The overall socio-economic importance of medicinal and aromatic plants is increasingly recognized not only as a vital resource for health and human welfare, but for its rich cultural and biological factor. This has been pointed out since experts have participated in various meetings on the subject, such as the IX Latin American Botanical Congress, held in June 2006, the Colombian Congress of Botany, and the II Latin American Congress on National Parks and Other Protected Areas to be held in September in the city of Bariloche, Argentina.
These natural resources are considered key to the different systems of medicine worldwide, as well as biodiversity conservation, for their role in ecosystems and in human and animal survival, especially for communities whose income depend on the sale of plants.
Their actual and potential value has been of much research and a growing use and demand, not only as raw material but as several products that are offered in the market.
Many of these plants, hundreds, thousands, are now threatened. Over-exploitation and unsustainable practices in agriculture and forestry are other factors known to exert even greater pressure, such as deforestation, habitat destruction, pollution, introduction of exotic species and climate change.
Even without knowing the condition or threat of many species, there are telling figures: between 50,000 and 70,000 medicinal and aromatic plants are used globally in the systems of traditional and Western medicine and close to 15,000 species of medicinal plants that are threatened with extinction according to IUCN Red List (IUCN 2000).
Only in South America, there are 5 mega-diverse countries (Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela), 17 of the world, and only in the Andean region is approximately 25% of the total biodiversity of the planet. Several sub-species are used as food and traditional medicine.