India- one of the 17 mega-biodiversity countries, having 15 Agro-climatic zones, contributes to about 7% of world biodiversity! Out of the 17,000+ plant species, more than 7,000 have been known and used for flavours and medicinal benefits.
The term herb, derived from Latin word- Herba (meaning green crops), in current context refers to any part of the plant like fruit, seed, stem, bark, flower, leaf, stigma or a root, as well as a non-woody plant.
Around the globe, plants’ derivatives have been used for their flavors and medicinal benefits even before the prehistoric period as corroborated by several manuscripts, Egyptian papyrus, and other writings.
These numbers suggest that medicinal herbs are nothing less than a divine blessing for mankind, and this article delineates the journey of top indian herbs- from production to commercialization.
Table of Contents
Let’s study about these herbs in details
One of the most useful plants of the world- Moringa, is a fast growing tree, found throughout the tropics and finds its usage in food, livestock forage, medicine, dye, and water purification. Moringa leaves are used as a medicinal herb for a variety of the benefits. This tropical crop grows best between 25℃- 35°C, and survives till 48°C. A well drained sandy loam or loamy soils with pH between 5-9 are best for planting the seeds. The clay soil must be avoided for Moringa Plantation.
Leaves from High-density Moringa fields can be harvested after the plants grow to 1.5-2.0 mt, which generally takes 60-90 days. Leaf stems are cut with a sharp knife 20-45 cm above the ground. This better promotes the development of new shoots. The subsequent harvesting can be done every 35-40 days.
Moringa leaves, because of their ultimate health benefits, are consumed as a spice in powdered form. The freshly harvested leaves are not heaped together as they start to deteriorate in such conditions. Uniformly spreading them in direct sunlight, the dried leaves are powdered and sieved for a uniformity and removing any external impurity. Such general drying, size reduction, grinding, and sieving herbs ensure the greater shelf life.
Moringa leaves are rich in vitamins, polyphenols, flavonoids, Quercetin, Chlorogenic acid, and various other alkaloids, Glucosinolates and Isothiocyonates, making it highly beneficial for consumption. While the fresh leaves and the powder are consumed in salad and soups like spinach, to raise the concentration of a specific bio-active component various specific methods are deployed.
The concentrated form of moringa leaves are then purified and standardized. Standardization before marketing herb plants ensures that the concentrated herb extract has the specific components present in an assured amount, expressed in the form of percentage or equivalent to weight in grams of dried moringa leaves.
An important condiment and as a dye with varied applications in drug and cosmetic industries, turmeric is dried rhizome of Curcuma longa plant.
For planting the seed a well drained sandy or clayey loam soil, rich in humus content is best suited; and the temperature of 20-30°C is the most optimum.
The turmeric crop gets ready to be harvested in 7-9 months. The farm is ploughed and the rhizomes are lifted with spade and hand picked as well.
Before marketing herb plants of turmeric, the fresh green rhizomes are boiled in water for 45-60 minutes, and dried in the sun. The drying process completes in 10-15 days.
With mechanical or traditional manual rubbing, not only the appearance is improved but the fine fibrils sticking to the surface also get removed.
Turmeric is used in powdered form as a condiment. For this purpose, the rhizomes are dried once again in the sun, followed by crushing, and then fine grinding. The powder is sieved to remove bigger particles
The main active ingredient of turmeric is curcumin which is a strong antioxidant having anti-inflammatory properties. Using different solvents, the colorants and other impurities are absorbed, then the concentrate is prepared to extract curcumin from turmeric.
A commonly used nutritive and rejuvenating agent, withania somnifera, commonly known as Ashwagandha is an important indian herb whose roots and leaf seeds are used.
It grows well in sandy loam or light red soil, having pH 7.5-8.0 with good drainage facility. The semi-tropical areas, i.e. receiving 50-75 cm rainfall are best for cultivating it at commercial scale. During growth, the dry season is required. The late winter rains promote better root growth.
Generally sown in September, the plant starts flowering in December, and the crop can be harvested in Feb-March, i.e. 180 days after sowing. The maturity of the plant is gauged by the dried leaves and yellow-red berries.
Roots of the matured plant are collected, cleaned and crushed to get a fine powder.
As per an estimate, 1 hectare of land delivers 650-800 kg of roots, which on drying gets around 350-435 Kg.
