Medicinal and aromatic plants


People around the world collect or use medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs) for treating and preventing illnesses. The World Health Organization (WHO) has acknowledged the importance of traditional medicines, and particularly in many developing countries, where around 70-95% of the population rely on these medicines for primary care.

Medicinal plants form the basis for these health care systems. Most active mechanisms in modern pharmaceutical drugs were either directly or indirectly derived from natural products, which include plants and other life forms. This still holds despite the advent of synthetic and combinatorial chemistry. Moreover, MAPs and their specimens are used in cosmetic, food and luxury products.



Conservation and trade of CITES-listed medicinal and aromatic plant species

Approximately 60,000 MAP species are harvested globally, of which around 1,280 are estimated to be listed in CITES Appendices. MAP cultivation and harvest practices secure valuable income for many rural households; can play a vital role in livelihood diversification for marginalized populations living in remote areas; and is an important factor in the source countries' local economies. 

For example, the global revenue from traditional Chinese medicine was USD 83 billion in 2012. Annual expenditures in the traditional medicine sector in the Republic of Korea were USD 7.4 billion in 2009, and private spending for natural products in the United States of America was USD 14.8 billion in 2008. The European market for herbal supplements and herbal medicines is estimated to be worth USD 7.4 billion per year. From 2001 to 2014, annual average growth rates of 2.4% in volume and 9.2% in export value of medicinal plant material were observed, amounting to a threefold increase in global trade in medicinal and aromatic plants since 1999. 

The CITES trade database registers 54 million kg of exports of medicinal plant products between 2006 and 2015, mainly derived from 43 species. Forty-seven percent of these exports were sourced from the wild. 

Many medicinal and aromatic plant species are threatened with extinction in the wild through overharvesting, habitat loss, climate change, and unregulated or illegal international trade. The importance of trade in CITES-listed MAPs is further illustrated by their share in reported seizures of CITES-listed specimens. Between January and December 2017, 27% of CITES-related seizures reported by the Member States of the European Union (EU) involved medicinal products. Sustainable harvest and legal, well-regulated trade are thus key to ensure the sustainable use of medicinal plants.

Please find sources for this background information in CoP18 Doc. 55 and PC25 Doc. 30.

Information materials developed by Parties for raising awareness of CITES regulations for the medicinal and aromatic plant industry stakeholders and consumers [Decision 19.261]