’s in alpine areas suffer in a similar way as they migrate further up mountainsides as the tree line advances. There is reduced, and ultimately no, space for them to move into and alpine species have become extinct. The impact of this is seen in the Himalayas where Tibetan doctors spend one month a year in the mountains collecting plants to use as medicine. Collecting plants therefore becomes more treacherous and less rewarding.

Many plants are being threatened with extinction especially as the conditions for their growth are difficult to replicate in cultivation processes. An example is the snow lotus, Saussurea laniceps, where repeated attempts to cultivate it have failed.

3 – The timing of flowering is also changing for many species globally with spring occurring earlier.  Studies from North America have shown that some plants such as St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) are flowering 6-10 days earlier. This will have a knock on effect on pollinators and systems as a whole. On a positive note some plants may benefit from phenological shifts due to reduced competition, for example.

As you can see from these three examples I have taken from the paper, climate change is already impacting MAPS. Coupled with the loss of traditional knowledge of MAPS it is imperative we do all we can to learn how we can work with plants to heal ourselves and our planet.
If you have any information on this subject I would love to read it.
Please e mail me at herbs(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)



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