Withania somnifera roots are rich in various alkaloids, steroidal lactones, saponins, and Tri-ethylene Glycol. In general, the powder is used for consumption, but for medicines the concentrate is used which is expressed in its weight equivalence with the powdered form.
Colloquially called as the king of species, the black pepper is obtained from the perennial climbing vine, Piper nigrum which is indigenous to the tropical forests of Western Ghats of South India.
It is a humid tropic plant, requiring substantial rainfall and humidity. Over 75 kinds of varieties are found in India and all can be grown in a variety of soils such as clay loam, red loam, sandy loam and lateritic soils with a pH of 4.5 to 6.0.
Pepper is propagated by the cuttings from runner shoots, and the large scale cultivation is done on hilly slopes. Planting is done on the onset of southwest monsoon.
After one year, the vine is separated from the temporary stake and leaves are nipped off.
While sowing the seeds, care is taken to sow only 1/4th of an inch inside soil, and are spread three inches apart.
From the third or fourth year, the vines start yielding. The flower comes in the month of May-Jun and takes around 6-8 months in ripening. When the berries on the spike turn bright red, the whole spike is plucked.
Rubbing with hands or trampling with feet, the berries are separated from spikes and dried in the sun for 7-10 days. The recovery of black pepper is about 33% from the ripe berries and one hectare plantation yields about 800-1000 Kg black pepper.
An important spice crop of the world, finding its relevance in medicines as a carminative agent, and in other FMCGs equally, is exported to more than 50 countries by India.
A Herbaceous perennial with underground rhizomes, ginger is cultivated best in warm and humid climates with temperature ranges of 28 to 35°C. Well-drained soils like sandy or clay loam, red loam or lateritic loam are considered best for ginger growth.
Ginger is only propagated by portions of its rhizomes having one or two good buds. From the 6th month, the medicinal herb is harvested and marketed as green ginger. For dry ginger, the crop is harvested after the 8th month when leaves start to dry up.
The green ginger is concentrated by firstly soaking it in water and removing the outer skin, which is dried in the sun for one week. This is further cleaned by peeling off the outer skin of dried ginger. That is further powdered to be used accordingly. The average yield of ginger is 15-25 tonnes per hectare and the dried ginger is yielded 16-25% of it.
India is the largest producer of ginger accounting for 70% of the world’s produce.
Dry ginger is used for preparing the essential oils, oleoresin, beverages, and medicines treating cold and flu as is a great immunity booster.
An important fruit crop of high medicinal values, Indian Gooseberries are the richest source of vitamin C. It is a tropical plant whose fruits are used in various forms, and require 63-80 cm of annual rainfall.
Light and medium heavy soils except purely sandy soil are ideal for amla cultivation. The tree is well adapted to dry regions and can also be grown in moderate alkaline soils.
Amla is generally propagated by the process of shield budding, which is done on one year old seedlings developed from the tree yielding bigger fruits.
After 4-5 years of plantation, Amla trees start to yield fruits that are harvested in the month of February when they become dull greenish yellow.
In general a mature tree of around 10 years of age yields upto 10 Kg of fruits and a well maintained tree yields upto 70 years of age.
Along with the ayurvedic medicines, amla is used for a variety of products including cosmetic products and other products like preserve, juice, ready-to-serve drink, sherbet, jam, fruit bar etc. Dehydrated amla is used to make candies and even mouth freshners.
The need of herbal derivatives and the medicines is ever increasing and therefore it is imperative to maintain the quality and its assurance.
The herb quality is based on several physical, chemical, and geographical aspects and the adulteration is also the concern. Various chemical and phytochemical tests, analytical techniques, and hyphenated analysis are used for assuring the quality.
Standardization before marketing herb plants ensures that the concentrated herb extract has the specific components present in an assured amount, expressed in the form of percentage, in general. Herbal standardization and purification guarantees that the clients always get products with constant composition in every batch of the supply chain.
Quality is of the prime concern in all walks of human life. But when it comes to medicinal herbs that are to be consumed for improving our health, it is of utmost importance to get them in the best possible form. Herbal standardization and purification assures that the sourced product is best in its form, and from herbs extraction, drying, and concentration- the stringent quality measures are deployed. Here the whole journey from seeds to sales and management of the supply chain is closely monitored to deliver our promise of nothing less than the best.