The notion that humans must work to preserve the surrounding landscape is not a new one. It’s seen across many cultures—through various customs, scriptures, traditions, and more. Despite these ancient beliefs, we still find ourselves facing the 6th mass extinction of life on earth, with an anticipated loss of three-quarters of all species in the next few centuries. A recent report by the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew suggests that at least 21% of all known vascular plants are either endangered or threatened.
Numerous religious texts from many cultures contain references to the conservation of medicinal plants. I grew up listening to the story of the Hindu epic “Ramayana” in which Lord Hanuman, the flying monkey God, once brought an entire mountain harboring medicinal herbs to revive wounded warriors on the battlefield. Afterwards, he returned the mountain to its original location so that the remaining herbs could continue to grow in their native environment.
Recent research on medicinal plants has validated that plants may lose their medicinal properties when incurring drastic changes in their growth environment. Perhaps, then, the uprooting of the mountain can serve as a symbolic dramatization, illustrating the necessity of preserving the microenvironments of herbs to ensure medicinal efficacy.
Lord Hanuman is worshiped as an epitome of wisdom, intelligence, and bravery whose actions set very high standards for his disciples to protect natural resources while serving humanity. His story not only reflects the knowledge of medicinal plant physiology and conservation, but also emphasizes the need to rediscover the environmental consciousness embedded in ancient, indigenous literature.
In the spirit of these teachings, I hope that this issue will inspire and serve as a call to action to conserve medicinal and spiritual species as they become increasingly under threat from logging, globalization, consumer demand, wild harvesting, habitat loss, and climate change. Although the fate of many plant species seems daunting in these times, I still believe that much can be done. I hope that our ever-growing understanding of the interconnection between plants, spirituality and human health will take center stage in global conservation strategies to prevent the current unprecedented ecological crisis.
I am very grateful to all contributors of volumes 1 and 2 of Spiritual Botany. A special thanks to my associates Christina Turi, Stephanie Damgaard, and Kevin Piunno for their dedication and continued support for this mission.