Tyler Smith, 2012
Researchers recently completed a 6-year effort in which they documented more than 1,000 wild herbs in the Sanjiangyuan National Nature Reserve on the Tibetan plateau in Qinghai Province, China. The scientists identified 575 varieties of medicinal herbs—six of which were previously unknown to the area—and captured more than 100,000 photographs of local flora. The Sanjiangyuan region (translated as “Three Rivers’ Source”) comprises the headwaters of the Yellow, Yangtze, and Mekong Rivers. The greater Tibetan plateau has been described as the “Third Pole” or the “Roof of the Earth” in terms of ecological importance.
The multi-year survey is part of a strategy of the Chinese government to protect and conserve the fragile region, which in recent years has been impacted negatively by climate change and excessive herding. The wild herb conservation project is one aspect of China’s Great Western Development Strategy, an initiative that took effect in 2005 to improve less-developed regions in rural western China. In 2011, China invested 1 billion yuan (approximately $160 million USD) to protect the environment of the Sanjiangyuan region, according to an article from China Daily.
As part of the development plan, “[The Chinese Academy of Sciences] will select … species with promising potential and significant research value, especially plants that are important in the agricultural, pharmaceutical, and industrial fields and that could be put into industrial production,” the organization mentions on its website. “Together with the ongoing drive to standardize medicinal herbs in Chinese traditional medicine [and] comprehensively utilize Tibetan traditional medicine, … the academy will make efforts to find drugs that are highly effective against major diseases.”