The Banaras Hindu University has embarked on twin projects to preserve and multiply two important anti-diabetic medicinal plants. These plants are: Gurmar (Gymnema) and Madhu-patra (Stevia rebaudiana). They will also be cultivated en masse.
Dr Padmanabh Dwivedi, associate professor at the Department of Plant Physiology, Institute of Agricultural Sciences (IAS-BHU), and his team of agricultural scientists are spearheading the effort.
The initiative on Gurmar is funded by the Council for Science and Technology, Lucknow. The one on Madhu-patra is funded by the UGC-New Delhi.
“With India feared to become the world’s diabetes capital by 2025, the focus now is on developing a completely natural infrastructure to combat the disease,” Dwivedi told HT on Tuesday.
He added that the population of these plants was under threat due to short-lived and poor germination ability of seeds, besides over-exploitation by local people and commercial establishments for their medicinal value.
Effective and economical micro propagation (in vitro culture technique) protocols have already been developed at Dwivedi’s lab at IAS-BHU to help produce and conserve these plants on a large scale in less time, and even out of season. The move could ultimately benefit farmers and entrepreneurs cultivating medicinal plants.
The Gurmar, purely of Indian origin, is found in the forests of South and Central India. It has gymenmic acid, which is a natural controller of blood sugar level. Madhu patra is of Paraguayan origin. It embodies a bio-active compound Stevioside (particularly in leaves) and has potent anti-diabetic properties.
Madhu-patra also has medicinal properties, which helps in combating obesity, blood pressure and oral ailments.
The Gurmar is a robust plant and can survive in hot tropical climate but should be grown post-monsoon. Madhu-patra is a sensitive plant. But the saving grace is that it is less vulnerable to disease and pests, including termite attack.
The plant requires enormous water and should be grown between October and March.
“We are primarily working on developing micro-propagation protocols. These include standard height, a good number of leaves and length, which will help the two plants survive even in trying conditions when shifted to the field,” said Dwivedi.
He and his team at the lab are aiming at conservation of the plant germoplasm on a large scale via plant saplings sourced from nurseries of Varanasi, as also those in Chattisgarh.
“We are developing the standard protocols in the lab under the right temperature regime, which will enable them to survive outside. Once the process of developing micro propagation protocols is over, we’ll go for hardening the two plants (preparing the plant for the challenging environment outside). Acclimatisation will follow. At this stage, the robust plant saplings will be actually grown outside,” he added.
Dwivedi said, “Once, we’re done with the task of developing robust Gurmar and Madhu-patra plants, the multiplied saplings will be given to interested farmers for cultivation, under our watchful eyes."