Tibetan villagers, experts fight to save medicinal herbs

Updated: 2014-09-26 14:53

By Palden Nyima(China Daily USA)

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With a history of more than 2,000 years, Tibetan medicine is similar to traditional Chinese medicine in that it experiments with a variety of herbs to create cures. In recent years, as its appeal has widened across China and abroad, a brighter spotlight has been shone on the birthplace of the regional practice, Mainling county.

According to historical records, Yuthok Yonten Gonpo, the founder of Tibetan medicine, trained doctors, dispensed medicines and wrote about Tibetan medical achievements in Mainling county's Ganlu Cave about 1,300 years ago.

Tibetan people regarded Yuthok Yonten Gonpo as a holy master. His tome, Four Medical Tantras, became the foundation for Tibetan medicine.

One of the reasons why the county is so integral to traditional medicine in the Tibet autonomous region is its abundance of medicinal herbs. The county government said Mainling has about 3,800 types of plants and 680 kinds of macrofungi.

"There are more than 1,000 species of rare medicinal herbs in Mainling county," said Champa Tenzin, a Tibetan medical expert from the regional Hospital of Tibetan Medical Science.

But rapid economic growth and global warming are threatening a number of Tibetan medicinal herbs, creating the necessity to carry out studies of the plants. Last year, more than 3,000 species of medicinal plants were studied in the first large-scale resources survey in Tibet by a team from the Tibetan Medicine Hospital of the Tibet autonomous region and another team from the Farming School of Tibet University.

They found over 90 national key herb species and over 50 unique medicinal plants. More than 37,000 herbariums were also discovered during the survey.

The Mainling government, which for several years now has been stressing the need to plant more medicinal herbs in the wild, said it will soon conduct its own survey.

"This year, we will do a survey of medicinal herbs in a 3,000-square-kilometer area in Mainling and plant more than 20 wild medicinal herbs as part of a pilot project," said Tashi Dawa, chief of Mainling county.

He said this year the county will invest more than 25 million yuan to plant the herbs, with plans to expand the project's scale in three to five years.

Nyima, a farmer in a remote county village, has been planting six kinds of medicinal herbs for four years.

"Seven families work in my fields and each family gets a monthly salary of 4,500 yuan. I myself make an average income of 100,000 yuan annually," the 46-year-old said.

Sangye, a specialist at the Tibetan medicine research and experiment base in Mainling county, said he has been battling to save valuable wild Tibetan herbs.

"It's time for us to plant to protect the wild species. We need to pass the assets down for the next generations," said the graduate student of the Tibetan Traditional Medical College.

Tsering, a villager in Tibet's Nyingchi county, has been encouraging villagers to plant wild herbs in the fields for years. "Tsering is the first one who provided fair job opportunities for villagers," said Liru, a local village official. "Apart from generating income, the other reason he plants herbs is to save those endangered herbal species."

Tibetan villagers, experts fight to save medicinal herbs 

Nyima has planted six kinds of medicinal herbs in a village in Tibet.  Palden Nyima / China Daily

(China Daily USA  09/26/2014 page5)