MANILA, Philipines--The Department of Agriculture has its hands full dealing with the rice price crisis, but it has not forgotten its plans to champion the widespread cultivation of medicinal plants.
Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap tells the Philippine Daily Inquirer in an interview that he was bullish on the prospects of medicinal plants because the market for natural ingredients for the wellness industry continues to grow.
Yap says the department has already identified the priority plants for marketing to overseas markets, but further research has to be done to determine the best way to package the plants-whether they should be produced in capsule or power form, for instance.
The top 10 medicinal plants are niyug-niyugan, sambong, pansitpansitan, tsaang gubat, lagundi, yerba buena, ampalaya, akapulko, bawang and bayabas.
Ampalaya (bitter gourd or bitter melon) is one of the most studied and extensively used as an herbal supplement to help diabetics. It is now sold locally in the form of tea and capsules and is being exported by local companies to Filipino communities abroad.
Also sold in the form of herbal tea are the yerba buena, lagundi, the leaves of which can be used to cure body pain and fever. These can be propagated using cuttings.
Pascual Laboratories Inc., the second biggest Filipino pharmaceutical company, has already succeeded in marketing phytomedicines (herbal medicines) with anti-cough medicine from lagundi popularly known as Ascof and a medicine from sambong to help prevent kidney stones, Re-Leaf.
The leaves of the sambong have been traditionally used to get rid of kidney or gall stones and to bring down swelling. The leaves are boiled in two cups of water and the tea is taken every four hours to cure both children and adults.
Also expected to sell well abroad are the niyug-niyugan, a traditional cure for skin diseases, tsaang gubat for stomach pain, pansitpansitan to lower uric acid and cure gout, akapulko for eczema and bawang or garlic, which can be used to control cholesterol levels.
Lolita Pino, planning officer of the DA's Bureau of Plant Industry, said the plants can be planted anywhere in the country and are easy to propagate.
BPI has a garden in its office in San Andres, Manila, that people can visit to see how the plants are grown and to buy seedlings. She said akapulko and yerba buena seedlings are currently sold at P10 each.
DA said top pharmaceutical firm United Laboratories Inc. is riding on the natural ingredients bandwagon and has expressed interest in using more plant extracts in the manufacture of its medicines.
DA quoted Unilab vice president for business development Jose Maria Echave as saying that the Philippines has an edge in the burgeoning natural ingredients market.
"In the pharmaceuticals sector, the way to go now is biologicals. The era of blockbuster synthetic drugs is about to end," Echave said.
Data from the National Integrated Research Program on Medicinal Plants (NIRPROMP) showed the Philippines has over 1,500 identified medicinal plants. Some of these plants have been endorsed by the Department of Health (DOH).
(For more information, call the Bureau of Plant Industry at 5257857 and 5244551)