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Magic shrub to get a revival

It's a wonder shrub that is giving India's Rs 5,000 crore-worth
ayurveda industry sleepless nights. Guggul, a four-metre shrub, known
for its powers of reducing high cholesterol levels besides bringing
relief to patients suffering from rheumatic arthritis and thyroid,
has started to disappear from India.

Even though the gummy resin, harvested from the plant's bark through
tapping, is used in over 100 ayurvedic formulations, 90% of the
industry's requirement for the plant is met by Pakistan.

While the Indian ayurveda industry requires over 1,000 tonnes of the
resin annually, only 10% of it is generated here. This has now made
the country's National Medicinal Plants Board declare the cultivation
of Guggul a priority. Union health minister A Ramadoss recently
sanctioned a Guggul revival project which will conduct research on
the plant besides finding ways to popularise its cultivation among
Indian farmers.

Four institutes â€" National Research Centre for Medical and Aromatic
Plants (Gandhinagar), Central Arid Zone Research Institute (Jodhpur),
Agricultural Research Institute (Gujarat) and Central Institute of
Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (Lucknow), have been asked to start
research on this plant. Scientists will look at how to make this
plant grow across India (at present it only grows in arid zones), how
to make it produce the resin at regular intervals (at present, it
exudes gum every 10-12 years), how to extend its lifespan (it dies
after the gum is extracted) and how to improve its germination.

Speaking to TOI, B S Sajwan, CEO of NMPB, said, "With such a huge
requirement, we can't depend solely on its import from Pakistan. For
its largescale requirement, the plant has to be available in large
quantities across India. We have, therefore, decided to revive the

There has been a surge in the interest over Guggul in the West. Dr
David Moore from the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston recently
reported that "the 2,500-year-old traditional Indian medication for
lowering cholesterol really works".

The Central Drug Research Institute had developed drugs to reduce
cholesterol with Guggul in the 1970s. Sushruta Samahita â€" the ancient
text on ayurveda â€" also refers to Guggul, which acts as an anti-
inflammatory agent too.

It was over 40 years ago that Dr G V Satyavati, former DG of the
Indian Council of Medical Research, first reported the hypolipidemic
action of Guggul in a thesis submitted to the Benaras Hindu
University. She also discovered that it lowered serum cholesterol
level and cut down on obesity.

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