Ukraine is very rich in natural resources of valuable plant species, including medicinal herbs. However, the resource potential of numerous valuable species is limited, so identification of potential resources of valuable species and development of principles for their sustainable use are of national significance.
Exhaustion of natural phytoresources of many valuable species growing in Ukraine may be explained by a lack of adequate coordination between the main ministries and other central government bodies responsible for the resources in question, procurement organizations and the pharmacological industry. Out of 1,075 species of vascular plants with medicinal properties, 386 species are biologically linked with forest phytocenosis, though the number of tree species is inconsiderable (56 species). About 40 species are bushes and subshrubs, the rest are grasses. 312 species are typical representatives of meadow-swamp, meadow-steppe, meadows, and areas near water, while 377 species constitute a group of synantropic species which actively penetrate into damaged areas of any phytocenosis, including forest ones.
Natural species of medicinal herbs are harvested by branches of the Ukrainian Wholesale Union, the Limited Liability Company "Liktravy" and the State Consortium "Urkphytotherapy". The absence of coordinated activities of these organizations cause difficulties in the development and implementation of programmes to provide for national production of medical herb preparations, sustainable use of natural phytoresources, and regeneration of such resources. The results of research on vascular plants have shown that out of 5,100 species, 535 species should be protected; 439 species are in the Red Data Book of Ukraine, 73 of them being valuable medicinal herbs. About 1,200 species of vascular plants have medicinal properties.
Before the collapse of the USSR (1991) the pharmacological industry and practical medicine in Ukraine made use of 170 species of medicinal herbs. At present the number of officially registered natural medicinal herbs has decreased (about 40 species), which has resulted mostly from the economic crises, the absence of state contracts for medicinal herb resources, as well as a complicated and expensive procedure for official registration of medicinal herbs. A general resource analysis of 1,075 species of vascular plants described in the directory "Flora of medicinal herbs in Ukraine" has shown that resources for 631 species are not enough for commercial harvesting, for 354 species they are sufficient, while 90 species are subject to protection since their stock is very small.
An inventory of natural flora resources with medicinal properties shows that out of 170 species suitable for production of medicines or for direct treatment of some diseases, 103 species of vascular plants have a sufficient resource potential to meet the demand. First of all this concerns tree species (pine and birch buds, fruits of rowan tree and others). Synantropic plants constitute a major portion among these species (knot grass, horse tail, cornflower, chamomile and others). Limited phytoresources of 21 species of medicinal herbs require a strict control of use. This concerns medicinal herbs whose resource potential is large, however, substantial demand may cause an exhaustion of the national resources (Hypericum L., Helichrysum arenarium, L. Moench, Origanum vulgare, Convallaria majolis, buckthorn and others). This group also includes phytoresources whose quantity was reduced considerably because of radioactive contamination of natural areas after the Chernobyl catastrophe (Ledum marsh T., rowan, Potentilla erecta and others).
Phytoresources of 23 species of valuable medicinal herbs which until recently were used by practical medicine are on the verge of exhaustion. This situation is a result of changes of ecological conditions and of excessive use of these species, and applies primarily to Acorus calamus L., Amygdalus nana L., Nuphar lutea L., Nymphaea alba L., and Centaurium erythraea Rafn. Analysis of the harvesting of Acorus calamus L. for the last 20 years shows that the volumes of the harvested plant have decreased more than 90 times. In general in 1998, 3 tons of this valuable medicinal herb were harvested, while the average volumes in 1977-1979 were 282 tons. In 1968, 806 tons of Acorus calamus L. roots were harvested. To organize active measures for preserving the above-mentioned species, it is necessary to monitor these phytoresources.
According to the analysis, commercial resources of 23 species of medicinal herbs have been totally exhausted. It is important to develop and introduce methods of their regeneration. Except for Red Data Book species (Astragalus L., Arnica montana, Rhodila rosea, Orhidaceae), this also concerns lychnis, Primula veris, Molinia Coerulea L. Twenty-four species of medicinal herbs are cultivated in specialized enterprises. At present it is very important to optimize the use of the available resources and to look for potential reserves in ecologically clean regions. This is an issue of national significance.
Research at the laboratories of the M.G. Kholodny Institute of Botany of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine is concentrated on medicinal herbs of immunostimulating, anti-inflammatory and radiological protection action: Acorus calamus L., Sambucus nigra L., Polygonum bestorta L., Origanum vulgari L., Centaurium erythraea Rafn, Sanguisorba officinalis L., Filipendula ulmaria L. Maxim, Convallaria majalis L., Potentilla alba L., Potentilla erecta L. Raeush, Daucus carota, Symphytum officinale L., Sedum acre L., Primula veris, Hepatica nobilis Mill., Tanacetum vulgare L., Galium verun L., Agrimonia eupatoria L., Glycyrrhiza glabra L., Thymus serpyllum L., Ephedra distachya L., Helichrysum arenarium L. Moench, Cynoglossum officinale L., Chelidonium majus L. and others. Their regional location, resource potential, and ways to enrich resources in natural conditions are being under investigation. Much is done to identify stocks of affined species which may help solve the national problem of shortage of such valuable medicinal herbs as Hypericum L. (12 species), Helichrysum Mill. (5 species), Thymus L. (15 species), Achillea L. (12 species) and others.
The research programme of the Institute of Botany includes the following investigation areas: identification of localization of species under study, creation of location maps, assessment of growing conditions, development of scientific fundamentals for optimal use of the identified resources, evaluation of resource conditions in terms of a set of ecological factors.
Scientific fundamentals for the rational use and protection of natural medicinal herbs developed at the Institute are used as a basis for a number of regulations developed in collaboration with the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Nuclear Safety of Ukraine aimed at optimization of the use of national phytoresources. Results of the monitoring research forms a scientific background for projection of the situation with particular medicinal species. For example, investigation of the resources of Acorus calamus L. and Helichrysum arenarium L. Moench on the left bank Forest-Steppe and Steppe of Ukraine shows that the natural stocks of Helichrysum arenarium L. Moench are sufficient to regulate its use, and that no tendency towards a decrease has been observed, while Acorum calamus L. stocks are limited since there is a tendency towards a decrease, so harvesting of this valuable species is subject to strict control.
On the other hand, resources of a species affined to Acorum calamus L. has been discovered. A stable tendency towards a decrease of stocks of cardiac medicinal herbs such as Arnica montana and Amygdalus nana L. has also been observed. Resources are so scarce that the species have been entered into the Red Data Book even though 20 years ago considerable stocks were identified in the Ukrainian Carpathians. Investigations carried out in 1953-1954 showed that several thousand hectares in the offspurs of the Black Mountains, Svidovets and Gorgan were covered with Arnica montana thickets, which allowed harvesting of 5 to 10 tons of dry inflorescence annually.