With the growing popularity of herbal remedies and essential oil use, multiple wonderful botanicals have been overharvested. In addition, habitat destruction has lead to many plants becoming vulnerable to extinction.
One way to minimize the chance of extinction is to reduce the demand on plants whose populations are dwindling. Personally, I avoid the purchase of any products containing plants who have misfortunately been added to the IUCN Red List. IUCN stands for the International Union for Conservation of Nature. This is a database of threatened and endangered plant and animal species.
It is easy to look up information at the IUCN Red List website. Just type the Latin name of the plant in the search box. For example, try searching: Santalum album. This is Indian sandalwood. Results will show that this tree is listed as vulnerable with population decreasing.
Below is a list of some medicinal plants with species in danger.
Agarwood, Aquilaria spp.
Agarwood is used in perfumery, incense, and carving. It comes from an Asian rainforest tree of the genus Aquilaria. Multiple Aquilaria species are listed on the IUCN Red list as vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered (1).
American Ginseng, Panax quinquefolius
American ginseng is a well known North American medicinal plant. It is listed on NatureServ as vulnerable and is limited in collection and sale by US and Canadian endangered wildlife protection organizations (2).
Black Cohosh, Actaea racemosa
Roots are used for many women’s health concerns. Due to overharvesting and deforestation, the species is endangered or threatened in multiple states in the US. Avoid wild harvested black cohosh (3).
Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis
Bloodroot is usually wild harvested and sold for medicinal and nutritional uses. It grows in North America, where habitat destruction and non-native ants has led to vulnerability (4).
Cedarwood Atlas, Cedrus atlantica and other Cedrus and Juniperus species
Cedar wood is used in construction and furniture, and to make essential oil. Atlas cedarwood is an endangered species and the Atlas Mountains of Morocca have been heavily deforested (1).
Elemi, Canarium luzonicum
Elemi is in the same plant genus as frankincense. Its resin is harvested to make essential oil and other medicinal products. It is listed on the IUCN Red List as Vulnerable (1).
Frankincense, Boswellia spp.
Multiple species of frankincense are on the IUCN Red List (1). The plant’s resin is often overharvested, jeopardizing the life of the tree.
Goldenseal, Hydrastis canadensis
Goldenseal grows in the forests of the Northern United States and Canada. Roots are harvested for medicinal uses. Loss of habitat and excessive wild harvesting has lead to goldenseal being listed on the IUCN Red List as vulnerable (1, 5).
Holy wood, Guaiacum spp.
This is a tropical, small, slow growing tree whose bark is revered for medicinal uses. Multiple species in this genus are listed on the IUCN Red List (1).
Myrrh, Commiphora spp.
Resin from this tree has been overharvested for use to make essential oils, perfumes, incents, and medicines. Multiple species are listed on the IUCN Red List (1).
Palo Santo, Burseara spp.
Palo Santo, also called Holy Wood, is a South American tree. Multiple trees of the Bursera genus are listed on the IUCN Red List (1). Some species are critically endangered (6).
Ravensara, Ravensara aromatic
Plant genera Ravensara and Cryptocarya are aromatic evergreen subtropical trees. Both plant genera include threatened species due to habitat destruction. Multiple species are listed on the IUCN Red List (1).
Rosewood, Dalbergia, Ocotea, and Aniba spp.
Rosewood’s rich burgundy color and aromatic scent has been prized and illegally overharvested from the dwindling forests of Brazil and Madagascar. The situation is critical. Multiple species in the Dalbergia and Ocotea genera along with Aniba roasaeodora are on the IUCN Red List (1).
Sandalwood, Santalum spp.
Indian sandalwood, Santalum album, is in a vulnerable state due to disease, grazing animals, fires, and a rate of harvesting that far exceeds the rate of growth for many years (7). Heavy international demand with poor regulation contributes to the problem (8). Multiple species in the Santalum genus are on the IUCN Redlist (1).
Shea butter, Vitellaria paradoxa
Shea butter comes from an African tree producing an oil rich seed. The species has been excessively harvested for wood and charcoal production. Loss of habitat is also causing this plant’s population to dwindle (9,10).
Slippery elm, Ulmus rubra
This is a North American elm tree. There are very few mature slippery elm trees left in their natural habitat due to Dutch elm disease and habitat destruction (11). Avoid wild harvested bark.
Spikenard, various Aralia and Nardostachys spp.
Rhizomes from the spikenard plant are used for medicinal purposes and to make essential oil. Multiple species are listed as endangered or vulnerable on the IUCN Red List (1).
Valerian Root, Valeriana and Nardostachys spp.
Valerian root is harvested for medicinal use. Certain species of the genera Valeriana and Nardostachys are on the IUCN Red List, some critically endangered (1).
With many botanicals, efforts are being made to encourage sustainable harvesting. Habitats are being protected and farms are being developed to grow certain species. These methods can help improve populations for future use.
By: Kathy Sadowski, MS in Aromatherapy, RA (ARC), Professional AIA and NAHA Member, LMT