A Hot Spot of Aromatic & Medicinal Plants



The entire plant kingdom consisting of more than 200,000 species originated in 12 centres around the world. One of them falls within the Indian subcontinent, in the Western Ghats. Spread over an area of 20000 sq. km. It is notable for its rich bio-diversity. The Silent Valley in the Western Ghats preserves the true bio-diversity of the region. About 700 species of medicinal herbs are found here and are used in indigenous systems of medicine such as Ayurveda. Plants like lemon grass, patchouli and the vetiver species have originated in this area.


At the foothills of the Western Ghats, is a research station, which has attracted international attention in the field of aromatic technology. It has identified sources of rose aroma, which are less expensive and are of great demand in the perfume industry. The centre, known as The Aromatic and Medicinal Plants Research Station (AMPRS), is situated at Odakkali near Kochi. It was established in 1951 as ‘Leon Grass Breeding Station’ under the Department of Industries of the erstwhile Travancore Cochin Government. Later, it was brought under the direct administrative control of the Associate Director of Research (Central Region) of the Kerala Agricultural University in 1982 and was renamed the Aromatic and Medicinal Plants Research Station. The United Nations Industrial Development Organization directs entrepreneurs to this centre for advice regarding their research and development needs on lemongrass.


AMPRS has been recognized at the national level as one of the leading centres for research on aromatic plants. Scientists here have identified two herbs rich in Geranyl Acetate, giving off the smell of rope. They are found in the hills of Munnar and Thathamangalam near Palakkad. OD 468 is the technical name of the plant identified at Munnar and OD 455 of the one at Thathamangalam. ‘OD’ stands for Odakkali, the place where the Institute is located. Studies have revealed that the average yield of the variety was nearly 10 tonnes of herbage per harvest. Hydro-distillation of the leaf produced 0.4 per cent of essential oils and 79.8 per cent of Geranyl Acetate.

The most significant contribution of AMPRS is the ‘Sugandhi’ (OD19), a variety of lemongrass of high yield and quality. It has been nationally accepted as the most significant variety of East Indian lemongrass. Diverse soil and climatic conditions ranging from hot, humid tropics of Kerala to sub-tropical conditions of sub-Himalayan regions have not been unfavourable to its growth. A prized collection of 450 varieties of this species of India and abroad can be found in this Institute.

A great deal has been done by the institute for the conservation of aromatic plants. A phytochemical laboratory upgraded to regional Analytical Laboratory for medicinal and aromatic plants has been established. It is sponsored by the Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India.


The station has a herbal garden comprising 350 species of medicinal herbs. The garden serves the purpose of providing genuine plant species used in indigenous systems of medicine, conserving and propagating endangered species, educating and demonstrating as well as functioning as a reference centre. The farm also has provision for cultivating around 15 species of medicinal herbs. A nursery centre contains planting parts like seeds of medicinal herbs, which are distributed among cultivators. Demands for these come in from all over the country from Jammu to Kanyakumari to the Bay of Bengal to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. It is a matter of pride for the Kerala Agricultural University that the station has found a place in the world seeds catalogue of the F.A.O.


The measures adopted for the growth of potential aromatic crops in the state have been promising. Patchouli, sweet basil, lemongrass (OD468 and OD455), and citronella are some of the plants on which work is going on.

Patchouli: The essential oil of this aromatic herb is used for heavy perfumes, which have alluring and lasting qualities. It is a native of the Philippines but also exists in wild varieties in the Western Ghats. The aroma of the oil has anti-ageing properties.

Sacred Basil: The name was derived from the Greek ‘Basilica’, meaning ‘royal’. It has always been regarded as a holy plant in India and is found throughout the country, being often used in home remedies. It rejuvenates the mind, keeps the body resistant to diseases and its oil provides protection against Gamma radiation.

OD455: It has been collected from the Western Ghats and is maintained at Odakkali. Its oil was found to contain a high percentage of geraniol and yields the maximum while grown under the conditions at Odakkali.

Cinnamon: The leaf of this herb, containing 70-80 per cent eugenol, has great demand in the perfume industry. Also known as true cinnamon or Ceylon cinnamon, the bark and leaves of this tree are strongly aromatic. It is grown largely for the production of quills, to be used as a spice or condiment. In its wild state, the tree grows up to a height of 8-17m but develops as a bush on cultivation. The plants yield two types of essential oils—bark oil from the bark of the tree and leaf oil from the leaves and tender twigs. The research centre was the first to demonstrate the possibility of acquiring additional returns from the extraction of oil from cinnamon leaves, which were wasted earlier.


Kaempferia (Kaempferia galanga) known as Kacholam, Sugandhavacha, Chandramullika, or Sidhul: the rhizomes of the plant yield an essential oil that is used to manufacture perfumes and curry flavours. It is used in cosmetics, mouthwashes, hair tonics and toiletries. The plant is supposed to have originated in Burma and is cultivated mainly in Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.

Alpinia Galanga: Its root being aromatic, stimulant, carminative and vulnerary, is useful for bronchitis and diseases of the heart. It has a lot of commercial value in the developed countries.

Vana Harida (Curcuma aromatica): This species is well known as a natural colouring agent. It is a constituent in herbal soaps due to its medicinal and cosmetic properties. The plant which otherwise grows wild, has been put under cultivation in Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

Indian Borage (Coleus amboinicus): It is a herb, which is cultivated in parts of Rajasthan and South India. A favourite home remedy, it is said to have properties to cure insect bites, headaches, fever and bronchitis. Maranta Arundinacea: It is a highly digestive starch widely used for baby foods. Gloriosa Superba: Its tuber is exported on a large scale, for its alkaloid content.


India has achieved a lot through the commercialization of aromatic plants like sandalwood, lemon grass, palmrosa, vetiver, rose and jasmine. With the safety laws for products becoming more stringent and the ‘eco-friendly’ label becoming mandatory for futuristic market, there is every likelihood that India will be a major player in the international market. Ayurveda, our indigenous system of health care, has now gained global recognition. Similarly, there is great scope for the utilization of indigenous essential oil plant resources. Of late, remarkable developments have taken place in our country in the flavouring and perfume sectors. In this age of aromatherapy, indigenous systems of flavouring and fragrance will play a great role along with developments in the sector of indigenous systems of medicine.