There are three dimensions of sustainability concerning medicinal plants:
I: Improving Human Health
The first has to do with improving human health. A great many pharmaceutical drugs are toxic, can cause grave side effects, and produce fatalities. As many as 300,000 Americans die each year from the proper use of over-the–counter and prescription drugs. So a first and most critical aspect of sustainability has to do with providing safe, effective, natural plant medicines that can be used in place of more dangerous drugs. Plant medicines are used around the world to help sustain human health, because they work. Despite extremely well-funded propaganda that disparages plant medicines, they are highly beneficial, largely safe, and increasingly well studied.
II: Environmental Impact
A second dimension of sustainability concerns the environmental impact of medicinal plants. Harvesting of wild species, and cultivation of species, can be performed in ways that do not degrade the natural environment and that may in fact improve soil fertility and other parameters of environmental health. Organic farming practices, de facto organic activities, and properly planned methods of harvesting can keep the natural environment diverse, healthy and thriving.
III: Native Peoples
A third dimension of sustainability and medicinal plants concerns native people and traditional cultures. Around the world we are losing cultural, linguistic and cognitive diversity as these people are displaced, absorbed, killed off or “assimilated” into general humanity against their will. When fair wages are paid to native and traditional people, it provides them with economic power. This can help people to maintain custom and culture, to support themselves by engaging in activities consistent with their heritage, and better able to defend themselves against encroachment and adversarial practices on the part of mining, petroleum, agricultural and other industrial entities. Humane practices can help these people to flourish.