The diverse topographic features of the Himalayas sustain an enormous perennial reservoir of vegetation resources (Gaur et al. 1995). High altitudes in particular have unique vegetation due to their diverse geo-morphology which provides different microhabitats for specific plant growth. The alpine region is well known for colourful, varieties and remarkably adaptable endemic plants. In Uttarakhand the area of the alpine region is 8524 km2, and nearly 4376km2 is permanently snow clad. Although the alpine area in this state is smaller than in other Himalayan states of India, many important medicinal plants are endemic to this region. The alpine climatic plants are endemic to this region. The alpine climatic conditions are often characterized by high ultraviolet radiation, low atmospheric pressure and oxygen concentration, with the minimum air temperature dropping near freezing point every night with the daily maximum temperature soaring to 25oc during the summer.
The sharp change in day and night temperatures and the permafrost conditions, which are often found a few inches below the soil surface even during the active growth season, from the stress conditions for plant growth. Uttarakhand, on account of its unique setting within the Himalayan region, possesses luxuriant and varied vegetation. Almost every plant has economic value from either a nutritional, aesthetic or medicinal viewpoint. In fact, a larger percentage of crude drugs in the Indian market come from this Himalayan area (Badoni and Badoni, 2001). According to cumulative evidence, the Garhwal Himalaya has more than 9500 species of flowering plants, most of which are in forests or alpine meadows (Rawat et al., 2001). In India, out of an estimated 15000-16000 flowering plant species, about 1500 (10%) have already come under the various categories of threatened plants (Rao, 1994).
The same number of species is used in Indian traditional systems of medicine, that is, 600 species with more than 8000 herbal remedies in Ayurvedic, 500 species in Unani, and 550 species in phyto-pharmaceutical industries. Nearly thirty species from the Garhwal Himalaya have been listed in various categories under threat in the Indian Red Data Books (Nayar and Sastry, 1987-90), of which 24 species are from high altitude alpine regions. Recently, Rawat et al. 2001) listed 45 more species (excluding Red Data Books) which need special attention for conversation, and this list also contains as many as thirty species from high altitudes. Besides these, nearly 120 plants species are allowed for collection from wild by the forest department in Uttarakhand.
More interestingly, the forest Department has determined only the royalty and trade rates, not the quantity of raw material. The ultimate result is dangerous exploitation of these plants. Medicinal plants should be cultivated to save the forests and alpine regions, and at the same time meet the rising demands of herbs to improve the livelihoods of hill people. It is well known that the cultivation of food grains in the hills is not economically viable and thus immediate diversification from agriculture to economically viable and sustainable alternatives is needed.
The Green revolution has created a great impact in the country, but hill farmers of uttarakhand are still looking for ecologically sound energy-efficient technologies to increase the productivity of their lands substantially (Purohit, 1997). The cultivation of medicinal herbs growing in high altitude regions under natural conditions poses several problems at the beginning. And now Uttarakhand is gaining its hold on medicinal & aromatic plants and expanding its cultivation and production. Come and experience this amazing gift of himalayan state of uttarakhand to mankind.